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from the trenches
Museums: The Met's New Temple Volume 60 Number 4, July/August 2007
by Eric A. Powell

The opening of the newest galleries at The Metropolitan Museum of Art completes a 15-year reinstallation of the country's greatest collection of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art. Showcasing artifacts from the Hellenistic period up to the late Roman Empire, the new galleries surround a court where sunlight casts a warm Mediterranean glow over dozens of sculptures, including a marble bust of Caligula and an anonymous mother and son who resemble nothing so much as a Roman version of American Gothic.

(Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The court is spectacular, but the story begins in nearby galleries—reopened a decade ago—housing Greek art from prehistory to the fourth century B.C. With virtually the entire collection now on display, visitors can see everything from graceful Bronze Age Cycladic figurines to the interior frescoes of Imperial Roman villas.

On the mezzanine level, Etruscan artifacts, including the newly restored Monteleone chariot, draw especially large crowds. An adjacent gallery houses a "study collection," some 3,500 objects from prehistory through the Roman era.

Efforts by the Greek and Italian governments to repatriate recently looted objects in American museums have resulted in some awkward labels. Signage next to a trove of Hellenistic silver artifacts widely thought to have been taken from Morgantina, Sicily, refers to the controversy and reads, "While the Museum is not convinced that this provenance is correct, the Museum nevertheless agreed to transfer these works to Italy." And while the label next to the magnificent Greek vase known as the Euphronios krater makes clear that the artifact is Italian property, it does not mention that the vase is due to be sent back to Italy soon.

One word of advice: After going through the exhibit, be sure to visit the Cypriot galleries, which reopened seven years ago. Artifacts from Cyprus, once a thriving outpost of the ancient Greek and Roman world, are tucked into the Near Eastern art space, a floor above the new galleries, and attract fewer visitors. Here the influence of Egypt and the Near East on the classical world is on vivid display. A statue of Hercules dating to 530-520 B.C. looks eerily Egyptian, but remains unmistakably Greek.

There are no spectacular, sunlit sculptures in the Cypriot galleries. But in the silence of this under-visited space, one can experience the art of Greece and Rome in a way that for now is impossible in the bustling galleries downstairs. Cypriot pottery and sculpture not only express the close relationship between the Eastern and classical worlds, but also serve as eloquent reminders of the enduring appeal of the Greek and Roman legacy both to the ancient Cypriots, and to all of us who came after them.

© 2007 by the Archaeological Institute of America