Ganymede and the Eagle. The History
of a Two-Figure Composition
On 2 September 2008 an exhibition opened in the Rotunda of the Winter
Palace, the central feature of which 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.
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.
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.
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
Mikhail Piotrovsky, the director of the State Hermitage
Mikhail Piotrovsky, the director of the State Hermitage, and Alexander
Kruglov, the curator of the exhibition, at the opening ceremony
At the exhibition
The exhibition catalogue