Red-figure Kylix (detail). Greek, Athens, 440−430 bc. Painter of London E 777 Painter. Terracotta. Interior: Two athletes. Exterior: Athletes conversing. Gift of the Queen of Greece through Alma de Bretteville Spreckels. 1925.346.16

Gifts from the Gods: Art and the Olympic Ideal

July 28, 2012June 23, 2013

Plato considered both art and athletics to be gifts from the gods, and the connection between art and sports in ancient Greece can be viewed as an aspect of its religious beliefs as well as its competitive spirit. Every fourth year for a thousand years, from 776 BC to AD 395, the pageantry of the Olympic festival attracted citizens from all over the Greek world. The Games at Olympia were held in honor of Zeus, and a visit to these competitions was also a pilgrimage.

As time passed, the Games lost their religious significance, but the love of athletics and their connection with art did not suffer. Revived in Athens in 1896, the modern Olympic games match their ancient forebears in popularity and artistic inspiration. Now as then, the games attract thousands of spectators, spur arduous training, and honor winners as both heroes and celebrities. This exhibition, coinciding with the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, draws together outstanding examples of art related to the Olympics from its ancient roots until today to reveal the continuity of the Olympic ideal and the rich and diverse expressions of the body in motion. Masterpieces of Greek and Roman coinage that celebrate the Olympic Games, the gods, and the victorious athletes are supplemented by additional works of art from the Museums’ collections inspired by modern-day Olympics.

Support for the exhibition is provided by Richard Beleson in memory of the 1972 Israeli Olympic Team.