Agrigento Youth at the Getty

Getty Villa ( Los Angeles ). Sign.
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From a Getty mailing that just landed in my box:

The Agrigento Youth, one of the masterpieces of the Museo Archeologico Regionale di Agrigento in southwestern Sicily, goes on view today at the Getty Villa in a gallery devoted to images of athletes and athletic competition (Gallery 211). On loan to the Getty Museum through April 19, 2011, the figure is a rare example of an early classical marble statue called a kouros, or idealized nude young man.

To the ancient Greeks, sculptures such as these represented the finest civic ideals an aristocrat could attain upon reaching manhood. They were made to serve as costly dedicatory objects which could function as dedications to gods, representations of gods, or to honor the memory of a fallen mortal as part of his funerary ritual.

One of the best preserved examples of the kouros type in Sicily, pieces of this sculpture were excavated from two cisterns close to cult precincts devoted to Demeter and Persephone on the slope of the ancient acropolis of Akragas (modern Agrigento) in the late 1800’s.

The figure was carved by an unknown artist around 480 B.C., just at the artistic turning point between the archaic and classical periods. The style has been termed by scholars the Severe Style due to the solemn facial features and erect stance favored at this time. Under life size at 1.02 meters (40 inches) in height, The Agrigento Youth is comparable to the highest quality contemporary Athenian kouroi, with whom it shares many traits, such as the sensitively rendered modeling of the anatomy, the erect stance with one leg forward, and the serene and straightforward gaze. Unlike the majority of those statues, this figure’s right arm is raised as if holding out an object. The stone from which it was carved is a white marble imported from Greece, which indicates that The Agrigento Youth was an expensive and noteworthy dedication.

The sculpture is also distinguished by certain features which call attention to its Sicilian origins. The structure of the head is long and the face is oval, with prominent cheekbones, heavy-lidded eyes and a prominent lower lip. Sharply patterned hair is a feature common to all kouroi, but in Sicily the treatment is even more pronounced, with delineated strands of finely carved locks forming into a cap and rolled into a thick coil of hair banded by a simple diadem. Residues of the red pigment indicating the hair’s original color are clearly visible.

Before its installation at the Villa, the Museum’s conservation team collaborated with conservators from the Museo Archeologico Regionale to construct a custom seismic isolation base and pedestal for The Agrigento Youth. When the sculpture returns to Sicily, it will be accompanied by its new pedestal and earthquake-resistant mount for display in its home museum.

This is the latest in a series of cooperative efforts between the Getty and the Sicilian Ministry of Culture and Sicilian Identity arising from a 2010 agreement that calls for a number of collaborative projects, including object conservation, seismic protection of collections, exhibitions, scholarly research, and conferences.

“We are delighted to showcase The Agrigento Youth at the Getty Villa, and are pleased to continue working with our colleagues in Sicily in this latest chapter of our ongoing partnership,” says David Bomford, acting director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “This loan, and its conservation component, meets the spirit of our agreement to work in partnership with our Sicilian colleagues to preserve and share Italy’s rich cultural heritage.”

The Agrigento Youth is the second major loan to arise from the 2010 agreement. The Gela Krater, a monumental red-figure volute-krater (wine mixing vessel) attributed to the Niobid Painter, was on view at the Villa since June before it was returned this month, also with a new, custom-designed seismic isolator base and pedestal.

“We are pleased to have these objects on view at the Getty Villa where they can serve as fine examples of Sicily’s cultural offerings, helping to create broader awareness for our collections and heritage,” explains Dr. Giuseppe Castellana, the director of the Parco Archeologico e Paesaggistico della Valle dei Templi. “It is also wonderful that both objects will return to us with new bases that make them more secure.”

In addition, the Getty recently partnered with the Centro Regionale per la Progettazione, il Restauro e per le Scienze Applicate ai Beni Culturali to organize a conference on the seismic mitigation of museum collections this month in Palermo. The conference included a workshop for museum technicians and conservators on seismic mount-making, and other topics related to caring for collections in earthquake-prone areas.

Still to come on loan are objects from the archaeological site of Morgantina in central Sicily. The Getty is also working with Sicilian colleagues on two upcoming Getty Villa exhibitions, one investigating Sicily during the Classical and Hellenistic periods, and another on Selinunte, an important Greek colonial settlement in northwest Sicily.

In addition to the Sicilian region, the Getty Museum has also established cultural partnerships with the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Florence and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples.

For now, there’s a good photo from the Cleveland Museum of Art where the item was sojourning for a while …

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