Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece
Report of last week’s visit by Nell Lyhne, MA in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Arts
Last Thursday a group of myself and six postgraduate students went to see the extraordinary Rodin show at the British Museum. We met up on the steps, had cake and cold drinks, chatted and got to know a little about each other, all the while basking in the sun and dodging hungry pigeons!
Thus fortified, we went into the show. The British Museum makes one think of ancient artefacts and moments in human civilisation, but here one is shown the rich seam of history across a period of nearly 2000 years.
One of the best things about the show was the fact that the Parthenon sculptures, done by the incomparable Phidias, and removed from their normal housing high on plinths in the Elgin room, were shown here at a low and intimate level, and we were able to look at them at very close quarters. Rodin himself never went to Greece to see them, this was his only life changing view of them: a visit to the British Museum, early in his career. Whilst the work of Rodin is amazing, the transcendental beauty and influence of the Greece sculpture is extraordinary.
An outstanding feature was a newly restored copy of The Burghers of Calais. The sculpture is normally set in Embankment Gardens, a small park to the side of parliament. Here it was with descriptions of each written movingly by the German poet Rilke. It was in these descriptions that we recognised the fragility and vulnerability of each man, offering himself to die. The work as intended is offered with almost no plinth, allowing the viewer to feel as though they could walk amongst them and share the grief at their burden.
Another wonderful installation was an unbuilt Gates of Hell, offered to us as a 3D full size projection. Reinterpretations of classical myths and other stories were woven into sculptural form by Rodin to be placed on the various places on doors, topped with his enigmatic Thinker. Casts of these fragment were offered for us to see.
The show was small and resolute which seemed to fit well in the context of being in the British Museum. It was a great opportunity to meet postgraduate students from other courses and see this fabulous show which is coming down this week.