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Museums: Timeless Style Volume 56 Number 4, July/August 2003
by Jarrett A. Lobell

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Left, a French silk dress ca. 1965. A Roman statue of Eirene, right, the personification of peace. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Goddess," the newest offering of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, is a modern fashion show with ancient underpinnings. The exhibition looks at the influence of classical dress on art and fashion over the millennia, and provides a fresh approach to the familiar theme of classicism in the arts. The show includes more than two hundred pieces--mostly clothing dating from the eighteenth century onward, as well as prints and photographs of dress designs paired with casts of ancient Greek objects such as a relief from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. A simple diagram illustrates the basic forms of Greek dress and explains how waist cinches, shoulder harnesses, and pins and buttons gave the garments the variety from which modern designers have taken inspiration.

The visitor may be pleasantly surprised that the display is not filled with floaty white dresses in various shapes, but with cases of beautiful jewel-toned and gold-embroidered garments from dozens of the world's most famous designers--Fortuny, Yves Saint Laurent, and Madame Grés, to name a few.

Although the gallery space is dark and confined and the identifying cards fixed to the floor are hard to read, the clothing is extraordinary and the didactic panels, interwoven with clever mythical references, provide enough information to intrigue the lover of fashion and classical art alike. Curator Harold Koda's most astute observation is that the "notion of a timeless style from several millennia past has persisted not because it is unchanging, but because it has adapted to new mores and times."

A handsome catalog by Koda, Goddess: The Classical Mode (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003; $39.95), accompanies the exhibition, which runs through August 3.

Click here for ARCHAEOLOGY's list of current exhibitions.

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© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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