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Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World


The conquests of Alexander the Great (ruled 336 – 323 BC) ushered in the Hellenistic period, characterized by the spread of Greek art, literature, and language throughout his empire and in lands beyond its borders. The empire collapsed after Alexander’s death, but rulers of the kingdoms that emerged in its wake embraced Greek culture as their own and became patrons of the arts. The rise of the Roman Empire following the victory of Octavian (later called Augustus) over Mark Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BC brought the Hellenistic era to a close.

During the three hundred years separating Alexander and Augustus, the medium of bronze drove artistic innovation in Greece and across the Mediterranean. Sculptors moved beyond the Classical canon, introducing new subjects and supplementing idealized forms with realistic renderings of physical and emotional states. Bronze — surpassing marble with its tensile strength, reflective surface, and ability to capture fine detail — was used for dynamic compositions, dazzling displays of the nude body, and vivid expressions of age and character.

Bronze statues were produced in the thousands throughout the Hellenistic world. Honorific portraits of rulers and citizens populated cities, and images of gods, heroes, and victorious athletes crowded sanctuaries. Few of these bronzes survive, however, giving the false impression today that ancient sculpture was mainly of marble. This unprecedented exhibition brings together some fifty of the most significant bronzes and related works lent by museums in Austria, Denmark, France, Georgia, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Spain, Tunisia, the United States, and the Vatican.

Next: The Rarity of Bronzes