Defining Beauty: the Body in Ancient Greek Art

As dawn broke on the morning of 30 April a group of Ertegun Scholars assembled at Oxford train station. Several coffees later, we arrived outside the gates of the British Museum for its latest blockbuster exhibition, “Defining Beauty: the Body in Ancient Greek Art.” We were accompanied from Oxford by our own Professor Bert Smith, and were soon met by Ian Jenkins, Curator of the ancient Greek collection. I’m sure I speak for everyone in thanking these two heavyweights of classical statuary for so kindly giving up their morning to us.

The statues themselves make up an all-star cast of the classical world: Myron’s Discobolus; Lely’s Venus; the Parthenon marbles. For me however the star of the show had to be the famous Belvedere Torso, here on loan from the Vatican Museums, whose broken limbs reveal the geological solidity beneath the rippling and organic muscles of the finished surfaces. Generously spaced and well lit, various charms and allures of the objects invite appreciation from all angles. Away from the cold and threatening austerity of the Duveen Gallery (where the Parthenon marbles are usually displayed), Dr Jenkins’ playfully unapologetic insistence on the perfection of the Greek achievement became considerably more persuasive.

Hugh Jeffery