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Kallos, a certain concept of Greek beauty – World meanderings n°133

By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny


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If you happen to be in Athens this fall and if Greek culture has any meaning to you don’t miss the new exhibition “Kallos, the Ultimate Beauty” set in the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens’ city centre. 300 emblematic antiquities are gathered for the very first time in one place for just a few months. Don’t miss this unique opportunity.


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Translating Kallos into English as Beauty isn’t quite right. More than outward beauty Kallos is an ideal developed in ancient Greek thinking. This concept was crystallized gradually through the texts of philosophers who referred to Kallos as a combination of physical appearance and virtues of the soul. Physical beauty needs inner beauty to reach Kallos. It is on this dimension 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.


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Choosing 300 objects was not an easy task. They come from 52 different museums and collections throughout Greece, as well as from Italy and the Vatican. An overwhelming majority appear for the first time outside of the museum of their provenance. The selected exhibits date mainly from the 7th to the 1st century BC covering Greek history from the Archaic to the Hellenistic period and complemented by a handful of works of Roman times.


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To translate the Kallos concept into actual objects the exhibition’s curators (Pr Nikolaos Chr. Stampolidis and Dr Ioannis Fappas) selected a vast wealth of antiquities such as statues, vases, sherds (broken ceramics), mirrors, jewellery, perfume vases, accessories of the toilette and beautification (cosmetic unguents, pigments… even tools for styling hair!), objects of clay, stone, metal and terracotta of various periods. In parallel with the objects’ variety their geographical provenance is also very diverse. The exhibits come from all over mainland and island Greece to emphasize the participation of most of the cities of Greek Antiquity and within these cities from all sectors of society. As Kallos tended to be a universal concept throughout the Hellenistic world many objects on display come from Magna Graecia, meaning the Greek colonies in the western part of the Mediterranean Sea.


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In spite of the Covid pandemic when all museums were closed the two curators ran a marathon of scientific research, travelling all over Greece. They first selected 600 antiquities from well known Athens, Thessaloniki, Heraklion, Venice, Syracuse, Catania, Florence, Rome, Naples… museums. They not only searched in the showcases but also investigated the storerooms of the museums to “unearth” hidden treasures. As Pr Nikolaos Chr. Stampolidis beautifully says “as much as one may describe with words, as much as one may clothe with words those superb creations, they will still remain naked, awaiting the joy of each viewer’s gaze to imagine them dressed with his/her own feelings and meanings, surrendering his/her soul to the aesthetic purview. On gazing upon beauty, essentially you gaze upon yourself, upon who you are and who would like to be outwardly, but also inwardly.”


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“Kallos. The Ultimate Beauty” will run from 29 September 2021 to 16 January 2022.More at: https://cycladic.gr/en

Text ©Annick Dournes

Photos Paris Tavitian © Museum of Cycladic Art (Courtesy of Museum of Cycladic Art)


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