It was chock full of school children—bless their hearts—and other wonderful things. We saw many fusion pieces, my term for art that is clearly influenced by another culture: Greek-Egyptian; Roman-Greek; Roman-Egyptian. For example, the Romans took on the Egyptian goddess Isis and she is rendered in statuary as a Roman Venus, but with Egyptian headdress. When the Greeks conquered Egypt under Alexander and Ptolemy, mummification continued, but the portraits to go over the mummy’s head took on a very Greek painting style. And amidst the mummiform coffins was a “cyst grave” of about the same time from Germany. [Cyst graves are created by digging a hole both deep and wide, lining it with wood or stone, burying the body with sufficient grave goods, and topping it off with a stone or wood ‘lid’] It was in this same room that I made my one and only sketch: of a Ukrainian statue from the 12th century AD. I always take a sketchbook and pencils, but I never get time to sketch. When we stop to rest, we are reading up on what we have just seen or are going to see.
We stopped for a late lunch—did I mention, eating out in Berlin is quite expensive?—and thus fortified, we went over to the Pergamon Museum.
Pergamon is a Greek city [now called Bergama] in present day Turkey. It was a city-state and very wealthy around 281 BC – 133 BC. It went on into the AD and is one of the 7 churches mentioned in Revelation. The Germans excavated it in the 1900s and came home with the entire front approach to the Temple of Zeus. The museum is named for this, but it also contains a host of other treasures on a large scale.
At the entry to the museum, you follow an avenue of lions on blue tile, leading to the Ishtar Gate –as you would in antiquity. The magnificent gate, now indoors, is a reconstruction of the familiar blue glazed tile, with striding lions, bulls and griffins that appear on every work about ancient Babylon. We have seen bits of it in our travels, the most being in Istanbul, where they have an avenue. But the gate is 47 feet high and absolutely stunning. And I don’t even like blue.
Constructed in 575 BC by King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, this gate was not the most impressive, but the 8th gate. Nor did it really “survive.” The German team pieced it back together chip by painful chip, supplementing modern blue tile as needed to hold everything together. This is the reason we went to Berlin—to see this fabled city gate, built by a king mentioned in the Bible. And it was worth the trip!
Leaving that room, we segued to the Temple of Zeus from Pergamon, built in the 2nd century BC. This is another jaw-dropper, and the other must-see on our list. The temple was described as an attempt to build a throne for Zeus on the hillside of Pergamon, surely a hubristic notion. Hubris was usually punished by the gods, so I guess it is no accident that this temple was moved lock, stock and relief carvings to Berlin.
I will pause here briefly to explain that in the 18-19th centuries, most of the Middle East, including Greece and Egypt were ruled by the Turkish Empire. The rulers, devout Muslims, saw no value in pagan statuary or temples, and gifted vast amounts to Europeans nations / museums. Much of the marble statuary in Egypt, Greece and especially Turkey were being burned to produce lime for cement. So Europe didn’t steal these treasures, but were given them and conserved them. It is my opinion that many, many more people have seen—and cared about-- the Parthenon carvings than if they had remained in Greece, where they were being destroyed. Of course, there is nothing new about ‘appropriating’ treasure; Venetians really did steal the remains of St. Mark from the Coptic Christians in Alexandria, Egypt in 828 AD. [Yes, that Mark from the New Testament.]
The Temple of Zeus had a processional stairway flanked by projecting colonnades, all around the base of which were larger-than-life size reliefs depicting the Olympian gods vs the giants, in epic battle. These are marvelous, though ruined artworks: about 500 linear feet of flying drapery, writhing bodies, rampant animals, suffering and triumph, pieced together with exquisite care by the excavators. The sculptures are so fitted to the architecture of the huge staircase, that one figure actually kneels on the steps.
At the top of the temple was a courtyard decorated with scenes from the life of Hercules’ son Telephus, the legendary founder to Pergamon. These reliefs are fragmentary but still very fine.
Apparently the art critic world held Hellenistic art to be degenerate compared to Classical Greek art. This view is changing; in fact, compared to the emotionless Classic sculpture, imo, these reliefs are far more lifelike.