At the Getty ~ Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife

A Getty Press Release of interest:


Exhibition is Centered on the Recent Conservation of a Monumental Funerary Vessel on Loan from the National Archaeological Museum in Naples

Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife

At the Getty Villa

October 31, 2018–March 18, 2019

LOS ANGELES – What did ancient Greeks believe would happen to them after they died? For most, the Underworld was bleak and somber, characterized by the absence of life’s pleasures, leading many individuals to seek ways to secure a more blessed afterlife. Organized around a monumental funerary vessel (krater) from Altamura, on loan from the National Archaeological Museum in Naples and recently conserved by the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Antiquities Conservation department, Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife explores depictions of the Underworld in the art of ancient Greece and southern Italy. The exhibition will be on view at the Getty Villa from October 31, 2018 through March 18, 2019.

“Some of the richest evidence for ancient beliefs about the afterlife comes from southern Italy in the fourth century BC, and the magnificent Altamura krater exemplifies the monumental, elaborately decorated vases that were produced at that time,” said Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts. “This important exhibition is the culmination of a two-year conservation project with the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples (MANN) to conserve and display this krater. Our continued partnership with MANN has resulted in several successful collaborative projects including three of their splendid bronze treasures, the Ephebe (Youth) in 2009, the Apollo Saettante in 2011, and the over-life-size sculpture of Tiberius in 2013.”

A centerpiece of the exhibition, the krater was made around the middle of the fourth century B.C, and was found in fragments in 1847 in Altamura in the region of Apulia, southeast Italy. The ancient inhabitants of that region buried their dead with assemblages of pottery and other goods, and large vessels were produced for graves of the local elite. Though not Greek themselves, Apulians engaged closely with the culture of Greece, and many of their funerary vases are decorated with scenes from Greek myth and drama. The krater from Altamura depicts the Underworld populated with more than 20 mythological figures including Hades and Persephone, the god and goddess of the Underworld, the musician Orpheus, the hero Herakles, the messenger god Hermes, and Sisyphus, who was eternally punished by having to roll a giant boulder up a hill.

The display of the krater in this exhibition follows two years of conservation treatment at the Getty Villa. After its discovery in 1847, the krater was substantially overpainted when it was reassembled in the workshop of the Neapolitan restorer Raffaele Gargiulo (1785–after 1870) in the early 1850s. By 2016, many of the old repairs needed treatment. In collaboration with colleagues in Naples, Getty conservators have worked to ensure the vase’s structural soundness and future stability. In the process, they were able to identify which areas had been re-created in the nineteenth century, and the results are presented in the exhibition.

The Underworld–otherwise known as “the House of Hades” or simply “Hades”–is a rare subject in Greek art. Athenian vase-painters of the sixth century BC typically focused on individual sinners such as Sisyphus, and it is only in South Italian vase-painting from around 350 BC that a tradition of richly populated Underworld scenes developed. About forty Apulian funerary vessels in mostly European collections, including the krater from Altamura, bear detailed representations of the afterlife and the mythological figures associated with it.

“Around thirty-five other ancient works have been chosen to highlight the famous inhabitants of Hades and to explore the ways in which individuals sought to achieve a happier afterlife,” said David Saunders, curator of the exhibition and associate curator of Antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Monumental funerary vessels, such as the krater from Altamura, are painted with elaborate depictions of Hades’s realm, and rare gold plaques that were buried with the dead bear directions for where to go in the Underworld. These works, alongside funerary offerings, grave monuments, and representations of everlasting banquets, convey some of the ways in which the hereafter was imagined in the fifth and fourth centuries BC.”

Most ancient Greeks anticipated that the soul left the body after death and continued to exist in some form, but an expectation that good would be rewarded and evil punished in the afterlife was not central to their beliefs. Perpetual torment awaited only the most exceptional sinners, while just a select few—heroes related to the Olympian gods—enjoyed an eternal paradise. Yet as this exhibition explores, individuals did seek ways to improve their lot.

Initiation in the Eleusinian Mysteries, an annual festival in Greece based on the story of Persephone, ensured participants a good harvest and also a blessed afterlife. Outside of mainstream religious practice, devotion to the mythical singer Orpheus and the god Dionysos also offered paths to a better existence after death. The rites were shrouded in secrecy and remain little understood today, but one of the most intriguing sources of information are the so-called Orphic tablets. Named by modern scholars after the mythical poet Orpheus, whose descent and return from the Underworld made him one of the few who could impart knowledge of the afterlife, the Orphic tablets are Greek inscriptions written on thin sheets of gold. They were deposited in graves, and usually bear a short text proclaiming the deceased’s distinguished status and providing guidance for his or her journey into the Underworld. Three examples are on view in the exhibition, including one in the Getty’s collection.

The Greek philosopher Plato (about 428-347 BC) observed wryly that individuals “dismiss the stories told about what goes on in Hades” until they face death themselves. This exhibition examines some of the competing ideas and beliefs about the afterlife, and different strategies for ensuring everlasting happiness.

Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife is curated by David Saunders, associate curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum. The exhibition is organized in collaboration with the National Archaeological Museum in Naples – Laboratory of Conservation and Restoration. The conservation and display of the krater from Altamura were made possible by support from the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Villa Council.

Some Statuary Worth Visiting

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve learned of a couple of  bits of statuary folks might want to check out if they’re ‘in the neighbourhood’ … first is the so-called Fauno Rosso at the Nelson-Atkins MoA  . Here’s a bit from their page:

He is an unkempt creature of the wild, with shaggy hair and goat-like characteristics–pointed ears, a short tail and dewlaps–and he is delighted to raise high a cluster of freshly picked grapes. The red–marble Fauno rosso, a spectacular example of ancient Roman sculpture, will be on view for the first time ever in America, thanks to a new relationship between the city of Rome and the Nelson-Atkins. Through September 30, visitors to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art can view the sculpture in Kirkwood Hall, which has been transformed into a classic Roman palazzo.

The loan is part of a program of exchanges and cultural events that was launched with the support of the Embassy of Italy in 2011, called The Dream of Rome, a collaboration between the Capitoline Museums in Rome, Enel Green Power and the Knights of Columbus. Through The Dream of Rome, some of Rome’s masterpieces will be on display in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Kansas City.

… in case it isn’t familiar:


Also of note is that seated boxer at the Met which is only around for another week or so. From their official page:

The bronze statue Boxer at Rest was excavated in Rome in 1885 on the south slope of the Quirinal Hill near the ancient Baths of Constantine, where it is thought to have been displayed. The statue was intentionally buried in late antiquity, possibly to preserve it against the barbarian invasions that ravaged Rome in the fifth century A.D. The broad-shouldered, lanky pugilist is depicted just after a match sitting on a boulder to rest after the unnerving tension of the fight. Something catches his eye and makes him turn his head: perhaps the applause of the spectators or the entrance of his next opponent?

In his athletic nakedness, he wears only boxing gloves and a sort of athletic suspender (kynodèsme) that was both protective and an element of decorum. The many wounds to his head, the primary target in ancient Greek boxing matches, make clear that he has just completed a match. Blood, represented by inlaid copper, drips from cuts on his forehead, cheeks, and cauliflower ears. His right eye is swollen and bruised. His nose is broken, and he breathes through his mouth, probably because his nostrils are blocked by blood. His inwardly drawn lips are scarred, likely indicating that his teeth have been pushed in or knocked out. Despite his exhaustion, the muscles in his arms and legs are still tense, as if the battered champion were ready to spring up and face a new combatant. […]

Even if you can’t get to it, you definitely should check out the article at Now at the Met: The Boxer: An Ancient Masterpiece Comes to the Met, which, inter alia, includes this great photo of its find spot on the Quirinal back in 1885:

… which could possibly inspire some Classical memes?

Pass the Fig Leaf

The incipit of an AFP item (via Google):

Greece has pulled two ancient statues from an ongoing Olympic Games exhibition in Qatar in a dispute over nudity, a culture ministry source said on Tuesday.

“The statues have already returned to Greece,” a culture ministry source told AFP, adding: “Organisers in Qatar wanted to cover up the statues’ members with black cloth. So they were never put on display, they went back into storage and returned on April 19.”

The statues — an archaic-era Greek youth and a Roman-era copy of a Classical athlete — are both nude, the manner in which Olympic athletes competed in antiquity.

Greece’s junior minister for culture Costas Tzavaras had travelled to the Qatari capital of Doha for the opening of the exhibit on March 27, saying it opened a “bridge of friendship” between the two countries.

According to the culture ministry, Greece has contributed nearly 600 exhibits from the National Archaeological Museum, the Numismatic Museum and the Museum of Olympia, birthplace of the Games.

The Doha exhibit runs to June 30.

A similar exhibit had previously been hosted in Berlin.[…]

… and just for comparanda: It Doesn’t Play in San Antonio Redux (October, 2012).