On Wednesday I had the privilege of getting a sneak preview of the upcoming Olympus exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery with Dr. Andreas Scholl the Director of the Collection of Classical Antiquities, National Museums in Berlin. I learned so much! Here are ten intriguing facts he shared with us that I know the kids I take on tours are going to find fascinating.
1. A trained Greek sculptor would have spent a whole year creating a life-size statue of a god.
2. Although most ancient Greek and Roman statues we see on display are white actually in their original state they were colorfully painted by trained artists. Most of this paint has weathered off but you can still see traces of color on some of the statues.
3. Greek vases had many uses. Some were given as presents. They were used for practical things in households like holding oil and wine, carrying water or storing perfume. Vases were also put in graves to equip the dead for their life in the underworld. The reason we have so many vases from ancient Greece is because thousands were preserved in tombs.
4. Vases and sculptures were repaired and we can see these repair jobs on some of the pieces in the exhibition. Statues were repaired with tree resin and vases with bronze clamps.
5. 14,000 people would attend Greek theatre performances and the actors had to speak in a way that would allow everyone to hear them. Wearing masks with exaggerated expressions made the actors’ emotions visible to audience members sitting further from the stage.
6. Victors at the Olympics were given amphora vases filled with olive oil. Olive oil was very expensive. These trophies have been found all over the Mediterranean area because Olympic competitors came from places throughout the empire. Some of these trophy vases have the name of the athlete on them as well as the year in which they competed.
7. After World War II Russia confiscated many German artworks. These treasures were shipped to Russia on open train cars. Some have been returned to Germany. You can see a red number on the back of certain pieces in the current exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. These numbers were inked in by the Russians to identify the objects.
8. Ship wrecks have been found in the Mediterranean filled with thousands of Greek sculptures that were on their way to Naples where rich Romans were ready to buy them.
9. Some sculptures have plow marks on them because they were found in farmers’ fields where they had been buried for centuries.
10. Greek vases when they are empty are actually quite light.
Dr. Scholl spent nearly two hours with us and I learned lots of history as well as many interesting facts about the artwork that is part of the Olympus exhibit. I’ve bought the collection catalogue now and I am learning more as I prepare to give my first tours of Olympus next week.