Portrait of a Poet, “The Arundel Head,” 200-1 B.C., bronze and copper. Image courtesy of and © the Trustees of the British Museum

Portrait of a Poet, “The Arundel Head,” 200-1 B.C., bronze and copper. Image courtesy of and © the Trustees of the British Museum

RETROSPECT

Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World

These statues, never really alive, were visiting the Getty like ghosts from the past, and they have traveled an odd underwater route to get here. Afraid that these magnificent bronzes would be melted down into weaponry and coins, their owners dragged them out to sea and dumped them overboard, hoping their lives would be spared. I am sure they cried when they had to do it but at least they were comforted to know that these statues would continue to exist in the fabled land of Atlantis. However, with our new methods of detection, we are finding them one by one and dragging them back into reality. We call it safety. I just hope that Isis doesn’t ever find them.


Settled once again in civilization, though not the one they were born to, they are different. They are beautiful and haunting. They are no longer perfect with glass eyes, gold eyelashes and beautiful copper red lips. Their bronze skin is now a greenish patina from the watery graves they have been sleeping in. At first there is sadness for their lost perfect beauty but an admiration for their endurance. But now they are more human because of their journey, more delicate because of their decay, and more powerful because of what they have survived. One thinks the people who made these bronzes must have been gods, because only god can give life to a piece of metal. They turn as if suddenly realizing you are staring at them. Many of them are larger than life and more graceful. One is a boxer. His owner buried him deep in the ground to keep him safe. Now seated, he turns to look up at us as if to say, “Why have you unearthed me…to fight again? I have done enough. I do not want to hurt anyone else anymore. Let me return to my quiet grave.”


Many of them are eyeless because the ocean has dissolved their glass eyes in tears of salt water. But even these empty sockets in the faces of such incredible bodies seem more alive, as if in their empty darkness there is a soul hiding just out of reach. Perhaps when the museum is closed, they move about talking in murmurs of their days of glory. There is definitely the feeling of a ghost or perhaps a goddess inside each statue, and they are immortal.

Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World at the Getty Center; ended November 1, 2015