Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art
New York, USA
In 2021, two striking Maya stelae arrived at the Met’s Great Hall on long-term loan from Guatemala. These monuments, carved by Maya court artists, depict two rulers, the king K’inich Yo’nal Ahk II (c. AD 664-729) and queen Ix Wak Jalam Chan (Lady Six Sky) (c. AD 670s-741). Both works incorporate aspects of the divine: Ix Wak Jalam Chan impersonates a goddess as she tramples a captive, while gods emerge from a mountain by the enthroned K’inich Yo’nal Ahk II.
The Met is continuing its exploration of Maya art of the Classic period (AD 250-900) with this new exhibition focused on divinity. It features more loans from Guatemala (including recent discoveries from the site of El Zotz) as well as Mexico (with new material from Palenque), and from other museums across Europe, the United States, and Latin America.
Some objects – like the stelae – demonstrate the link between religion and political authority. Other artefacts chart the lives of the gods (who are depicted as infants, as mature adults, and as more elderly figures), their transformations, and in some cases their rebirths. Among the gods encountered are the aged Itzamnaaj, who played an important part in creation myths; the nocturnal, warlike Jaguar God; Chahk, god of rain; K’awiil, god of lightning, fertility, and abundance; and the Maize God. The youthful Maize God was reborn after death, and is associated not just with the vital crop, but also with prized jade and cacao.
As well as individual gods and rulers, the exhibition draws attention to Maya sculptors and painters who signed their works, and whose names have been steadily identified as advances are made in the study of Maya hieroglyphs.
The exhibition is organised with the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas, where it will be on view between 7 May and 3 September 2023.
Metropolitan Museum of Art Until 2 April 2023 www.metmuseum.org
Images and stories from antiquity have been reused countless times in art, literature, and design, among many other contexts. When it comes to ancient objects themselves, how do different post-antique settings starting from the moment of their rediscovery change the meaning of these artefacts?
This exhibition at the Fondazione Prada in Milan examines the new lives Greek and Roman antiquities experienced from the medieval to the Baroque periods. Some of these artefacts, having been forgotten and untouched for centuries, found themselves turned into artworks desired by collectors; often, they were cut up and dispersed. This was the case for a 5th-century BC Greek funerary stele of an athlete, which had already been brought to ancient Rome as a collector’s object. It was later in the collection of a 16th-century cardinal, then split in two in 1701, and eventually reunited at the Vatican Museums in 1957.
Some examples of reuse are decorative, for instance when ancient carvings are repurposed in buildings like churches, where their original meaning and religious context is lost but the artefacts are preserved. In such cases, the pagan iconography often didn’t matter, or the original meaning of the object was not understood. The Hellenistic sculptural group of a lion attacking a horse from the 4th century BC, for example, was displayed on the Capitoline Hill in the medieval period, where it served as an allegory of good government. Sometimes a later carver offered a reinterpretation of ancient motifs. Inscriptions added in the 15th century to a 1st-century AD funerary relief re-identify the figures of the deceased as Honor (Honour), Amor (Love), and Veritas (Truth).
The exhibition considers reuse within antiquity, as well. The famous – and now fragmentary – colossal statue of Emperor Constantine was reworked from an older cult statue, probably of Jupiter, as a full-scale reconstruction shown in the exhibition alongside the monumental right hand and foot sets out to illustrate.
Until 27 February 2023
Colour: Art, Science, and Power
The world is full of colour, something that humans have harnessed and replicated in art and crafts for millennia, whether by painting with certain mineral-based pigments or using birds’ feathers for prestigious garments. The ways we perceive colour, its powerful influence on well-being, the associations of certain colours with political elites, and the lengths people have gone to in order to source colours are all explored in this exhibition, which draws on the collections of institutions across the University of Cambridge. Reflecting the diversity of hues, the range of items on display includes scientific instruments, ancient Egyptian figures, medieval manuscripts, shells, and a dazzling 19th-century kingfisher feather headdress from China (below).
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge Until 9 April 2023 https://maa.cam.ac.uk
Gladiators: A Cemetery of Secrets
In 2004-2005, excavations just outside York discovered some 80 Roman skeletons. Many had been decapitated and had signs of injuries suffered during life, such as an animal bite to the pelvis. This exhibition investigates the stories of the skeletons, considering whether the men buried at the site were gladiators, soldiers, criminals, or slaves. Facial reconstructions and CT scans help visitors assess the evidence, while replica helmets and weapons, and Roman artefacts found by York Archaeological Trust illustrate aspects of the world the deceased lived in.
Corinium Museum, Cirencester
Until 23 April 2023
Making Sense of Marbles: Roman Sculpture at the OI
While Roman sculpture may not be a type of artefact commonly associated with the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, it is held in the collection thanks to its sixth director, Carl H Kraeling, who wanted to establish a ‘representative collection’ for the city. Not only did the OI excavate at the ancient city of Ptolemais in modern Libya for three seasons between 1956 and 1958, during which they found a range of marbles – among them a woman’s head (above) – reflecting the different roles of sculpture in life in the city, but Kraeling also purchased Roman objects on the antiquities market. This exhibition presents Roman sculpture from the OI’s collection as a group for the first time, investigating the differences in research approaches and questions for artefacts with different object histories, highlighting the importance of archaeological context.
Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, Illinois Until 12 March 2023 https://oi.uchicago.edu
Nubia: Jewels of Ancient Sudan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Between 1913 and 1932, Harvard University and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, excavated in Sudan, revealing large numbers of exquisitely worked objects from royal and aristocratic burials of ancient Nubia. Some of these artefacts have now travelled to the Getty Villa for an exhibition that covers a broad span of Nubian history from the Kerma period of the Kingdom of Kush, which began around 2400 BC. With rich resources including gold and ivory, and access to trade routes connecting Egypt, Greece, Rome, and central Africa, the Nubian elite had a range of precious materials and cultural influences to draw on. At Meroë, a later administrative centre and royal burial place of the Kushite kingdom, local artisans excelled in enamelling and filigree and granulation goldwork techniques. Glass, faience, and different stones were also popular. Among the exhibition highlights is a small, charming gold vulture amulet from the reign of Atlanersa in the Napata period (653-634 BC; below).
Four contemporary works of art are on view as well, as part of the Adornment | Artifact project (www.adornmentartifact.org), which responds to the exhibition and explores images and ideas that have spread beyond Africa.
Getty Villa Museum, Los Angeles, California
Until 3 April 2023
In the Heian period (AD 794-1185), birds grew in prominence in Japanese painting. Together with flowers, these feathered friends could be used to symbolise seasons or auspicious omens. This exhibition surveys the art of the bird in Japan, and how painters have, for centuries, experimented with different brush techniques to capture in ink the details of different species, such as varieties of feather-type and the foliage they frequent, and employed colour to add layers of symbolic meaning. As well as hanging scroll paintings and screens – for example, Sesshuˉ Toˉyoˉ’s screen Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons: Spring and Summer, executed in ink and colour on paper in the late 15th or early 16th century (above) – the exhibition includes early modern Japanese ceramics decorated with birds which show the ways in which potters tried to recreate the sense of ink on their clay vessels.
National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian, Washington DC
Until 29 January 2023
The softness of European alabaster meant that it quickly spread across Europe in the late medieval period as a material for sculpture. This exhibition draws on some of the latest research surrounding alabaster, such as tracing the most significant deposits in France, England, Spain, Italy, and Germany, as well as analysis that can distinguish between alabaster and the visually similar white marble. It charts the use of the material in sculpture from the 14th to the 17th century. A prestigious and costly material, alabaster – with its skin-like shine – was popular in funerary sculpture for those who could afford to show off their taste after their death. It was a popular material for altarpieces too, a trend developed in the French royal court of the 14th century. The area around Nottingham in England was an especially fruitful source of alabaster, which was turned into standardised altarpieces for the local market, and also exported to Italy and Spain.
M Leuven Until 26 February 2023 www.mleuven.be
Dream of Egypt
Ancient Egypt has had a powerful influence on many artists since antiquity. Among them is the French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), who collected various antiquities and fragments of sculpture, including Egyptian material, and described his 1898 Monument to Balzac as the ‘Sphinx of France’. Some of these artefacts from the artist’s collection are on display in this exhibition of more than 400 pieces that reveal aspects of his working relationship with ancient Egypt. Rodin’s drawings and sculptures are on view, along with archival material and photography that shed light on 19th-century visions of Egypt, the art market at the time, and the role of other artists, writers, antiquarians, and Egyptologists in fuelling Rodin’s interest. The exhibition explores, too, the affinity between Egyptian art and Rodin’s work with fragmentation, monumentality, and simplification of forms.
Musée Rodin, Paris
Until 5 March 2023
Adventures on the Nile: Prussia and Egyptology 1842-45
Two decades after Jean-François Champollion first deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs, Frederick William IV, King of Prussia, sent a team to Alexandria to travel south down the Nile and study sites along the river. The Royal Prussian Expedition spent three years investigating Egyptian sites, even journeying as far as present-day Sudan, at a time when Egyptology was in its infancy and inscriptions were newly legible once more thanks to Champollion’s work. Their work was published in 12 large, illustrated volumes, which were funded by the king. This exhibition examines the impact the expedition had on early Egyptology, the working practices of the team, and the objects they brought back, which were displayed at Berlin’s Neues Museum from 1850. Watercolours and drawings record the sites the expedition visited and detail the monuments they surveyed, with one watercolour by Johann Jakob Frey and Max Weidenbach (left) showing the members of the expedition on top of the pyramid of Khufu (October 1842).
Neues Museum, Berlin Until 7 March 2023 www.smb.museum
GUIDO RENI: THE DIVINE
During his lifetime, the Italian artist Guido Reni (1575-1642) earned the epithet Il divino (‘The Divine’), partly owing to his celebrity and success – attracting Pope Paul V, the Duke of Mantua, and English royalty as patrons – and his sometimes tempestuous and demanding behaviour. He was, according to a contemporary biography, addicted to gambling as well as being deeply religious and superstitious. He also strove to convey the beauty and grace of the divine on the canvas, as demonstrated by this exhibition of more than 130 of his paintings, drawings, and prints – including new discoveries and works on view for the first time. This might be Christian divinity – as in the recently restored Christ at the Column, and depictions of the heads of Christ and Mary looking towards heaven that influenced religious imagery elsewhere in Europe – or the gods of ancient Greece and Rome, as in the vibrant oil painting Bacchus and Ariadne (c.1616-1617; right).
Städel Museum, Frankfurt
Until 5 March 2023
New Light from Pompeii
Small oil lamps have been found across the Roman Empire, but how did the world look when illuminated by these devices? Drawing on research from an interdisciplinary project, this exhibition presents beautiful bronze oil lamps (such as the 1st-century AD one from Pompeii with three spouts, a statuette of a dancer, and a reflector; below), candelabras, lamp stands, and figurative lamp- and torch-holding sculptures from Pompeii and the cities around Vesuvius (a number of which have been restored for this display). These invite visitors to reflect on not just how these objects appear today, but the ‘light art’ they created through their shapes and surfaces, and the play of artificial light and shadow. New bronze casts and digital lighting simulations provide an experience of different light effects, while a virtual-reality display allows visitors to light lamps for themselves.
Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich
Until 2 April 2023
Emperor Domitian: Hate and Love
Rome’s Villa Caffarelli, part of the Capitoline Museums, was built on the foundations of the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill, a temple that was restored by Emperor Domitian after the fire of AD 80. Following on from an exhibition at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, the Villa Caffarelli is now examining the life and legacy of Domitian, the last Flavian emperor. New artefacts are included in this iteration of the exhibition, which considers the army and administration, the imperial family’s dynastic propaganda, the palace on the Palatine, numerous public building projects in Rome, and the practice of damnatio memoriae or the obliteration of the memory of a figure who has fallen out of favour (which seems to have been limited in Domitian’s case). Fragments of architectural decoration and portraits in bronze and marble are among the objects on view, such as the elegant Dama Fonseca (below).
Musei Capitolini, Villa Caffarelli, Rome
Until 29 January 2023
Treasures from the Chishakuin Temple in Kyoto
The beauty of the four seasons is a common theme in Japanese art, and the paintings on gold grounds for walls and sliding doors preserved by the Chishakuin Temple in Higashiyama, Kyoto, the headquarters of the Chisan School of the Shingon Buddhism, are splendid examples. Painted by the Momoyama-period master Hasegawa Toˉhaku (1539-1610) and his followers for the Shoˉunji mortuary temple for the feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s son Tsurumatsu, they were later moved to Chishakuin Temple. Cherry Blossoms (in spring), Maple Tree (in autumn), and Pine Tree with Autumn Plants are on view together outside the temple for the first time.
Suntory Museum of Art, Tokyo
Until 22 January 2023
THE ‘INVENTION OF MANY WORKS’: Domenico Fontana (1543-1607) and his building sites
Visitors to the Vatican today find themselves in the presence not just of a grand basilica, but, in the middle of St Peter’s Square, an ancient Egyptian obelisk. Roman emperors transported such monuments from Egypt to Rome, but the final step in this one’s journey, from the Circus of Caligula and Nero to St Peter’s Square in 1584, was the feat of architect Domenico Fontana, working for Pope Sixtus V. The exhibition traces Fontana’s career, including work in Rome for Sixtus, and for Spanish viceroys in Naples, where he moved in 1592 after being accused of embezzlement. He raised three more obelisks in Rome: the Lateran, Esquiline, and Flaminio obelisks. His work was depicted in various images, such as Giovanni Guerra’s 1586 Raising and Lowering of the Obelisk with the Coat of Arms of Sixtus V (above).
Giovanni Züst Cantonal Art Gallery, Rancate (Mendrisio)
Until 19 February 2023