From Francois I to Louis XIV.
An exhibition organized by the State Hermitage with participation from the St Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Musical Arts has opened in the Foyer of the Hermitage Theatre and in the Raphael Loggias.
Theatre was undoubtedly one of the most important achievements of Antique civilization. The architecture of theatres and circuses, stage costumes and decoration, methods of scenography and acting, and musical accompaniment were all invented by the Greeks and have influenced the history of the development of the theatre in Europe. To this very day the stages of various countries around the world present productions based on subjects from the Antique world. Our very words scenography, music, orchestra, tragedy, and comedy are derived from Greek.
The exhibition has two sections. The section entitled Theatre and Music in Antiquity features 170 exhibits from the collections of the Department of the Ancient World and the Department of Numismatics of the State Hermitage. Sculpture in the round, reliefs, painted vases, bronze and terracotta statuettes, clay masks and lamps, cut stones and works of jewellery, as well as coins and tessera (tokens for admittance to theatrical and circus performances) attest to a universal love for the theatre. The works of art and objects of everyday use which Greeks had around them in their theatres and temples, at their feasts and in libraries were created in various regions of Ancient Greece and Italy - in Attica, Boeotia, Corinthia, Southern Italy, Etruria, Rome and the Northern Black Sea Littoral.
In addition to display items which are directly related to the theatre, the exhibition shows objects linked to music, mythology and religion insofar as the performing arts were born of religious services and the mysteries honoring the god of wine and winemaking Dionysus (Bacchus) and the goddess of fertility Demeter. Depictions of Dionysus (Bacchus), and the personages from his suite - satyrs, silens, maenads and bacchante - are all shown in the exhibition in sculpture and painted vases. Among the favorite subjects of the vase painters were scenes of processions during the holiday in honor of Dionysus: dancing figures of half-naked youths or festively dressed girls follow one another to the sounds of music. Apollo, the god of light and protector of the arts, was no less popular a mythological personage. Rather often we meet with depictions of simple mortals - dancers, singers, musicians, acrobats, actors as well as whole scenes taken from stage presentations, tragedies as a rule.
An entire series of diverse terracotta figurines of actors, musicians and dancers, as well as theatrical masks provide an excellent illustration of the way costumes of comic personages were used, with their hypertrophied body parts, exaggerated humps and bellies, ugly masks. What was unusual or deformed was taken to be funny, and laughter possessed a magic force; therefore comic statuettes and masks often were used as amulets to fend off evil. Musical instruments, whole or in parts, made from ivory and bronze allow us to more fully develop the theme of music, complementing the depictions on painted vases, bronze and terracotta statuettes of musicians, actors and acrobats.
A large part of the exhibited items of jewellery was discovered in Scythian barrows dating from the second half of the 4th century B.C. in the Northern Black Sea Littoral. They mainly show dancing personages - barbarian girls and youths performing sacral dances at festivals in honor of the gods and during observance of rituals. Pendants, earrings with Eros motifs, and a golden wreath all illustrate the theme of music and theatre. In the Hellenistic age, Eros was one of the favorite personages of jewellers; it often appeared on those present at the dances and playing on instruments (flute, fife or lyre). Sometimes Eros holds a mask in his hands.
Similar subjects may also be encountered on cut gemstones. Among the gems displayed in the exhibition, one should mention the cameos which depict theatrical masks. Using multicolored minerals, the master craftsmen carved images which are very effectively highlighted against a dark background. Cameos were usually used as decoration and framed in medallions, placed on rings or at the center of wreaths. They often were added to stage costumes, which at the time were no less luxurious than the wealthiest apparel of noblemen. When the pantomimes which were so loved by the Romans were being performed, the dancing girls wore on their bodies only cut gems, thereby emphasizing their refinement and grace.
The second section of the exhibition, which is entitled The Antique World on the Petersburg Stage, displays 60 exhibits from the St Petersburg State Museum of Theatrical and Musical Arts and enables the visitor to trace the influence of ancient theatrical traditions on the performing arts of the 19th and 20th centuries. Exhibits include stage decorations and articles of clothing, original stage costumes, as well as copies of Antique musical instruments produced in the workshop of V. Maillon in Brussels during the period 1890-1897. Of special interest are the sketches for costumes and stage designs by L. Bakst and A. Golovin. Bakst favored historical authenticity and introduced into stage decoration his characteristic palette of colors, which were his alone. Golovin presented Antiquity as it was understood by a chivalrous nobleman of the 18th century. The display items cover a period of nearly two hundred years of the history of the theatre, from the heroic ballet Caesar in Egypted historical authenticiyhenticitystage co aginsated in various regions of Ancient Greece and Italy - in of (1834) to Antigone in the staging which premiered in November 2004.
The State Hermitage has produced a full-color, illustrated catalogue of the exhibition ( ARS Publishing House, St Petersburg,, 2005).
The curators of the exhibition are: for the State Hermitage, research staff of the Department of the Antique World E. I. Arsentieva and O.V. Gorskaya; for the St Petersburg State Museum of Theatrical and Musical Arts, lead researcher E.M. Fedosova.