The realms of Poseidon encompassed virtually every aspect of life in the ancient Mediterranean world, from mythology and religious cult to the daily life of its people. This exhibition, premiering nationally at Joslyn Art Museum
, explores each of his dominions through more than 100 works of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art produced between 800 BC and 400 AD. Visitors will see striking black-figure and red-figure pottery, alongside sculptures in terracotta, marble, and precious metals, and extraordinary examples of ancient glass, mosaics, carved gems, and coins, all providing a rich picture of life in the ancient world. Organized by Tampa Museum of Art, Poseidon and the Sea is on view at Joslyn February 8 through May 11.
Instantly recognizable by his trident and accompanied by fish and dolphins, Poseidon like his Roman counterpart Neptune is characterized by his sturdy build, thick wavy hair, and full beard. He looms large in Greek mythology
as a central figure in the battle between the Olympian gods that brought order to the world and the monstrous race of Giants that threatened to overthrow them and create havoc. With power over not only the sea but also horses and natural phenomena from floods to earthquakes, Poseidon carried great importance throughout the ancient world. His most famous sanctuary was at Isthmia, but he was also worshipped at landlocked sanctuaries. Votive offerings were meant to illuminate and impress from a small bronze horse, to schools of lead fish, to representations of the god himself. Poseidon appears frequently on vases made in ancient Athens, where the sea god and his son Theseus aided in the historic defeat of invading Persian forces, saving the city. The exhibition also includes a monumental bronze trident over a dozen feet long that is believed to have accompanied a colossal statue of the god that is now lost.
Beyond mythology and religion, however, the sea was the center of daily life in towns and cities along the coast of the Mediterranean. It provided food and other resources, and allowed for easy travel and trade. But the sea was also fraught with danger, and merchants plying the water were always on the alert for threatening weather, pirates, and the terrible dwellers of the deep. Allusions to the sea are found throughout ancient art, from cargo boats to warships, and dolphins, fish, and octopi. Blurring the line between art and artifact, visitors will discover illustrations of fishermen and shipbuilders alongside fish hooks and ship models, bringing the world of antiquities to life.
Poseidon and the Sea offers an intimate look at not only the mysteries of the ancient world, but at the timeless beauty and wonder of the sea that continues to resonate with us in the present day. A catalogue with essays by leading scholars accompanies the exhibition, organized by the Tampa Museum of Art, with loans of artwork from major public and private collections in the United States and Europe.