Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lion Attacking A Horse to be featured at Getty Villa

A Lion Attacking A Horse, a wonderful  monumental marble sculptural group dating to the early Hellenistic period (the late 4th century B.C.), will be the centerpiece of a new exhibit at the Getty Villa beginning August 10th (2012).  This work, part of the “The Dream of Rome,” a project initiated by the Mayor of Rome, Giovanni Alemanno, to exhibit timeless masterpieces from the city of Rome in the United States, was created during an artistic period when Greek sculptors began to produce naturalistic portrayals of intense emotion and physical exertion. 

Giambologna, the sculptor of Flemish origins who dominated Florentine
sculpture in the late 1500s, produced small bronzes based on the Hellenistic
work around 1580-1589.  This one is related to a version owned by the
Emperor Rudolf II (now in Vienna). However, here the horse's forelock is
lengthened and twisted into a small, spiral horn, evoking the unicorn of
medieval legend.  Image courtesy of the Walters Art Museum of Baltimore,
"Although the original location of the sculpture is unknown, its massive scale and dramatic carving suggest that it embellished a monument in northern Greece or Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). Created in the era of Alexander the Great’s conquest of Asia, the sculpture may have formed part of a larger composition with a melee of wild beasts and mounted hunters, which commemorated the young king’s famous lion-hunting exploits at Sidon (present-day Lebanon) in 332 B.C. and a royal game preserve in Basista (present-day Uzbekistan) in 328-327 B.C.  The sculpture was eventually brought to Rome, most likely as war booty seized by a victorious general for display in the imperial capital. It was ultimately discovered in the streambed near the Circus Maximus, a stadium used for chariot races, gladiatorial games, and animal combats." - Getty Villa

The work has been the focus of several restoration efforts.

"The work was first mentioned in an archival document in 1300. By 1347, the sculpture was prominently displayed on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, the seat of the city’s civic administration. During this time, Renaissance Rome was experiencing a great rebirth of interest in its glorious ancient past, which served as a model for the present..."

"...Throughout the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, the sculpture was a battered fragment consisted only of an equine torso and feline foreparts. In 1594, Michelangelo’s student Ruggero Bascapé (Italian, active by 1580, died about 1600) replaced the horse’s head and both animals’ missing limbs and tails. His restoration of the horse, with its head straining forward and its lower back leg folded awkwardly beneath its body, was not well received at the time.

"Much admired by Michelangelo, who praised the colossal fragment as “most marvelous,” the Lion Attacking a Horse was a compelling model for generations of artists who studied in Rome. It features in several 16th-century illustrations which show the work before and after restoration, and became the prototype for numerous small and large scale replicas. The installation at the Getty Villa will include a 1585 engraving by Giovanni Battista de’ Cavalieri from the Getty Research Institute, illustrating the sculpture prior to Bascapé’s additions. A 17th-century bronze statuette by Antonio Susini from the Department of Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Getty Museum renders the horse’s head turned back toward the lion, a dynamic solution that reflects the likely composition of the original Greek sculpture." Getty Villa

Mosaic depicting a lion attacking an Onager Roman about 150 CE stone 
and glass.  Photographed at the Getty Villa by Mary Harrsch.
One of my favorite pieces at the Getty Villa,  a Roman mosaic of a lion attacking an onager, will be displayed with the work to help viewers visualize the original appearance of the Capitoline sculpture along with a set of  Parthian silver horse-trappings, vase-painting, coins, and gems featuring scenes of lion attacks.

I have had the privilege of visiting the Villa three times so far and each time have found the experience to be a  remarkable foray into the lives and culture of the ancient world.  

I hope to see  Lion Attacking a Horse before the close of the exhibit on February 4, 2013.  If I go after September 12, 2012 but before January 7, 2013, I could also see another fascinating presentation, The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection, an exhibit co-organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art in association with the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.  I've been to Pompeii itself twice and attended three major exhibits about Pompeii but can never get enough!
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