Marbles, on the Upper East Side and in the Bronx

by kbarulich

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Men and Lions

Men are often compared to lions because they are both strong and powerful. They are both kings and control others. I chose the lion statue at the Met because it looked mean and mighty, exhibiting all the traits of the “king of the jungle”. The statue of the man looked so human that it felt real to me. I think both of these statues expose the inner spirit of their real-life subjects.

While wandering among the Ancient Greek vases, statues, and other artifacts of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I could not help but especially notice a large statue of a lion. This lion looked realistically ferocious and strong. The statue was about as big as an average adult, exuding of power. It looked as if it was ready to pounce with his front legs bent, ears pinned back, and mouth open. Its tail was missing, which I found interesting because usually you can tell if an animal is aggressive or not by what his tail is doing. One foot was placed more forward than the other and the head was slightly turned to the right, like he was growling at someone standing there. The statue was very detailed and I could see the individual hairs of the lion’s mane, the shape of his tongue, his nostrils, and his ribs very clearly. I could also see the individual bones and muscles in his legs. His eyes were open wide and I could see the eyeballs and eyelids, though there was neither an iris nor pupil visible. The lion statue had a strong presence that I could ignore.

In the Fordham Museum, I chose a statue of the head of a man because of its real human qualities. The expression on the face seemed like an expression that everyone makes everyday.  He looked very relaxed, peaceful, and passive. His curly hair and large, deeply set eyes still looked realistic, even though the sculpture was slightly deteriorated. His face expresses a “pathos” or emotion that was considered important to Greeks of the time. More than half of the nose was gone and there was a large crack running across his chin. This statue seemed real and I could feel the emotion behind it.

The lion statue is made of a white marble and though the placard did not say the mode of production, I think that it was made using the deductive method. The artist probably chiseled away at a large marble block using to create the shape of a lion in the same way that Greek artists usually “liberated their figures from their original stone block”. The lion does not appear to be in separate parts or fastened together in any way. The details on this statue reveal the amount of time and effort that was spent on creating this life-like lion so that the viewer cannot tell that this lion was once only a block of stone. I cannot see any remnants of paint and think that this statue was always white and time and the elements have caused it to look more off-white today. If this work were produced in another medium like wood, it would have looked as realistic because it is difficult to create round shapes out of wood. Also, the lion would not have remained so intact over time, since it was made over 2000 years ago.

The “Portrait of a Man” is also made of white marble and was probably created using the deductive method, in the same way that the lion was made. If the man’s head had been made out of wood, it would also not be as beautiful because the artist would not have been able to create details like his furrowed brow or curly locks. The man would also not have held up well with passing time and would probably have biodegraded into an unrecognizable form by now.

The lion statue was placed in a room at the Met called “Greek Art of the Fifth Century B.C.”.  Greek vases in vitrines and other statues from the same time period surround it, but the lion is the only animal statue in the room. The other statues are of people, heads, and gods. The lion is placed on a foot-high platform in the center of the room. Marble statues of lions were sometimes used as tomb monuments or as guardians on both ends of a tomb, in a mortuary site. The lion must have acted as a potrophaic function, warding off evil.

At the Met, I felt like I could have been in a mortuary site because I was surrounded by pieces from the same time period and place. I felt more of an emotional reaction to the art because I felt like I had been transported back in time. The lion was labeled and described and on the wall there was information about Athens in the Fifth Century B.C.

The man was placed somewhat at the center of the museum at Fordham, but more toward the side. It directly faces another head sculpture and is surrounded by vitrines that house Greek and Roman vases, small statues, pottery, and other small artifacts. In Ancient Greece or Rome, this statue probably was admired in the private collection of a king. In the room, there are over 270 Greek, Roman, Etruscan pieces of art, not at all like its probable original placement. Both the lion and the man are marble statues that do not really fit in with what is around them in the museum setting.

I thought the curator at the Met did an excellent job of contextualizing the art in that room and providing historical information. If I were the curator at Fordham, I would have divided the museum up by region and put some information on the wall about the time and place that the art is from to transport the viewer there. I still had an emotional reaction to this individual statue, but the jumbled setting worsened my experience. I enjoyed both museum visits and felt especially moved by the pieces I chose to write about. The two marble statues provoked opposite emotions in me, but both were strong, leaving me with a lasting impression of the true essences of a lion and of a man.