Athena Parthenos
Lupa
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«To see reality, look twice. To see beauty, only look once.»
Henry F. Amiel, Private Diary (1821-81)

Pallas Athena welcomes visitors to this exhibition in the form of a reduced-size, white marble version of the famous, 2nd-century BC sculpture by Phidias. As goddess of war and patron of the city, her 12-metre high image presided over Athens from inside the Parthenon. In the 2nd century AD Pausanias described its eff ect: “The image is made of ivory and gold. In the centre of the helmet is a fi gure of the Sphinx […] with sculpted gryphons on either side of it […]. Athena is standing, her mantle falling almost to her feet and her breast inset with an ivory head of Medusa. She supports a Victory fi gure measuring approximately 4 cubits high and a spear in the other hand, with a shield by her feet and a snake that may be Ericthonius near the spear.” The fact that the Prado’s beautiful and restrained Roman version was sculpted without any war-like attributes meant that she was seen as the goddess of Wisdom and the Arts, and as such she now presides over the galleries in this exhibition and the works in them. By looking through the interior windows visitors can see further rooms in which sculptures, Renaissance paintings and 17th-century still lifes lead on to displays of works from later centuries. One side of a small, 15th-century Flemish painting of Christ emerging from the tomb beside Saint Veronica’s veil — his “true image” and the subject of profound devotion in the Middle Ages — invites us to continue into the next gallery and discover the work’s other side, in an interplay of visual encounters that characterises this exhibition.

 
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