The Byzantines: Places, Symbols and Communities of an Over Thousand-Year-Old Empire
After the Roman Empire was officially split following the death of Theodosius in AD 395, the city of Constantinople (now Istanbul) thrived as the powerful capital of the Eastern Empire, the home of emperors, bishops, and plotting courtiers. For centuries, it had considerable influence over much of Europe and beyond in matters of religion, art and culture, and war.
This exhibition delves into the long and complex history of the city and its empire, from the legendary founding of Byzantium as a Greek colony in 667 BC, through its adoption as Emperor Constantine’s residence, up to the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. At its height, the Byzantine Empire stretched from Tunisia to the Caucasus, an expansive territory through which fine goods like goldwork and textiles, as well as oils and wine, were traded. Objects on view – such as glassware, ceramics, and glittering jewellery – offer a glimpse of the everyday lives of inhabitants of the empire from the 4th to 7th century AD, particularly in Greece (the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sport is one of the exhibition’s partners), and showcase the talents of Byzantine artisans.
Other significant artefacts include the sculptures, paintings, mosaics, and liturgical objects that made up the resplendent interiors of Byzantine churches. Up until the 7th and 8th century, the decoration of these objects was relatively simple, with geometric designs, crosses, and monograms, but it became more ornate – for instance, with the inclusion of animals with symbolic meaning into their designs.
Together, the pieces help build a picture of the Byzantine world as one where Roman traditions continued but were reframed by Christianity, and where influences from Iranian, Arab, Germanic, and Slavic cultures intermingled.
The exhibition was recently on view at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, but in this Turin iteration it features a section devoted to Byzantium’s links to Piedmont (the northern Italian province of which Turin is the capital) through marriage alliances and the military. The Turin connection continues through the set of Byzantine coins on view from the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica’s own collections, tracing both changes in power and stylistic developments as portraits of the emperor moved away from the classical profile.
Palazzo Madama – Museo Civico d’Arte Antica Until 28 August 2023 www.palazzomadamatorino.it
Tree and Serpent: Early Buddhist Art in India, 200 BCE–400 CE
New York, USA
As Buddhism emerged in north India and the religion spread, art devoted to honouring the Buddha and his teachings developed, particularly fine stone sculptures that adorned stupas, the domed monuments that house relics of the Buddha. The importance of this relic-worship is just one theme to be explored in the Met’s upcoming exhibition on India’s early Buddhist art, focusing significantly not on the north of India, where the Buddha lived and taught, but on the monastic sites in the south.
A collaboration with India’s Ministry of Culture, the exhibition features major loans including devotional works from the Deccan region. Excavations at Buddhist sites in this region, including Kanaganahalli and Phanigiri, have uncovered some beautiful early sculptures, which will be on display for the first time. Among the Deccan finds in recent decades are a complex architrave from a ceremonial gateway featuring a makara (a mythical sea creature representing the life-giving power of the waters) and a carved scene of the Buddha’s birth, and the graceful figure of a yaksa, a nature spirit, honouring the Buddha. Yaksas appear regularly in early Buddhist art, so too do narrative scenes from the life of the Buddha, images of the monumental stupa, the wheel representing the Dharma (‘law’, the Buddha’s teachings), and the two motifs from which the exhibition takes its title: the sacred bodhi tree and the na¯ga, the protective serpent.
While the displays reflect how Buddhism transformed the religious landscape, they draw attention as well to the pre-Buddhist nature cults that influenced figurative artworks. Ancient India’s important place on a global stage can be seen too, for example, through its cultural and trade connections with the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. These connections are clearly evoked through one particular pair of discoveries: just a few years after an ivory figurine of a deity or courtesan from the Deccan was excavated in Pompeii in 1938, a cache of Roman bronzes was uncovered in 1944-1945 at Brahmapuri, Kolhapur, including a small figure of Poseidon. This figure will be on view outside India for the first time.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art 21 July-13 November 2023 www.metmuseum.org
China’s hidden century
Between the accession of the fifth Qing emperor, Jiaqing, in 1796 and the abdication of the tenth, Puyi, in 1912, China underwent great transformations. It faced wars and upheaval, leading to revolution and the founding of a republic. Despite the deaths and dislocations, it was also a time of resourcefulness, resilience, and creativity, as this exhibition shows through its exploration of the material culture of different groups in 19th-century Chinese society. It looks at the worlds and work of reformers, diplomats, scientists, merchants, framers, artists, writers, the military, and the court. As well as changes in war and politics, the exhibition explores changes in paintings, craft, technology, literature, and fashion. Among the highlights are pieces of clothing, including a worker’s waterproofs and a sumptuous purple, gold, and turquoise robe belonging to the Empress Dowager Cixi (de facto ruler between 1861 and 1908). Its design features a phoenix and chrysanthemums, and combines Manchu, Chinese, and Japanese motifs (ABOVE).
British Museum, London Until 8 October 2023 www.britishmuseum.org
While not everyone can nor does drink milk, it is considered a staple of diets in a number of different societies, among them the UK and the US (as reflected by the prominence of the ‘got milk?’ advertising campaign). Focusing on the UK, this exhibition examines how milk became ubiquitous, thanks in part to government campaigns from the 1910s onwards. The exhibition also takes a longer view of humans’ relationship with dairy, as represented by a terracotta model of a mule carrying trays of cheese from the 3rd or 2nd century BC (ABOVE) and a group of cow-shaped creamers from the 18th and early 19th century.
Wellcome Collection, London Until 10 September 2023 https://wellcomecollection.org
The Gold Emperor from Aventicum
A remarkable, nearly life-size gold bust of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. AD 161-180) has gone on display at the Getty Villa. The bust, which is pictured and may have been affixed to a wooden structure to be carried in processions, was discovered in 1939 at the site of Aventicum in Switzerland. It is in excellent condition, as it had been hidden away in a sewage pipe, possibly during an invasion by Germanic tribes in the late 3rd century.
The bust is on loan from Switzerland together with other artefacts from Aventicum, where a Roman city was built on an earlier Celtic settlement. These Celtic origins are reflected in the marble inscriptions of Celtic civic leaders and the Celtic goddess Anechtiomara that are on view, while the bust highlights the role of the image of the emperor in Rome’s provinces.
Meanwhile, at the Getty Center until 6 August 2023, a display of manuscripts is offering a lighter view of medieval life through the lens of games and pastimes. Sports like jousting and falconry may spring to mind, and these are indeed illustrated in the exhibition displays, but more sedate pursuits like chess feature as well.
Getty Villa, Los Angeles, California Until 29 January 2024 www.getty.edu
The city of Washington is full of buildings and monuments that draw on Greek and Roman architecture, from the Jefferson Memorial to Union Station. This exhibition examines how and why the Founding Fathers were influenced by antiquity as they sought to establish a new Roman Republic, how later politicians looked to Athenian democracy, and how classical forms in federal buildings, public sculpture, and painting helped the young United States proclaim itself on the world stage.
George Washington University Museum and Textile Museum, Washington DC Until 18 November 2023 https://museum.gwu.edu
Canova: Sketching in Clay
The work of Italian Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822) also offers a chance to see connections between the Founding Fathers and classical antiquity. In 1821, a marble sculpture by Canova of George Washington in the guise of a Roman general was installed in the North Carolina State House. Both the building and the statue were destroyed by fire just a decade later, but this exhibition includes two earlier models of the sculpture in plaster and in terracotta.
While Canova is best known for his refined marble sculptures, here the focus is on his terracottas, which showcase his expressive modelling style. After designing in clay, final full-scale models were cast in plaster and then copied into marble by assistants using the pointing system, to be finished by Canova himself. Early stages of the creative process are revealed for example by the c.1786-1787 terracotta Satyr and a Nymph (BELOW), possibly a model for his famous marble sculpture Cupid and Psyche. A large group of these terracottas are on loan from the Museo Gypsotheca Antonio Canova in his hometown of Possagno.
The exhibition will later travel to the Art Institute of Chicago (19 November to 18 March 2024).
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC Until 9 October 2023 www.nga.gov
Gods, Heroes and Traitors: The History Image around 1800
In 1776, Duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen began to amass an art collection housed in a palace in Vienna, today the Albertina museum. Drawing from the Duke’s collection of works on paper, this exhibition surveys the development of the history picture during his own day. Episodes from history and Greek and Roman myths offered artists like Jacques-Louis David – whose 1776 The Combat of Diomedes in pen and ink, grey wash, and chalk is shown (ABOVE) – Henry Fuseli, Angelica Kauffman, and Heinrich Friedrich Füger (who was based in Austria) material with which to stir the senses through emotional intensity and drama, and to impart moral lessons.
Albertina, Vienna Until 27 August 2023 https://albertina.at
Portable Universe: Thought and Splendour of Indigenous Colombia
The rich landscapes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in northern Colombia, range from Caribbean beaches to snow-capped mountains. The need for balance between human inhabitants and such diverse habitats is evoked through the many works on display in this exhibition, which invites visitors to think about our place in the world. Covering a broad stretch of time from c.1500 BC to the present, the displays include gold pendants, pectorals, and finials – like this Early Zenú goldwork style bird finial, 200 BC-AD 1000 (ABOVE) – ceramic effigies, textiles, and contemporary watercolours, all of which showcase the richness of Indigenous Colombian culture. Much of the material is from before the Spanish conquest, with peoples such as the Tairona represented. The Tairona lived in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and among their descendants in the region today are the Arhuaco, who collaborated with the curators to foreground their understandings. The exhibition is organised by Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Colombia’s Museo del Oro and the Unidad de Artes y Otras Colecciones of the Banco de la República, in collaboration with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Until 1 October 2023 www.mmfa.qc.ca
Egypt: Three Millennia on the Nile
Drawing from the collection of Turin’s Museo Egizio, this exhibition spans 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian history and culture up to the beginning of the Roman conquest. The more than 300 artefacts on view introduce different aspects of life in ancient Egypt, such as the organisation of power, the role of animals, religion, and family. As well as pharaohs and priests, a diverse cast of characters including farmers and fishers, scribes, and artisans populate the exhibition. Personal items like jewellery, tools, and funerary finds like shabtis and sarcophagi are on display, along with monumental statues and stelae.
Pointe-à-Callière, Montreal Until 15 October 2023 https://pacmusee.qc.ca
Behind the Façade – Discover the Architecture of the Glyptotek
Copenhagen was designated World Capital of Architecture for 2023 and, as part of the city’s programme celebrating its architecture, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is staging an exhibition that looks at the making of the museum. In 1897, nine years after Carl and Ottila Jacobsen donated their art collection to the public, the museum opened its doors in what was at the time the swampy outskirts of the city (the plot had been allocated by the municipality). Carl Jacobsen wanted a spectacular home for the collection, and it is still impressive, with an imposing entrance, lofty ceilings, and an enchanting Winter Garden. The Glyptotek today is made up of three buildings: the first by Vilhelm Dahlerup (who also added the Winter Garden in 1906); a 1906 extension by Hack Kampmann, required as the collection grew (and now the home of the antiquities collection); and a more modern 1996 extension by the firm Henning Larsen. As well as the architects, attention is paid to the artisans who created the museum’s decorative details: Jacobsen recruited a team of Italian master mosaicists (BELOW LEFT) to furnish the floors with colour.
Ny Carlsberg Glypotek, Copenhagen Until 19 November 2023 www.glyptoteket.com
Ingres: The artist and his princes
Among the patrons of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), the most significant was perhaps Duke Ferdinand d’Orléans, the eldest son of King Louis-Philippe, who commissioned and acquired three important paintings that are exhibited together for the first time in this show. They are Oedipus and the Sphinx (1808), Stratonice, or the Illness of Antiochus (1840; ABOVE), and a portrait of the Duke (1842). In the exhibition, these and other works are used to look at the artist’s relationship with his princely patron, demonstrate his talents as a history painter, portraitist, and even stained-glass designer, and reflect his endless quest for perfection and ideal beauty. The Illness of Antiochus commissioned by the Duc d’Orléans was, for instance, just one of five paintings (and three drawings) the artist produced on this theme, which had already been explored by his teacher Jacques-Louis David.
Château de Chantilly Until 1 October 2023 https://chateaudechantilly.fr
Naples in Paris
Highlights from Museo di Capodimonte in Naples are going on view in three separate spaces in the Louvre, uniting major works by Italian artists from two great European collections. The collection of the Capodimonte, the former hunting lodge of the Bourbon rulers of Naples, was built up by the Farnese, the Bourbon, and the Bonaparte-Murat dynasties, as the displays in the Salle de la Chapelle explore through paintings of key figures in these families (such as Titian’s 1545-1546 portrait of Pope Paul III Farnese with his grandsons) and sculptures and art objects that filled palaces. In the Salle de l’Horloge, four drawings from the old Farnese collection (one a cartoon by Michelangelo and another by Raphael) are joined by others from the Louvre’s collection, including a recently restored cartoon by Giulio Romano, a pupil of and close assistant to Raphael. In the Salon Carré and Grande Galerie, 31 paintings enhance the Louvre’s own displays, with works like Guido Reni’s Atalanta and Hippomenes (1620-1625; above) and Masaccio’s Crucifixion (c.1426) showing the prevalence of mythological and religious subjects.
Musée du Louvre, Paris Until 8 January 2024 (until 25 September 2023 for the Salle de l’Horloge) www.louvre.fr
Archaeological Treasures of Uzbekistan: From Alexander the Great to the Kushan Empire
In the 320s BC, Alexander the Great made his way across Central Asia, defeating the Persian Empire, conquering lands up to India, and founding new Greek cities. The regions of Sogdia and Bactria (parts of which lie in what is now Uzbekistan) were among the lands Alexander conquered, falling, after his death in 323 BC, to his successors as part of the Greek Seleucid Empire, then the Graeco-Bactrian Empire. This two-venue exhibition takes visitors on an archaeological journey through Uzbekistan from the 4th century BC to the 4th century AD, painting a picture of the cultural developments during this period. At the Neues Museum, Alexander’s military campaigns are in the spotlight, with finds from the recent work at the border fortress of Kurganzol on display. At the same time, in the James-Simon-Galerie, the artistic achievements of the Kushan Empire are celebrated. The Kushans established an empire in Bactria, which in the 1st century AD stretched to the Gandhara region (north-west Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan), reaching its zenith under the emperor Kanishka (r. c.127-153). Aristocratic rulers were depicted in striking sculptures, but so too were Buddhist deities and monks. One highlight is the larger-than-life hand from a figure of Buddha (BELOW) from a temple complex at Dalverzin Tepe, dating to the 2nd or 3rd century AD. This large settlement developed into a prominent urban centre with a number of temples devoted to different faiths.
James-Simon-Galerie & Neues Museum, Berlin Until 14 January 2024 www.smb.museum
Between two waters: La Tène, a place of memory
The Swiss site of La Tène, on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel, lends its name to an Iron Age culture found across swathes of Europe and identified by its style of art. In the decades since its discovery by a fisherman in 1857, the site has offered up weapons, tools, jewellery, skeletal remains, and even the remnants of two oak bridges that spanned an ancient channel of the River Thielle. This exhibition at the museum of La Tène delves into the research into and debates surrounding this significant type-site over the years, presenting archival documents such as photographs of past excavations and watercolours documenting the finds. Almost all of the thousands of La Tène finds held by the museum are on display in a showcase nearly 20m long, a presentation intended to evoke the museum’s storerooms and to highlight the importance of its restoration and conservation work.
Laténium, Parc et musée d’archéologie, Hauterive–Neuchâtel Until 15 October 2023 https://latenium.ch