Monday 25 November 2019

Troy: Myth and Reality at the British Museum

On Friday afternoon I went to the British Museum's new exhibition Troy: Myth and Reality and I thought it was really good. It aims to show the lasting legacy of stories from the Trojan War, first told by Homer and Virgil and reinterpreted up to the present day. The first part of the exhibition retells the Trojan cycle of myths through works of art from ancient times to recent history. The picture at the top shows a 19th century sculpture of the hero Achilles.

I was particularly pleased to see a rare depiction of Eris, goddess of strife and discord, who started the contest for the golden apple that led to the Trojan wars (see picture right). According to historian Bettany Hughes, who gave a lecture on the Friday evening, the reason it is rare to find works of art showing Eris is that it was considered unlucky to paint her image.

The second part of the exhibition looks at the archaeologists and adventurers who sought to prove the reality of ancient Troy, including the discoveries made by Heinrich Schliemann in Turkey in the 1870s, who revealed that Troy was a real place.

This is the first time finds from Schliemann’s excavations at the site of Troy have been on display in London since the 1870s. A large number of his original finds, including pottery and silver vessels, bronze weapons and stone sculptures, have been loaned by the Berlin Museums to the UK for the first time in nearly 150 years. The picture to the left shows a terracotta pot found at Troy.

The cause of the Trojan War was a woman, Helen, who was taken to Troy by Paris. Part of the exhibition presents a chance to re-examine Helen, through artwork up to the present day.

The curatorial team apparently took a new approach to co-producing content with local community groups, to include contemporary voices. The Trojan War story evokes the human cost of conflict, from the displacement of people to the lasting psychological impact. The exhibition includes responses to key objects in the exhibition created with participants from two charities, Crisis and Waterloo Uncovered, to highlight how the experiences of characters in the story resonate with displaced people and soldiers today.

The BP exhibition Troy: Myth and Reality runs until 8 March 2020 in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery at the British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG. You need to prebook tickets unless you are a British Museum member. The exhibition catalogue, The BP exhibition Troy: Myth and Reality, by Lesley Fitton, Alexandra Villing, Victoria Donnellan and Andrew Shapland, is available there and you can view the catalogue on Amazon.

Picture credits: Filippo Albacini (1777-1858), The Wounded Achilles, 1825, marble, Chatsworth House. Photograph © The Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees. Eris painted on pottery, photographed by myself, Lucya Starza, at the exhibition. Terracotta face pot from Troy, c. 2550–1750BC, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Photograph © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Photo: Claudia Plamp. Exhibition catalogue.

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