Thursday, October 28, 2010

Agrigento Youth Fruit of International Collaboration

The Agrigento Youth, a wonderful example of international collaboration between a major museum and a national ministry of culture, went on display yesterday at the Getty Villa.  The Museo Archeologico Regionale Di Agrigento in Sicily has loaned the rare statue of a kouros, or idealized nude young man, to the Getty  in exchange for assistance with the construction of a custom seismic isolation base and pedestal for the sculpture.

The Agrigento Youth is the second major loan to arise from a 2010 agreement between the Getty and the Sicilian Ministry of Culture and Sicilian Identity. The Gela Krater, a monumental red-figure volute-krater (wine mixing vessel) attributed to the Niobid Painter, was on view at the Villa since June before it was returned this month, also with a new, custom-designed seismic isolator base and pedestal.
“We are pleased to have these objects on view at the Getty Villa where they can serve as fine examples of Sicily’s cultural offerings, helping to create broader awareness for our collections and heritage,” explains Dr. Giuseppe Castellana, the director of the Parco Archeologico e Paesaggistico della Valle dei Templi. “It is also wonderful that both objects will return to us with new bases that make them more secure.”
Sicily is home to Mt. Aetna, Europe's largest active volcano, so protecting artifacts from seismic activity there is an ongoing problem for its museum curators.   Virgil gave a poetic description of an eruption of Mt. Aetna in his epic The Aeneid:
A spreading bay is there, impregnable
To all invading storms; and Aetna's throat
With roar of frightful ruin thunders nigh.
Now to the realm of light it lifts a cloud
Of pitch-black, whirling smoke, and fiery dust,
Shooting out globes of flame, with monster tongues
That lick the stars; now huge crags of itself,
Out of the bowels of the mountain torn,
Its maw disgorges, while the molten rock
Rolls screaming skyward; from the nether deep
The fathomless abyss makes ebb and flow.
- The Aeneid, lines 569 – 579 of the Theodore C. Williams translation of 1908.
 Statues of the kouros type were used by ancient Greeks as dedications to the gods or to commemorate a particularly heroic individual as part of his funerary ritual.  So many have been found in temples of Apollo that at one time they were thought to be representations of the god himself.

Some scholars, such as Eleanor Guralnick, have suggested that kouroi are the result of Greek imitation of Egyptian sculptors.  She applied stereophotogrammetric measurement and cluster analysis to a number of Greek and Egyptian statues and found the correlation between the Second Canon of the 26th Dynasty and Greek kouroi to be widely distributed though not universal.

Scholar Gisela Richter has categorized the wide array of kouroi types into six groups with distinctive artistic differences.  The earliest kouroi dating to the late seventh century are highly stylized with an emphasis on geometric proportion rather than realism.  The art form evolves over time incorporating an increasing amount of human anatomical realism until by the early 5th century, examples like the Agrigento Youth are far more proportionate. 
"The Agrigento Youth was carved by an unknown artist around 480 B.C., just at the artistic turning point between the archaic and classical periods. The style has been termed by scholars the Severe Style due to the solemn facial features and erect stance favored at this time. Under life size at 1.02 meters (40 inches) in height, The Agrigento Youth is comparable to the highest quality contemporary Athenian kouroi, with whom it shares many traits, such as the sensitively rendered modeling of the anatomy, the erect stance with one leg forward, and the serene and straightforward gaze. Unlike the majority of those statues, this figure’s right arm is raised as if holding out an object. The stone from which it was carved is a white marble imported from Greece, which indicates that The Agrigento Youth was an expensive and noteworthy dedication.
The sculpture is also distinguished by certain features which call attention to its Sicilian origins. The structure of the head is long and the face is oval, with prominent cheekbones, heavy-lidded eyes and a prominent lower lip. Sharply patterned hair is a feature common to all kouroi, but in Sicily the treatment is even more pronounced, with delineated strands of finely carved locks forming into a cap and rolled into a thick coil of hair banded by a simple diadem. Residues of the red pigment indicating the hair’s original color are clearly visible." - Getty Press Release
Kouroi: Archaic Greek Youths. A Study of the Development of the Kouros Type in Greek Sculpture
Understanding Greek Sculpture: Ancient Meanings, Modern Readings   Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History   Cosmos Global Documentaries SICILY -Treasure Trove Of History
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