White marble and nude bodies signify Classical art unlike any other material and form. Centuries of collecting and emulating Classical sculpture established the notion of its timeless perfection. As awareness of other artistic traditions has increased and as modern and contemporary artists have explored radically different approaches, this notion has become more tenuous. The greater critical distance actually benefits our understanding of Classical art, allowing us to recognize its time-bound nature and inviting us to appreciate it on its own terms.
The ancient marble sculptures in this colonnade have often been seen as examples of Greek art, but they are in fact of Roman origin and represent an early phase in a long history of reception. Many of the Greek sculptors of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE praised by ancient authors—Phidias, Polykleitos, Skopas, Praxiteles, Lysippus—worked in bronze and in gold and ivory, materials less enduring than stone. Most of their sculptures are lost. What remains are numerous Roman marble statues in Greek style. Traditionally, these have been classified as copies of famous Greek works, but the creativity of the Roman period sculptors should not be underestimated. As they carved statuary for an audience that admired Greek intellectual culture and art, they went beyond simple copying, creating variants and new sculptural types specifically for Roman tastes and settings, such as temples, theaters, bath buildings, houses, and villas.
This gallery also includes smaller works. Representations of the female body across the ages provide a counterpart to the Greek preoccupation with the male nude. Coins with elaborate designs represent Greek sculptural originals. Several are signed, drawing attention to their artistic authorship, an idea that was more prominently expressed in Greek art than elsewhere in antiquity. Bronze statuettes illustrate the development of styles from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman times.