Friday, September 11, 2009

The Tyrannicides are back.

Some rather good news. It seems that the Farnese collection in Naples is set to reopen it's doors on October 2nd.

Blogging Pompeii (a really excellent blog for everyone involved in archaeological work around the Bay of Naples) reports (from an Italian news service - available here) that the entire collection is scheduled to open once more to the public as of next month. The collection was undergoing a "reorganisation".

Given the quality of the collection, this is really superb news. The collection holds, among other treasures, the sculpture of the Athenian Tyrannicides (who were, monumental in the development of the Classical Athenian character and society). The pederastic couple of Harmodius and Aristogeiton (Ἁρμόδιος and Ἀριστογείτων) "liberated" Athens from the Peisistratids, and their legend subsequently became the symbol and heart of Athenian democracy.

Rather interestingly, although this is almost always the case, the extant sculpture is a Roman copy of a Greek copy of the original. The story goes - and it's a little confusing, as many stories regarding our extant statues are - that the Persians nicked the original when they sacked Athens in 480 B.C.E and depending on who you read, either Alexander or Seleucus the 1st returned it to the city sometime later.

In the meantime the Athenians produced a copy to replace the stolen original. Neither of these two Athenian versions are still around, and so the copy we have is a Roman reproduction (or original work, as you care to interpret it) of the 2nd Athenian version. The copy we have, although now in Naples, was originally found in Tivoli (near Rome) at Hadrian's Villa.

This is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, Hadrian was an immense collector of art, and one wonders how the democratic ideal represented by the Tyrannicides was installed within his Villa and how the inherent irony of it being placed in the villa of an Emperor played out to those that viewed it.

Secondly - Hadrian himself knew the power of a pederastic relationship (with Antonius, a young member of his entourage), and I wonder what elements of his own experience he could compare with that exuded by the statues.

The reorganisation seems to be a wonderful idea. According to the Italian news source, they've attempted to

"respond to the policy of exploiting the work through the reconstruction, where possible contexts of origin and to reconstruct the context and the time of formation of the collector's collection itself".

All in all a rather good idea. Viewing sculpture is a complex activity, and almost everything can change our affect our interpretation of the sculpture we're viewing. It's perhaps opening a can of worms to really try and set the works into their original context, for the notion of recreating the original context is, in itself, an act of creation. That said, it's an admirable pursuit, and I look forward to being able to view it, and witnessing how the new setting will affect the impact of viewing the statue.

Google Translate, rather usefully, can turn the Italian news source into an "English" one, which, although my Italian is pretty weak, seems to be a worthy translation. Link here.

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