Delphi Museum – Delphi, Greece
The Delphi Museum is a modern building that holds a huge and very important collection of sculptures and artifacts from ancient times. There are 13 rooms of treasures but we only had time to view the more notable ones. There were so many interesting statues and exhibits, and each one had a story to tell. It’s impossible to try and document them all in this blog, however, just to provide a flavour of the key exhibits, I’ve included some interesting ones below.
The first exhibit we came across was the Omphalos or navel stone. According to legend, the Omphalos marked the centre of the earth and it was here that Delphi was established.
Standing in the middle of the next room is the imposing sculpture of Kleovis and Biton. These two boys, we were told, heroically pulled their mother on her chariot for a distance of 8 km to the sanctuary where she was to worship. The mother apparently prayed to Hera to give her sons the best gift ever. Ironically, Hera gave them the gift of death and they died the same night peacefully in their sleep. This must have been really tragic for the mother! It goes to show too that we have to be very careful about what we wish for! Note the statues’ left feet forward to provide balance.
The large Sphinx of Naxos, which sits on an 10m tall Ionic column in the next room, was impressive. Originally coloured in gold and silver, it was sent to Delphi around 560 BC. Side view of this statue is best.
Then comes the most famous of the museum’s exhibits, which is the life-sized bronze statue of the Charioteer. This statue was commissioned by a Sicilian tyrant to commemorate the chariot victory in the Pythian games of 478 BC. On the wall you can see a sketch of the position of the chariot and where the charioteer stands in relation to the horses.
The statue of a bull is made from three silver sheets connected by bands of silver-plated copper, held in place by silver or bronze nails. There are traces of a wooden core, which do not occupy the entire inner cavity: the sheets – forged from behind – had to be placed against some flexible material such as clay, wax or gypsum. The horns, ears, forehead, hooves and other body parts were gilded. Although hundreds of fragments of the metal sheets have been restored, it was not possible to render either the original plasticity or the volume of the statue. Moreover, the statue size itself has been distorted with respect to its original length, which was about 2.30 metre This was the largest extant example of the so-called forged technique, which was later replaced by casting. A very precious offering, made by a Greek artist Ionia in the 6th century BC.
The Melancholy Roman – Many art historians identify this work as the head of the Roman general and consul Titus Quinctius Flamininus. In 197 BC, following his victory of Philip V of Macedonia, Flamininus proclaimed at Corinth the ‘autonomy’ of the Greek states. At Delphi he was honored not only as a guarantor of Greek independence from Macedonian rule, but also because he made valuable offerings to the sanctuary.
The identification by historians is mainly based on comparisons of the portrait with coins depicting Flamininus. This has been disputed and other persons and dates have been suggested. Whoever the young man with the melancholy face is – Greek or Roman, philosopher or state official – the artist has left us an exceptional work, which stands out in the history of Greek portraiture.
Antinoos is a youth of extraordinary beauty from Bithynia. More importantly, he is also the beloved companion of Emperor Hadrian. Antinoos had barely reached adulthood when he drowned in the Nile. It was believed that he had taken his own life so that years could be added to the Emperor’s life. He was thereafter proclaimed a hero and worshipped as a demigod in many parts of the Eastern Empire by order of the emperor.
One of the most beautiful statues of Antinoos was erected in the Santuary at Delphi. When found during excavations, it was very well preserved and still shiny, due to the special oils used in the ancient times to polish the ‘skin’ of marble cult statues. Holes are still visible in the profuse hair, which were used to attach to bronze wreath of laurel leaves onto the head. The work is representative of classisism at the time of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD). With its heroic divine nudity, the statue follows the stylistic traditions of the great 5th and 4th century BC artists, but lacks the vitality of the archetypes.