Curator Talks: Getting to the Bottom of (Neo)Classicism

March 6, 2019
DeLouche-Elkins
Dr. Sean DeLouche and Dr. Nathan Elkins, co-curators of "The Neoclassical Gaze: Myth and Reality of Ancient Sculpture," will each present in this lecture series.

Dr. Sean DeLouche: “Winckelmann after Dark: Sensuality, Sculpture, and the Torchlight Tradition.”

For a brief period in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, visitors to museums would commonly view the great marbles of classical antiquity by torchlight. This peculiar practice involved tours of sculpture galleries with a guide discussing the formal characteristics of statues and stories of mythological gods and heroes under the flickering illumination of a lamp or torch. This wildly popular practice began in the 1780s and fell into disuse by the 1840s. There are many reasons for its short-lived popularity, notably the tradition of direct engagement with the art of antiquity begun by the great Neoclassical theorist J. J. Winckelmann. Winckelmann encouraged a personal and deeply sensual connection with classical art, an approach facilitated and amplified by the torchlight-viewing experience.

Dr. Nathan T. Elkins: “The Pursuer Pursued: The Humanization and Eroticization of Satyr-Youths in Late-Classical and Hellenistic Sculpture.”

Satyrs are revelrous creatures associated with Dionysos, the god of wine. In Archaic and Classical Greek Art satyrs are fat, goaty creatures with donkey’s ears, a tail, beards, pot bellies, and other grotesque features, and they frequently lust for and pursue maenads and mortal women and men. A transition takes place in the later Classical period when satyrs are increasingly depicted as calm, beardless youths with athletic features; pointed ears are the only indication of their identity as satyrs. This change is part of a broader trend in which mythological figures are humanized in art and sculptural subjects begin to interact more with the viewer in this later period. Satyr-youths in the Late-Classical and Hellenistic periods played with the emotions and perceptions of the viewer, as from a distance they appeared to be attractive athletic youths, but upon closer inspection the viewer learned the object of his desire was indeed a wild satyr-youth.
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