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Getty Museum Offers Visitors the Opportunity to Learn About Etruscan Masterpiece in Italian
Unknown, The Chimaera of Arezzo, about 400-375 B.C. Bronze. Object: H: 78.5 X L: 129 cm. VEX.2009.2.1 Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence, Italy.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- In conjunction with Italian Language Week (Monday, October 19–Sunday, October 25, 2009), the Getty Museum at the Getty Villa is offering a special one-hour overview of The Chimaera of Arezzo exhibition, in Italian.

Inaugurating the Getty Museum’s partnership with the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Florence, the exhibition features the Etruscan masterpiece known as the Chimaera of Arezzo—a large-scale sculpture of a triple-headed, fire-breathing monster comprised of three incongruous animal forms: a lion, a goat, and a serpent. Interweaving archaeology, mythology, religion, and conservation, the exhibition narrates the life and afterlife of this Etruscan icon along with additional objects that trace the myth of Bellerophon and the Chimaera over five centuries of classical art.

“Impressive in scale and dynamic in conception, the Chimaera of Arezzo is a tour de force of Etruscan bronze sculpture. We are delighted that our partnership with the Museo Archeologico is bringing to Los Angeles for the first time one of the most important objects of Etruscan art in the world,” said Michael Brand, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

The Chimaera of Arezzo explores the myth of the Greek hero Bellerophon and the Chimaera over five centuries of classical art. Ancient artists embraced this compelling tale of triumph over adversity. Illustrations of the myth first appeared in Greek art in the early moreseventh century B.C., soon after the legend gained currency in the epic poetry of Homer and Hesiod. Commanded by King Iobates to kill the Chimaera, which was ravaging the countryside, Bellerophon rode into battle on his winged horse, Pegasus. Hurling a spear from above, the virtuous young noble slew the formidable beast, winning Iobates’ kingdom of Lycia (in present-day Turkey) and the hand of his daughter, Philonoë.

Few ancient works of art have a modern history as long and well-documented as the Chimaera. Dated to around 400 B.C., the Chimaera of Arezzo is the only surviving large-scale representation of this composite creature. Hollow cast in bronze, the figure is an outstanding example of the Etruscans' renowned skill in metalwork. Glaring up at an unseen adversary, the monster's defensive posture suggests that it was originally part of a larger composition that once included the figures of Bellerophon mounted on Pegasus. On November 15, 1553, the statue was discovered in a cache of votive offerings outside the San Lorentino gate in Arezzo. No trace of the equestrian group, however, was found. Immediately transported to Florence, the Chimaera and several smaller bronze statuettes deposited with it were installed in the Palazzo Vecchio, the residence of Cosimo I de’ Medici.

Cosimo’s lead architect, Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), was the first to publish the extraordinary bronze as the Chimaera of the Bellerophon myth. Court scholars were fascinated by the Etruscan inscription on its right foreleg, which identifies the statue as an opulent religious offering to the supreme Etruscan god Tinia (equivalent to the Greek Zeus and the Roman Jupiter). Vasari designed Cosimo’s study as a private museum, called the Scrittoio della Calliope, which held the figurines found in Arezzo as well as later Tuscan works. He commissioned the celebrated goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571) to assist in restoring them. Around 1558 the Chimaera was mounted in the grandly frescoed apartments of the Medici pope Leo X, where it was admired by distinguished visitors, artists, and writers. An emblem of Florentine political power and cultural heritage on a par with Rome's famed Capitoline She-Wolf, the figure was hailed by Cosimo as a symbol of his dominion “over all the Chimaeras,” a reference to his conquered foes. The sculpture remained in the Palazzo Vecchio until 1718, when it was transferred to the Uffizi Palace.

“From its origins in Greek literature, to its realization by an Etruscan sculptor steeped in the artistic ambiance of southern Italy, the myth of the Chimaera has endured as an allegory—of culture versus nature, spirit over matter, and right over might,” explains Claire Lyons, the Getty Museum’s Curator of Antiquities, who curated the exhibition with assistance from Seth Pevnick.

The Getty Museum | The Chimaera of Arezzo | Etruscan Art | Michael Brand |

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