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Greek Art in Japan
Tenth presentation Louvre - DNP Museum Lab A Masterpiece of Ancient Greece: a World of Men, Gods and Heroes

This webpage shows some fine examples of ancient Greek art that can be seen in Japan.

Attic Black-Figure Neck-Amphora, Herakles and Kerberos

Attic Black-Figure Neck-Amphora, Heracles and Cerberus

c. 520-510 BC

An amphora is a vessel for serving wine. This example is decorated with a scene from the Labors of Hercules (Heracles) on the front and shows warriors and their retinues going off to battle on the rear. The design on the amphora shows Hercules clothed in a lion’s coat as, guided by Hermes and Athena, he brings Cerberus out of the Underworld. As this example shows, by the sixth century B.C., Greek ceramics had achieved a quite rational form. In black-figure painting, decorating was applied to a pot in a slip that would turn black in firing and details incised into the slip.

Head of a Philosopher

Head of a Philosopher

4th century BC

This portrait sculpture from the fourth century B.C. is known as the "Head of a Philosopher". Since the carving at the back is rough and the head lacks a right ear, it was probably part of a funerary sculpture composed of several figures placed in a box-like space. During the Hellenistic period, a naturalistic style that presented the human figure simply and honestly flourished. In this example, the slight tilt of the head, the intently staring eyes, the eyebrows drawn together in concern reveal the inner life and subtle feelings of a human being.


Venus (Aphrodite)

Hellenistic period (c. 330-323 BC)

The pure white marble from the island of Paros in the Aegean Sea used in this statue was regarded in ancient Greece as the ideal material for representations of Venus. The pose, in which the left hand holds her garment, which covers her from the hips on down, to keep it from fluttering in the wind, symbolizes Venus, who was born of the sea foam. As the connection between religion and art weakened, secular tendencies grew more pronounced. As in this work, the gods were presented in more human form. Greater dynamism replaced static postures that had indicated the eternal.

Shiga Prefecture


4th - 3rd century BC
Bronze, glass

This conventional treatment of the figure of Heracles is nonetheless of exceptional workmanship, with its precise, lifelike rendering of the soft texture of the lion's fur, the gorgeous inlaid glass eyes, or the subtle detail of the hair and fingertips giving it a unique quality. The work's remarkable delicacy provides this statuette, measuring a mere 20 cm in height, with the full force and bearing of a life-sized sculpture. Its refinement, down to the proportional treatment of the hands and feet, bears some resemblance to the style of Lysippus of Greece, personal sculptor to Alexander the Great, in the "extreme delicacy of the work even down to its finest details".

Fulcrum Attachment in the Shape of a Horse

Fulcrum Attachment in the Shape of a Horse

2nd - 1st centuries BC
H-20 D-16 W-8.2

This horse head once adorned a couch or daybed (kline) used in Ancient Greece during banquets (symposion). An extended S-shaped ornament was often added to the fulcrum or raised portion of the bedstead, sometimes fitted with a horse or donkey head. The present object depicts a horse with an unkempt mane, a hollow gaze, and ears pricked up in different directions - probably a representation of drunkenness. Followers of Dionysos would often drape themselves with panther skins similar to the horse's mottled pattern here, suggesting a reference to the god of wine.

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