Living in Oxford, one is constantly surrounded by cultural and architectural marvels. It’s easy to become blasé about the opportunities this offers. Take the Ashmolean Museum, which recently underwent a major multimillion pound refurbishment. I have revisited it since it reopened (and keenly anticipate the re-opening of the Egyptian wing after further gallery modernisation work), but it took a visit from family to prompt me to look at the current Heracles to Alexander the Great exhibition.
The exhibition features some extraordinary finds from the ancient royal city of Aegae. The first capital of the Macedonians, Aegae was home to the Temenid dynasty which ruled over the land for centuries and included both Philip II and his even more famous son, Alexander the Great.
Aegae was excavated in the 1970s by Professor Manolis Andronikos, who discovered the tombs of King Philip II and other members of Alexander’s immediate family, and these excavations were continued more recently by Dr Angeliki Kottaridi. Many of the tombs were found in undisturbed condition, yielding beautiful artifacts.
The museum does not permit photography within the exhibition area, but these photos in this post are from their press release and reveal the beauty of some of the items. The golden Medusa at the top of the post is taken from tomb of Philip II – the workmanship is magnificently intricate. It is one of two found in the tomb, and would originally have adorned a linen cuirass (breastplate) as a device to avert evil, and so protect the wearer. The gold myrtle wreath below is from the tomb of Meda, his Thracian princess wife, and while pretty enough, the photo below does not reveal the spectacular detail of the wreath nor the delicacy of the work that is evident in real life.
The exhibition includes many other remarkable finds, including solid silver drinking sets, golden burial outfits and more. But what struck me even more forcefully than the bling were portions of the wall frescos found at Aegae.
Most people, if asked to describe Greek Art, would recall the typical black & red earthenware designs. Figures are painted in profile, in stylised poses and with minimal perspective/foreshortening. The frescos are entirely differently. They are painted in a naturalistic style, in glorious technicolour, and include three-quarter profile figures which demonstrate a clear grasp of foreshortening. It is probably my own fault for not being aware of this strand of Greek Art before, but I was blown away by how modern in style these paintings appeared:
The exhibition was tautly edited; almost every piece was revelatory, demonstrating how much depth there is to this period of history. If you have the opportunity to vist the Ashmolean before the 29th of August, I strongly recommend paying the small entry fee to the exhibition and seeing what fresh knowledge you take away from the impressive artifacts on display.