David and I went to the Getty Villa this Independence Day weekend, as always it was wonderful, overwhelming and inspiring. This trip was extra special as I am taking a survey course on the art of the ancient world-the Greco-Romans being of particular emphasis. I was instructed by my professor to write a short review on one piece I found of interest- easier said than done, picking one piece amidst the splendor offered.
The following is my draft:
Statuette of a Boy Riding Piggyback
Greek, Boeotia, about 500 – 475 B.C.
Terracotta and pigment
6 x 2 1/16 x 1 11/16 in.
The Getty Villa in Malibu is a treasure trove of delights from the ancient world, a vast collection that is a testament to the magnificence of the Greco-Roman world ( and J.Paul Getty’s fortune). A visitor might be excused for feeling daunted and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of this collection. One encounters incredible works, golden vessels, ethereal bronze athletes and chaste marble goddesses but for this review I am going to focus on a small, seemingly insignificant statuette. This work, modeled by hand, in the humble medium of terra-cotta depicts a simple scene of a mother and child at play.
According to the Getty website, the Statuette of a Boy Riding Piggyback is only 6” high, it is Greek and it is from Boeotia around 500-475B.C. Apparently, as per the site, such playful genre scenes were popular in this region. The somewhat clumsy modeling confirms what the Getty scholars assert, that the figure was hand sculpted. That in fact is the statuette’s fundamental charm, the presence of its makers touch. That the piece also has significant traces of the original paint, applied post firing, only adds to its visual appeal.
In no way is this diminutive tchotchke a significant work of art ; in fact it might be best understood as a plaything recovered from society long since passed. Yet it survived in spite of all the odds, a little pinch of hardened clay with some chalky paint tenaciously clinging to its surface. That miracle alone would be sufficient grounds for admiration, but what I found most impressive was how this ancient trifle still amused across the span of time. It did not go unnoticed as I stooped to better observe the statuette that the families milling about were engaged in the same silly games; fathers trying to distract their bored offspring with a birds eye view by means of the same piggyback vantage point depicted in the Boeotian statuette.
The ability to capture the everyday, the humanity that we share be it 500 B.C. or 2013 A.D., that is the Greek gift. The Greek legacy feels fundamentally alive, be it the witty repartee found in Plato’s Symposium, the pathos of Euripides’ Medea or the mundane moments of quiet fun between a mother and her boy ; the Greeks grasped these concepts and fashioned them into time capsules that delight and startle us to this day with their freshness and their relevance. The Egyptians built monuments that blow us away, the Hebrews inspired much of our religious traditions, the Romans set for us an example in creating an absolute empire, but the Greeks remind us how to be human. To recognize our foibles and strengths, our fortunes and our sorrows, how to live through them and if we are wise enough, to leave a testament of the very brief time we have. The Greeks accomplished immortality in the most basic of mediums, a little ball of clay.
The trip offered many delights, the following is a slide show.
A lovely day, until next time,