Defining beauty:
the body in ancient Greek art

26 March – 5 July 2015
Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery

Sponsored by Julius Baer

Additional support
In memory of Melvin R Seiden
Mrs Jayne Wrightsman, OBE

This spring the British Museum will stage a major exhibition on the human body in ancient Greek art, sponsored by Julius Baer.

This exhibition will explore the Greek experience and its preoccupation with the human form. To the ancient Greeks the body was a thing of beauty and a bearer of meaning. The remarkable works of art in the exhibition range from the abstract simplicity of prehistoric figurines to breathtaking realism in the age of Alexander the Great. Giving form to thought, these works continued to inspire artists for hundreds of years and, over time, shaped the way we think of ourselves.

The exhibition will feature around 150 objects, including some of the most beautiful Greek sculpture to have survived from antiquity. In addition to iconic white marble statues, the exhibition will include exquisite works in terracotta, beautiful bronzes and fascinating vases that demonstrate the quality and inventiveness of ancient Greek craftsmen. Outstanding objects from the British Museum, one of the most important collections of Greek art in the world, will be shown alongside extraordinary loans from other world-class collections.

Ancient Greek sculpture was both art and experience. The exhibition will present sculpture as an encounter between viewer and the object. The first such encounter will be a newly discovered original bronze sculpture of a nude athlete, scraping his body with a metal tool after exercise and before bathing. Raised off the seabed near Lošinj, Croatia in 1999, this rare survival of an ancient bronze statue will be shown for the first time in Britain after years of conservation.

For the first time, six Parthenon sculptures will be taken out of the permanent Parthenon gallery and will be installed in the temporary exhibition in order to contribute to a different narrative from their usual context. As a supreme example of the work of the sculptor Phidias, the river god Ilissos will be shown in dialogue with the work of two of the sculptor’s contemporaries; the Townley Discobolus, a Roman copy of the lost original by Myron, and Georg Römer’s reconstruction of the Doryphoros by Polykleitos. The three great sculptors of the age, Myron, Polykleitos and Phidias, were said to have been trained in the workshop of a single master and each motivated by a strong impulse to outdo the other. In addition to the figure of Ilissos, other examples of sculpture from the Parthenon temple will be shown in different sections of the exhibition including a metope, two blocks from the frieze, one figure from the West Pediment and one figure from the East Pediment group.

The exhibition will also explore the revival of the Greek body in the modern era following its destruction and disappearance at the end of pagan antiquity. Prior to the arrival of the Parthenon sculptures in London in the early 1800s, Greek art was viewed through Roman copies of lost Greek originals, such as the Belvedere Torso, which will be lent by the Vatican Museum. This seated hero, perhaps Herakles, was regarded by Michelangelo as the finest fragment of classical sculpture that could be seen in his day. It will be shown alongside his drawing of Adam for the Sistine Chapel ceiling. These masterpieces will be displayed in a unique combination with a reclining nude figure from the East pediment of the Parthenon. Thus the school of Michelangelo will be brought together with the school of Phidias for the first time.

The exhibition will explore how, in Greek art, the body acts as a pictorial language for articulating the human condition. It can represent every aspect of mortal and divine experience, in fulfilment of Protagoras’s statement “Man is the measure of all things”. This exhibition will be the first in a series to focus on important areas of the Museum’s famous permanent collection to guide future thinking about the display of one of the most important collections of sculpture in the world, allowing for a greater dialogue between the sculptures of different cultures.

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum said, “This exhibition will be a celebration of the beauty and ideals of ancient Greek art. Some of the most beautiful works in the world will be brought together for the first time in a narrative exploring the highest achievements of ancient Greek artists and philosophers, exploring what it is to be human. I am hugely grateful to Julius Baer for their generous support of the exhibition”.

Adam Horowitz, Head of Julius Baer International Limited, United Kingdom, said: “Julius Baer, the international reference in pure private banking, with a large footprint in the UK, is renowned not only for its long tradition in wealth management but also for its engagement with arts and culture over many decades. Both areas rely on partnerships, which are founded on trust and sharing a common goal. We are very proud to sponsor a major exhibition at the British Museum for the third consecutive time. Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art will provide exciting and vivid insights into the human body as it was expressed in ancient Greek art and thought.”

Notes to Editors:

Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art 

26 March – 5 July 2015

Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery (Room 30),

British Museum
Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG

Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art

Tickets on sale from 8 January 2015

Booking strongly recommended

£16.50, children under 16 free

Group rates available

Booking fees apply online and by phone

+44 (0)20 7323 8181

Opening times
Monday–Thursday 10.00–17.30
Friday 10.00–20.30
Saturday–Sunday 09.00–17.30
Last entry 80 minutes before closing time.

The beautifully illustrated exhibition catalogue Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art, edited by Ian Jenkins will be published in March 2015 by British Museum Press. Hardback £30.

Follow updates on the exhibition via Twitter with #DefiningBeauty and follow the Museum @britishmuseum

Ilissos: a masterpiece from the British Museum 6 December 2014 – 18 January 2015 The Roman Yard, the New Hermitage, The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

This figure of a river god has great visual presence and considerable narrative power. Here sculpted marble takes on human, living form, while the fluid pose and streaming, water-like drapery evokes the river god, raising himself onto the river’s bank. The figure is one of the finest of those to survive from the Parthenon.

A supreme example of an original Greek work, it is displayed alongside the largely Roman sculptures in the permanent collections in St Petersburg and adds a new element to the story they tell. Casts of the Parthenon Sculptures have long been familiar to the Russian public, but this loan will for the first time allow visitors in Russia the opportunity to see something entirely new and uniquely significant. This display echoes the original impact of the Parthenon Sculptures when they were first displayed in London at the beginning of the 19th century. Since their arrival in London, over 200 years ago, not only have they been seen as beautiful relics of the great age of 5th BC Athens, but also as a symbol of the importance of Athens as the world’s first democracy and of the debt that modern Western cultures owe to the ancient Greeks.

This loan recognises and celebrates the parallel histories and common aims of two great museums. Both were founded on Enlightenment principles and both are united in working to take such principles forward through the 21st century.

About Julius Baer

Julius Baer is the leading Swiss private banking group, with a focus on servicing and advising sophisticated private clients and a premium brand in global wealth management. Bank Julius Baer & Co. Ltd., the renowned Swiss private bank with origins dating back to 1890, is the principal operating company of Julius Baer Group Ltd., whose shares are listed on the SIX Swiss Exchange and is a member of the Swiss Market Index (SMI) of the 20 largest and most liquid Swiss stocks.

Julius Baer is currently in the final phase of integrating Merrill Lynch’s International Wealth Management business outside the US. This will increase the Group’s presence to more than 25 countries in some 50 locations. Headquartered in Zurich, we have offices in key locations including Dubai, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hong Kong, London, Lugano, Monaco, Montevideo, Moscow, Singapore and Tokyo.

For more information visit


About Julius Baer’s cultural commitment

Julius Baer has been actively committed to the field of culture for generations. It has built one of the country’s largest collections of Swiss contemporary art and by establishing the Julius Baer Foundation and its focus on the arts and youth development, it has created the basis for a long-term social commitment. Today Julius Baer sponsors several cultural projects in the fields of fine arts and classical music.

Current sponsorships include: Lucerne Festival at the Piano; Staedel Museum in Frankfurt; the Singapore Steinway Youth Piano Competition and Steinway Regional Finals Asia Pacific as well as the British Museum exhibition Ancient lives, new discoveries which runs until April 2015.

Through these sponsorship commitments, Julius Baer contributes to making cultural diversity accessible to a wider public.

For more information visit

For further information

Please contact the British Museum Press Office
on +44 20 7323 8583 / 8394 or

High resolution images and caption sheet available at