Masterpieces of Greek Classical Art at the Met Museum

Statue of Athena Parthenos Greek, Hellenistic period, ca. 170 B.C.; copy of a mid-5th century B.C. Published Credit: SMB/Antikensammlung

“Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World,” which opens on Monday, April 18, at the Metropolitan Museum is a grand scale exhibition that examines how Greek Classical art and other cultures influenced each other.

The exhibition is also a view of history through masterpieces of Ancient Greek art and other pieces. The historical person it revolves around is Alexander the Great, who was also student of Aristotle.

King Alexander spread the Hellenic spirit through the Middle East, reaching all the way to the borders of India. From there he absorbed influences and shipped back home precious objects and jewels. By the time of his death in 323 B.C., at 32, Hellenistic art, had begun to take form and would flourish for nearly three centuries.

The history of Hellenistic art is the subject of this epic collection. Bronze and marble portraits of the Great King of Macedonia are surrounded by Asian elephants, vases, silver coins and glazed plates.

Other exhibits that stand out is a marble statue of Athena, carved around 170 B.C., towering more than 13 feet tall. A two-foot-high head of Herakles is a fragment of an image that implies immensity. Both sculptures were found at Pergamon, in modern Turkey. The site was the capital of the Attalid dynasty, most famous for its frieze-covered Great Altar, one of the most dramatic of surviving Hellenistic monuments.

The altar was uncovered by German archaeologists at the end of the 19th century and the reliefs are now at Pergamon Museum in Berlin, currently closed for restoration, and source for nearly one third of the 265 objects in the Met show. The sequence of high-relief panels that once lined the altar staircase depicts a mortal clash between the major Greek gods and a race of marauding giants.

Nearby is the famous sculpture, on loan from the Capitoline Museums in Rome, of “Dying Gaul,” an image of a fallen, wounded nude man, making a futile effort to rise.

 “Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World” opens Monday and runs through July 17 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; 212-535-7710, metmuseum.org. The exhibition is now open to members.