Ganymede and the Eagle. The History of a Two-Figure
2 September 2008 – 30 November 2008
The exhibition in the Rotunda of the Winter Palace presents sculpture,
painted vases, artistic metal and koroplastics (terracotta sculpture).
The central exhibit is an Ancient Roman marble relief from the late 1st
century B.C. from the Hermitage collection.
An unarguable masterpiece from the collection of ancient reliefs, Ganymede
and the Eagle is important for an understanding of the ways the artistic
legacy of Greece influenced the formation of the Neo-Classical style in
Ancient Roman art.
The exhibition contains 130 items: painted vases, glyptic works, reliefs
and articles made from gold, bronze and glass. Chronologically they map
out a period from the Greek Archaic to Imperial Rome. The display is divided
into ten sections, each expounding a particular theme.
The various types of composition presented demonstrate the logic governing
the aesthetic thinking of Ancient Greek and Roman artisans.
Single-figure compositions as a rule present their subject in profile,
since that provides the fullest visual information.
A two-figure composition, in which the depiction of a lone figure is
doubled, makes it possible to express a state of direct dialogue (interaction)
between the personages and produces a finished picture. This type of composition
is inseparably linked in the fine arts with an awareness of concepts of
symmetry and asymmetry, singular and plural, whole and fragmentary.
Multi-figure compositions reflect the idea of plurality necessary to
any narrative and make it possible to embody in artistic form whole episodes
from epic poetry, mythology or real life. Multi-figure compositions presuppose
the depiction of a large number of details, various attributes, elements
of a landscape or interior. They are of importance as an attempt to correctly
reproduce a three-dimensional space.
There is also a fairly distinctive composition of the subject within
a circle that was dictated by shape of the object for which it was intended:
the bottom of a bowl, a mirror, the central boss of a round shield.
The exhibition includes examples of architectural, votive, funerary and
decorative reliefs. Ganymede and the Eagle belongs to a type that stands
apart among them – the relief picture. It is not impossible that this
relief repeats on a plane surface the composition of a three-dimensional
prototype, i.e. a sculptural group.
A number of the exhibits display a similar composition with figures of
the eagle and Ganymede, perhaps deriving from the same prototype.
The subject of the Roman relief of Ganymede and the Eagle is based on
the Greek myth of the mighty Zeus abducting a beautiful youth. The god
became inflamed with love for Ganymede and made him the cup-bearer at
the feast of the Olympian gods, granting him immortality. The display
invited visitors to note the 5th-century B.C. iconography and trace how
Greek classical art depicted the myth. Since it was possible to depict
feelings in vase-painting through the medium of physical actions, scenes
of pursuit became popular as a visual metaphor for the manifestation of
The centrepiece relief is accompanied by works of Greek and Roman artists
that make it possible to trace the changes, co-existence and succession
of various tendencies in the fine arts and to reflect on the problems
the ancient craftsmen faced in the course of the creative process.
The exhibition has an illustrated catalogue raisonne (Publishing House
of the State Hermitage). Its curator is Alexander Kruglov, senior researcher
in the State Hermitage’s Department of the Ancient World, Candidate of