A few words about the exhibition

Enigmatic and charming, beauty as a concept captivates the human mind and accompanies it through the centuries. Appealing and pleasing to the senses, beauty is perceptible in the art of all periods, sealing with its constant alternations and its countless aspects the human creation. The exhibition focuses on and highlights the aesthetic dimension of the ancient works, inviting at the same time the spectator to look for the spiritual basis of aesthetic choices.

The exhibition narrative unfolds in four parts, unraveling the thread that transcends human creativity: Beauty.

In «Aesthetica Aeterna» we see on display selected objects of everyday life that record the continuous alternations and different facets of aesthetics in human diachrony.

«The Beautiful and the Desirable» attempts an essential approach to the aesthetic preferences of the ancient societies on the basis of what the ancient Greek myths reveal about beauty and the archaeological finds that relate to clothing, hairstyles and beautification.

The third part titled «Focusing on the Body» illustrates the expression of beauty in the visual rendering of the human body from the Neolithic period to Historic times.

At the end, «The Endless Quest» aims at the aesthetic contemplation on the significance of the beautiful and its value for humans.



The quest of beauty in ancient art

from differences results the most beautiful harmony
Heraclitus (c. 535-475 BC.)

Countless alternations in materials and forms compose the visual vocabulary of art. Prototypes of aesthetics from different periods and cultural environments reveal an enchanting picture that encompasses the innumerable versions of beauty, but also the effort of man to achieve harmony by binding opposites together. The perpetually changing landscape of artistic quests, even in objects of daily use, confirms that beauty is a universal human need, which will never cease to seek its expression in imaginative ways.

I. 1

The quest of beauty in ancient art

I. 2

The quest of beauty in ancient art


The Beautiful and the Desirable

In keeping with the age-old secrets of Aphrodite

Artefacts of the Neolithic period illustrate the diachronic desire of humans for the Beautiful. In keeping with Aphrodite’s commands about the love of the beautiful (philokalia) and the beauty secrets that, according to the myths, she first invented, the ancient societies made use of beautification kits, elaborate garments, masterfully fashioned jewels, spectacular hairstyles, perfumes and ointments, to enhance the desirable aspect of human nature and express their aesthetic preferences. As creations of the age-old sense of the beautiful embedded in the art of this land, the means that highlight beauty take often the form of small-scale masterpieces, revealing the elegant aesthetic prototypes of each period.

II. 1

The birth of Aphrodite

Born from the foam of the sea, according to Hesiod, was Aphrodite, daugther of Uranus (the Sky). Her companions were Eros and Himerus (Desire). Having travelled as far as the shores of Cyprus, the goddess emerged from the sea waves. There, as mythological tradition has it, the Horai (the seasons of the year) and the Graces anointed her, dressed her in divine robes, adorned her with bright ornaments and led her to Olympus. Since then her allotted task was to offer erotic desire to gods and mortals. According to Homer, the bewitching goddess was the daughter of Zeus and Dione.

The unsurpassed beauty of Aphrodite transcends the ancient art that records in a vivid and glorious manner her sensual figure. Associated sometimes with legends narrating her adventures and at other times with her cult, the image of the goddess embodies the essence of female beauty and symbolizes the generative power of sexual union. Monumental representations of Aphrodite are encountered in works of famous artists of antiquity, with supreme among them the sculptor Praxiteles, who was the first to depict naked the body of the goddess.

II. 2

The contest for the fairest one

the fairest of the goddesses shall get the prize

A golden apple bearing the inscription ‘to the fairest’ was, according to the myth, the prize in the first ever beauty contest. It was a ploy used by the uninvited to Peleus and Thetis wedding, goddess Eris (Discord), to cause disarray among the guests, since, as a result, three goddesses, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, competed for the title of the fairest one. Appointed as judge was Paris of Troy, who chose Aphrodite in exchange for the love of Beautiful Helen, queen of Sparta, confirming that beauty is the most desirable gift of all.

II. 3

In keeping with the age-old secrets of Aphrodite

II. 4

In keeping with the age-old secrets of Aphrodite

II. 5

Τhe world of mycenaean perfumes

The use of perfumed oils can be traced back in the history of mankind connecting fragrance with beauty. During the Mycenaean period perfume production was one of the most flourishing palatial industries.

The written evidence from the Linear B tablets includes valuable information about olive oil based perfumes in fluid or thick liquid form, scented with plants and herbs such as cyperus, sage, coriander and rose. Though the exact manufacturing process is not known, there is no doubt that it included boiling.

The perfumes, presented for the first time to the public, have been manufactured following the ancient boiling process, based on the ingredients listed on the Linear B tablets.

II. 6

Perfumes in antiquity

Closely linked with Aphrodite, perfumes and scented oils are mentioned in quite a few ancient myths as an indispensable accessory for gods and mortals when preparing for a breathtaking appearance. In everyday life, in the ancient world, the smell of beautification and cleanliness completed the set of beauty, while in religion aromatic scents were connected with rituals.

Some of the renowned perfumes in antiquity were the irinon made out of irises and lilies, the rodion myron, an unguent of rose petals, and the myrtinon myron, extracted from the leaves and acorns of myrtle, the sacred plant of Aphrodite. Popular fragrances were also concocted from herbs and gum resins, such as the nardion or nardinon myron, from the valerian plant, the stakti, a myrrh gum essential oil from the shrub Commiphora myrrha or smyrna, imported from the East, the balsamon from the similarly called flowering plant, and the tilinon oil, famous for its sweet and soft fragrance, made from the seeds of fenugreek.

Ancient sources record details about the various kinds of perfumes and ointments, their ingredients and methods of manufacture. Standing out among them are Dioskurides’ elaborate recipes and Theophrastus’ texts, which served as a valuable guide for the experimental creation of the perfumes in the exhibition.


Focusing on the Body

The human body in ancient art

Right from the earliest days of prehistory, the body and its details are depicted in various materials and forms. In all cultures, an effort is made to enclose into its rendering the experiences and the perceptions man construes in relation to himself and his position in the world.

In the prehistoric societies of the helladic area, the body features as a symbol of beliefs, closely linked with nature. In the Neolithic period, naked fat female figures prevail in stone and clay, while emerging from the Cycladic culture is an abstract type of marble naked female and male figurines. Similar emblematic images are encountered in the diverse works of the Minoan, Theran and Mycenaean world, which represent the women dressed, with voluminous and often bare breasts, and the men dressed or half-naked bearing the characteristic loincloth.

In the course of the historic times, social and political conditions shaped gradually a new perception of the value and potential of man. The bronze figurines of the Geometric period reflect the spirit of this heroic era. In Archaic times, inquisitions lead to the birth of large-scale sculpture with the robust bodies of naked youths (kouroi) and dressed graceful maidens (korai), until in Classical times, the principles of balance (metron), symmetry and harmony prevail. Sculpted works of art embody the timeless beauty and youthfulness, the even development of mind and form. There follows realism in the depiction of the body, with the strong movements and the explosive passion of the Hellenistic times, while from the end of the 2nd century BC and throughout the Roman times art often draws inspiration and guidance from the Classical prototypes.

III. 1

The human body in ancient art

III. 2

The human body in ancient art


The Endless Quest

Placed at the end of the exhibition, the expressive portrait of the mature man from the island of Delos, unfolds the thoughts and feelings of a man that seems to wonder about human nature, the truths and essential values that constitute its worth and beauty.

The question of Socrates “What is Beauty?” has engaged the thoughts of philosophers, mathematicians, poets and artists of antiquity. This quest is continuing and has no easy or clear-cut answers.

When looking at the evolution of ancient Greek art, one can perceive that the pursuit of beauty, even if it does not end up to an absolute truth, can lead to acknowledging our inner self. The countless aspects of beauty offer a multifaceted understanding of our inner world and a more profound access to human nature.

The Countless Aspects of Beauty

at the Piraeus Bank Group Cultural Foundation

A small version of the exhibition ‘’ The countless aspects of Beauty’’
travelled and was presented in collaboration with the Piraeus Group Cultural Foundation (PIOP) at its Museums (2018-2019).

View the exhibition catalogue

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