Greek art begins journey to Tampa

USF students and faculty received a sneak preview Monday of what Tampa Museum of Art Curator Aaron J. Paul said is “probably the most important exhibition of ancient art in Tampa since 1979.”

The exhibition, which will open at the Cleveland Museum of Art in October 2002 before moving to TMA on Feb. 2, 2003, features approximately 90 masterworks of ancient Greek art recovered in southern Italy and Sicily, which date from the fourth to eighth century B.C.

Paul’s lecture, held at the USF Library and organized by the Interdisciplinary Center for Hellenic Studies as part of Hellenic Week, enabled students and faculty to see slides of artifacts that will form the main attractions of the exhibition.

Paul gave information on the artifacts and said how such major pieces of historical significance had been acquired for this exhibition. Many of the artifacts are centerpieces in their respective museums.

Paul said the exhibition was developed from an initial planning loan of just $8,000 in October 1999. Paul traveled to southern Italy along with Michael Bennett, assistant curator of Greek and Roman Art at the Cleveland Museum, and Mario Iozzo, director for the Center for Conservation in Florence and also director for the Archaeological Museum of Chiusi.

There, with Iozzo’s advice, Paul and Bennett compiled a single wish list of the “major masterpieces” from eight museums in southern Italy and Sicily. Paul said they adopted the unusual tactic of allowing each museum to see the entire list, rather than just the artifacts that they housed.

“We thought that by asking for their best artifacts we would at least get offered their second or third best,” Paul said.

Instead, in what Paul described as “something that doesn’t happen in a lifetime,” almost every artifact they asked for, many of which have never been seen outside of Italy, was donated to the exhibition.

The centerpiece of the exhibit will be the ‘Youth of Agrigento’, a sculpture of a male youth dating from the fifth century B.C. The statue is regarded as one of the finest Greek marble statues outside those found on the Athenian acropolis itself.

Also on display will be three recently discovered terra-cotta altars depicting figures from Greek mythology. Considered important discoveries, they have been on display in Rome and at the Louvre museum in Paris.

“Rome, Paris, Cleveland, Tampa – it all makes sense to me,” Paul said.

To hear that the exhibition was coming to Tampa was a surprise for some USF students.

“Tampa is lacking for someone interested in Greek culture, so this exhibition will be very fulfilling,” said Bill Pipkins, a sophomore majoring in classics. “He (Paul) is a talented presenter and gives you an understanding of putting an exhibition together.”

Junior Andrea Delgrosso said the exhibition represents a great learning opportunity for students.

“It’s about time,” Delgrosso said. “This is really good for people that are studying and do not have the chance to get to Greece or Italy. Art tells you a lot about culture.”

Even at this early stage, TMA is estimating that between 50,000 and 70,000 people will attend the exhibition attracted by the opportunity to experience firsthand the art and culture of the Greeks that colonized southern Italy.

  • Chris O’Donnell