Director Philippe de Montebello offers a behind-the-scenes look at some of the treasures featured in the spectacular New Greek and Roman Galleries, opening April 20.
Philippe de Montebello: There is no event in the upcoming season that is so defining for the life of this institution, for New York, and for art lovers around the world than the completion of the New Greek and Roman Galleries, involving the installation of thousands of works of classical art from the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here is a brief preview of those galleries, which will open to the public on April 20, 2007.
Essentially a "museum within the museum" for the Metropolitan's world-renowned collection of Hellenistic, Etruscan, South Italian, and Roman art, the new galleries will completely transform a space that was used for decades as the Museum's restaurant, but that was originally designed by the renowned architects McKim, Mead and White in 1912 as galleries for Roman art.
Its centerpiece is the spectacular Leon Levy and Shelby White Court, a monumental peristyle area for the display of Hellenistic and Roman art with a soaring two-story atrium. This colossal statue of the young Hercules, a lion skin draped over his arm, will be there, along with many other works, including our great Badminton sarcophagus, decorated with more than 40 figures-including Dionysus, the god of wine, shown riding his panther-and the seasons.
Here you will meet, face to face, the emperors of Imperial Rome: Augustus, Caligula, the young Nero, Antoninus Pius, Caracalla; and a pantheon of great figures from ancient times: Herodotus, Epicurus, and many others.
In the Hellenistic treasury, you will see masterpieces of craftsmanship in precious gemstones, glass, and metals, like these great serpentine armbands in gold with two tritons, male and female, each holding a small, winged Eros. And nearby, great bronzes, like the sleeping god Eros, here depicted with great immediacy and naturalism, as a plump baby. It is one of the few bronze statues to have survived from antiquity.
In sunlit galleries facing Fifth Avenue, there are great Roman frescoes once buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The Met's cubiculum-or bedroom-from Boscoreale, has been restored and moved here, its wall paintings showing architectural vistas and fantasy gardens, and its window bars twisted by the hot lava of the volcano.
And another beautiful bedroom, the so-called "Black Bedroom," this one thought to have been made for a villa built by Agrippa, a close friend of the Emperor Augustus. On view near these masterpieces are sculptures, bronzes, and other arts of the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods, now seen together for the first time in generations. They have much to tell us about the domestic life of wealthy Romans nearly 2,000 years ago.
Up above, on an entirely new second level ringing the court, will be a large gallery for the display of the art of the Etruscans from pre-Roman Italy. Their culture was subsumed into the Roman State by the early first century B.C. Here you will find the newly restored, sixth-century B.C. Etruscan chariot, inlaid with precious elephant and hippopotamus ivory, and richly decorated with scenes from the life of the Greek hero Achilles. It is one of the only complete chariots to survive from antiquity.
For scholars, students, and the public alike, we have also created an important resource: large, airy galleries where more than 5,300 works in all media, dating from prehistoric Greek through late Roman art, can be seen and studied together.
These majestic new galleries, more than a dozen years in the making, will bring one of the world's great collections of classical art to light in a new way. Come and explore the ancient world at The Metropolitan Museum of Art this spring. The New Greek and Roman Galleries will open on April 20, 2007.