Reading in Progress: Classical Art: From Greece to Rome by Mary Beard

Classical Art: From Greece to Rome (Oxford History of Art) - Mary Beard, John Henderson

Yet another book I've been poking through for months. I'm a huge Mary Beard fangirl. Any historian who both conveys excitement in their work and a sense of fun - I'm all for that.

 

This book is academic, but the fun bit is that Beard has all sorts of hysterical asides and comments in parentheses that I love. And at the same time explaining how what we think of art isn't necessarily classical - a LOT of the ancient statues were restored in ways that may not have been original, and it's anyone's guess as to whether something is a copy or not. Since massive amounts of statues were copied from other versions that became The Look of God/Goddess X. I love this stuff.

 

Here, let's just go with a quote to show you.

 

41% in:

"...in the case of another classic Venus, the so-called Venus Kallipygos ('Beautiful-Bum'). In this notorious statue, we catch the goddess glancing over her shoulder to admire her own finely sculpted buttocks; an explicitly erotic attitude of carnal exhibitionism which is hard to reconcile with any exalted reading in terms of religion alone. But in fact, when it was discovered, the statue's head was missing. Its distinctive pose is, therefore, the result of restoration which created a whole 'masterpiece' in place of a fragment, as well as finding a rationale for the statue's naked buttocks. It was a neat confection based on two dubious scraps of ancient fiction: the first naughtily alleging that 'Kallipygos' was a cult title of Venus (its origin lying in a picturesque showdown between two peasant girls, who once upon a time called in a passer-by to decide whose bum was the sexier); second, a titillating allusion to whores partying together, and drunkenly disputing which of them had the best buttocks. ...The important point is that the statue as we have it is a modern interpretation. Different restorations would produce very different erotic effects: a differently angled head, for example, would instantly remove the definitive narcissism of the pose - leaving us with a female showing off a beautiful body. Whether goddess, dancer, whore, or none of these, who can say?"

 

And couple of shorter bits so you can see a bit more of Beard being Beard:

 

39% in, discussing the once incredibly famous Apollo Belvedere:

"...since then it has become something of a sport to satirize Apollo's icy heroism, his vapid effeminacy, the precious top-knot, and those dreadful sandals."

 

38%, discussing nudity in art, erotic vs heroic:

"...see how Perseus flies down to rescue Andromeda, in all his glory. He is not supposed to turn us on."

 

I really wish more of my college reading in classical art had made me snicker this much.