What can you do with the world’s most beautiful art? Where does it belong? How should it be cared for and displayed?
The art in question is the array of sculpture created in Athens in the 5th century BC to decorate the Parthenon, the temple to Athena that still, today, dominates the skyline of the Greek capital…
Where do the Parthenon sculptures really belong? To get to the just, right, sensible answer I have to start from my opening claim: this is the world’s most beautiful art…
The figures of reclining goddesses from the east pediment, for instance, are daunting yet yielding syntheses of mass and grace that are more like dreams than objects. The veins that throb on the horse-flanks of a centaur; the pathos of animals lowing at the sky as they are led to be sacrificed; such details add up to a consummate beauty…
If the Sistine Chapel frescoes had been detached from their ceiling in the 19th century and hung on the walls of the National Gallery, would we appreciate them as much? No. We’d struggle to imagine the real power of Michelangelo’s paintings in their original location. We’d miss the thrill of stretching our necks and the excitement of walking through the Vatican to get to them, even the fuss of queuing. Context is all.
The sad truth is that in the British Museum, the Parthenon sculptures are not experienced at their best.
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