Kallos is an ideal developed in ancient Greek thinking and was expressed through the verses of the epic (8th century BC) and lyric (7th – 6th century BC) poets, initially as outward beauty. From the sixth century BC onwards, the concept was crystallized gradually through the texts of the philosophers, who referred to Kallos as a combination of physical appearance and virtues of the soul. It is on this dimension of Kallos that the exhibition of the Museum of Cycladic Art concentrates, enhancing the contribution of ancient Greece to defining the notion of beauty that prevails to this day.
In this exhibition, Kallos is conveyed through a vast wealth and variety of antiquities, such as statues, vases, sherds (broken ceramics), mirrors, jewellery, perfume vases, accessories of the toilette and beautification (cosmetic unguents, pigments, and so on), objects of clay, stone metal and terracottas of various periods, mainly Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic figurines, tools for styling the hair, such as iron scissors, little combs, and so on.
The geographical provenance of the objects was selected on the basis of specific criteria: the exhibits come from all over mainland and island Greece, so as to emphasize the participation of most of the cities of Greek Antiquity and the diffusion of the concept of Kallos to all sectors of society. The exhibition also hosts a corresponding number of antiquities from Magna Graecia, enabling the visitor to comprehend the phenomenon of the dispersion of the notion of Kallos also to the Greek colonies in the West.
The exhibition also includes artifacts from the Vatican Museum, the Archaeological Museums of Florence, Naples, Rome, Bologna, Venice, Syracuse, Catania and the National Archaeological Park of Ostia. From the initial selection of six hundred pieces, three hundred were chosen, as the museological study demanded those that best strengthened each section, in order to make them most intelligible to the public.
Archaic and Classical beauty
Kallos, as a concept that overarches physical beauty and virtues of the soul, begins to take shape in ancient Greek philosophical thinking during the Archaic period (6th century BC) and subsequently during Classical (5th – 4th century BC) and Hellenistic times (3rd – 2nd century BC). Conveyed through a series of works of superb art, mainly sculptures, of the Archaic and Classical periods is the representation of the human figure but also its ethos. Outstanding among the exhibits is the Acropolis Kore with the sobriquet ‘Chiotissa’ (Chian Maiden), as well as the protome of a female figure from a funerary monument in Rhodes.
This unit showcases the spirit of self-sacrifice for the common good, acts of heroism in wartime and peacetime, sometimes in combination also with physical beauty. The heroes are on a higher plane than common mortals and frequently become demi-gods. A prominent position is accorded to the par excellence hero of ancient Greek mythology, Herakles, while other renowned heroes follow, such as Achilles, Meleager, but also Atalante the famed and very beautiful huntress. The Amazons, female warriors, are present too, alongside statuettes and representations of hoplites.
Beauty comes always from the gods, who possess it in the ultimate degree. Even the most beautiful humans are considered as equal in beauty to the gods and never surpass them. Moreover, each deity has his/her own distinctive trait, in Greek mythology with which he/she is attributed to ancient Greek artworks: Zeus with majesty, Hera with sobriety, Aphrodite with beauty of face and body, Athena with solemnity and wisdom, Aris with vigour, Poseidon with the power of Nature, Apollo with comeliness and calm, Artemis with severity.. A unique series of sculptural works is included in this unit, among them statues. Notable are the heads of the statues of Dionysos and Apollo-Helios from Thasos and Rhodes, respectively.
In ancient Greek thinking, beauty of humans exists in every age and thanks to this many mortals became immortal. Mythical, but also actual figures of antiquity, famed for their physical beauty, such as Adonis, Fair Helen (of Troy) on the one hand and Alexander the Great on the other, together with anonymous mortals of everyday life, make up this unit.
“Kaloi” and “kales” in Antiquity
Praise of the physical beauty of ordinary young persons, male and female, in ancient Greece, by their contemporaries and peers is evidenced by inscriptions incised (graffiti) on vases or painted on stone architectural members, and so on. Presented in this unit is a large corpus of inscriptions praising the beauty of young athletes and warriors, courtesans (hetaires) as well as ladies of the house.
Displayed here are works in which physical and mental strength and vigour are uppermost, making man capable of coping with the difficulties and the demands of athletic contests, in combination with noble competition (“fair play”) and his admirable achievements on the running track. Heads of athletes crowned with victory wreaths, together with gymnasium scenes and accoutrements of athletes are featured. Exceptional among the exhibits is an Archaic base of a Kouros statue with superbly carved representations of activities in the gymnasium. Noteworthy too is a rare bronze statuette of a female athlete from Dodone.
Abductions of beauty and erotic encounters
The attraction of the beauty of lovely mortals leads gods and heroes to pursue them, to abduct them and to lie with them or to possess them forever. Abundant are the references in myths to such cases: Zeus and Ganymede, Theseus and Antiope, and so on.