In Athens, the Museum of Cycladic Art gives pride of place to antiquity

On a large bottle of scented clay oils from the Ve century BC, a painting of a woman looking at herself in a round mirror. An intimate scene of extreme realism. Around this rare piece are gathered magnificent silhouettes of women cast in terracotta, protruding bodies of athletes taking their baths but also jewels, tweezers, shells acting as compacts, different models of combs depending on the size. evolution of hairstyle styles …

In all, three hundred pieces presented at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens which show how ancient Greece had already invented everything in the staging of beauty in deities as in mortals. Most of them shown for the first time, the exhibits come from all over Greece but also from Italy and the Vatican.

Fascinating permanent collection

Immersed in a beautiful dark blue scenography, visitors wander through an exhibition that takes them happily from one century to another, guided solely by the theme and not by the chronology. The exhibition “Kallos. The Ultimate Beauty ”intends to shake up the benchmarks: “It’s a new way of presenting and looking at archaeological works”, immediately launched Sandra Marinopoulos, president of the museum and from the family of shipowners who founded it.

Daring to mix ancient art with modern or contemporary art is what has already made the reputation of this private institution, which is very fashionable in Athens. An anachronism inscribed from the start in the fascinating permanent collection of Cycladic idols that the museum has, marble figurines dating from prehistoric times in such modern forms.

“The Greek word“ kallos ”speaks as much of outer beauty as of inner beauty, the value of the soul. Beauty is thus erected as a virtue. Jean-Paul Agon, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the L’Oréal group

For this new “Kallos” exhibition, it all started with a simple conversation between Sandra Marinopoulos and Jean-Paul Agon, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the L’Oréal group, in Antiparos, the island of the Cyclades where both pass. summer.

Passionate about Greece since he spent a few years working for the Greek subsidiary of the cosmetics giant, at the age of 24, Jean-Paul Agon questions his friend about the contribution of the ancient Greeks to the notion of beauty. From their exchange will emerge a concept that greatly appeals to the former CEO of the number one cosmetics company: “The Greek word”kallos ” speaks as much of outer beauty as of inner beauty, the value of the soul. Beauty is thus erected as a virtue. “

The archaeologist Nikolaos Stampolidis, then director of the Museum of Cycladic Art, promises Jean-Paul Agon something new and rare on this promising theme in line with the marketing territory of the cosmetics group. L’Oréal immediately positioned itself as a patron of the future exhibition, which promised to be very expensive. “Taking out so many pieces from so many museums, between insurance and transport, obviously costs a lot of money for a private museum like ours”, confirms Sandra Marinopoulos, without giving more details.

700-page catalog

Reassured by the feasibility of the future exhibition, archaeologists Nikolaos Stampolidis and Ioannis Fappas therefore travel through Greece confined by Covid-19 during the spring of 2020. “We were alone on the roads in search of all these nuggets hidden in the reserves of 90 museums. It was exhilarating ”, confides the very media Nikolaos Stampolidis whose catalog of the exhibition, weighing more than 700 pages, took on the appearance of a thesis rather than an art book.

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At the end of September, more than 70 journalists flocked to the inaugural press conference, proof that the new exhibition resonates like a national event. Most of them came to hear the archaeologist signing his last exhibition here, soon joining the management of the Acropolis Museum.

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As it stands, its “Kallos” exhibition will certainly find it difficult to leave Greece one day, given the number of rare pieces on loan for the occasion. “More than the exhibition, it is the concept of ultimate beauty which must travel”, assures archaeologist Nikolaos Stampolidis, imagining that his artistic reflection will perhaps make great museums, such as the Louvre, want to dive into their sleeping reserves to bring out their own treasures of Greek beauty.

Exhibition “Kallos. The Ultimate Beauty ”, until January 16, 2022, at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens (Greece).