Advance in information technology has turned the world into a global village. Many things can be accomplished in the comfort of one’s house. Business transactions and learning can now take place online. In the art milieu, technology has also enabled people to access a myriad of art collections from all over the world through various art or museum websites. These websites provide the viewer with the digital images of various arts of work; thus, making it convenient for people to experience the great skills used by artists in rendering the works. However, with the advancement of information technology to allow virtual visits to museums and various art gallery websites, there has been a number of concerns raised by such technology. One of the questions brought up is whether there is still any need visit the museum to view the original work of art while one can view a digital version of the same on a computer from any part of the world. There is a need for one to go to the museum because viewing the original work provides a more aesthetic fulfillment because one can explore in details and discern elements of the work from a close up perspective than when one is viewing the digital version on a website.
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In order to highlight the fundamental difference that exists between viewing a work of art from the museum and viewing the digital version of the work from the museum’s website, this paper will examine two sculptures, The Hope Hygieia and The Hope Athena, which are both found in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The two sculptures are under the collection of Roman, Greek, and Etruscan art. The historical premise of the two sculptures is the Roman dependence on Greek themes and styles that became the basic ideology of copyist images in the 2nd Century A.D. Despite the advancement of the Romans in civic technology and warfare than their Greek ancestors, the art of the Romans mainly depended on the various schools of Greek sculpture as evident in these two sculptures.
Emperor Hadrian, who reigned between 117 A.D. and 138 A.D., had a taste for Greek art, and as such, he inspired the demand for copies of the famous Greek statues. This is because the Greek statues, which had been created from 500 to 300 B.C., had been destroyed during wars or captured during invasions. Therefore, what is known today are Roman copies of Greek originals, which were excavated in Italy in the 18th century. The names of those who created the original Greek sculptures are derived from the inscriptions which were at the base of the sculptures, or even from literary sources. The Roman copies of the Greek original works had some missing parts and have been restored, while trying to preserve the original form of the sculpture.
The Hope Hygieia is a sculpture of the Greek healer goddess, Asklepios. The sculpture is from an artist and measures 75 x 25 x 18 in. She is represented here feeding a large serpent on a dish she is holding in her hand. The snake is the symbol of the healing goddess. The statue was carved in the second century during the reign of King Antonine. The statue was found at Ostia, the ancient port of Rome in 1797. The statue lacked various parts including the eyes, left hand, right forearm, and parts of the drapery and segments of the snake carving around her body. The missing parts were restored in an Italian studio using marble as was the custom during the Renaissance. Later, the statue was sold to Thomas Hope, a British designer, for whom the sculpture is named. The art collection of Hope, which also includes the Hope Athena, was dispersed in 1917. The two sculptures were discovered in the same place, Ostia, in the year and sold to Hope explains why they are juxtaposed in the collection. The two statues were later owned by William Randolph Heart, who gave them as a donation to the Los Angeles Count Museum of Art in 1950.
When Hope Hygieia was donated to LACM, it appeared as it was when it entered Hope’s collection one and a half centuries earlier. This implies that it did not have the original marble restorations done in the 19th century. This is because in the 1970s, the presentation of classical statues in public museums was based on postmodern minimalist aesthetic principle which rendered modern interventions on any work of art to be a way of falsifying the original work. Therefore, in1973, the Hope Hygieia had its restorations removed and then displayed in the de-restored form, which consisted of ancient marble and plaster where it was structurally feasible. However, the sculpture still lacked the desired authenticity because there was no evidence of naturally broken surfaces owing to the fact that the original stone had been re-cut in an effort to accommodate the 19th century restorations.
The Hope Hygieia was later re-restored in 2006 with an aim of reconstructing its 19th century form. The task was eased by the existence of the parts, which had been removed and preserved; thus, making reintegration easy. However, as work on re-restoring the sculpture progressed, it became evident that several parts of the original restoration had been dusted or lost when the statue was being de-restored. The curators and conservators opted to replace the parts from sculpts made from gray synthetic resin. The parts were joined together by the use of mechanical joints and soluble adhesives. The re-restored appearance of the Hope Hygieia highlights the importance of going to the museum instead of exploring digital images from the website. This is because one can easily establish the restored parts and examine how they relate to the initial statue. This will enable one to appreciate the value of taking care of works of art because regardless of how well the conservators may do the restoration, the restored parts will always be conspicuous to a keen viewer.
The Hope Athena is a Roman copy of an original Greek statue of the Greek goddess of wisdom and war. It is from an unknown artist and measures 86 by 28 by 22.5 in. The sculpture was created in the second century and discovered in Ostia in 1797. It is created from stone and marble and is found under the Hearst Collection. In this sculpture, the goddess is dressed in a Chilton and luxurious mantle. Her chest is sheltered by aegis. She is standing in classical contrapposto, a posture that is discernible for the drapery folds in her garment, despite the concealment of the forms of her body. She has a helmet on her head with a sphinx and two griffins. The name of this sculpture is derived from a sculptural type attributed to a Greek work of the period between 430 B.C. and 420 BC and related to the famous work of Phiedias, the Athena Parthenos. The Hope Athena has a history identical to that of Hope Hygeia because the two were excavated at Ostia and sold together at the 1917 Hope collection 1917. The two works were later acquired by Hearst who reunited the two works.
Both statues are created from marble. Marble is among the oldest materials used by sculptures. This material has a number of advantages. First, marble is soft and easy to pare when first quarried and this makes the work of refining and polishing easy. When the finished marble stays for long, it hardens and becomes more durable and this is the reason marble sculptures can stay for a long time. Another advantage of marble is that it has a slight surface translucency that looks like that of the human skin, giving the marble sculpture a visual depth that evokes realism. However, marble has the disadvantage of being prone to stains and corrosion; thus, not suitable for outdoor environments. The two sculptures have a near white color which is the color of marble; thus, retaining the authenticity of the original works.
The Hope Athena and the Hope Hygeia are typical of a beautifully sculptured piece. The statues are best from the front side because this is the side that offers greater details of the artist’s works. However, in the case of Hope Hygieia, it is also important to have rear view in order to examine the resorted parts and compare them with the other part of the statue. The viewer is impressed by the amount of detail seen in both the sculptures. The viewer’s eyes are quickly drawn to the folds in Athena’s garments, as they offer a realistic feeling across her body. In addition, one experiences the graceful formation of the fabric around her knees. One can almost see the flow of the garment as she takes a step forward. Her helmet gives her the perfect authority as the goddess of war. The same case applies to the Hope Hygeia. The viewer feels the slithering experience of the serpent as it curls around her. The folds on her garment and wrapper also appeal to the viewer, as well as the posture creating an illusion of movement.
The artists have used the drapery in the garments of the statues to create an illusion of realism. The sculptures have a smooth texture that makes one be tempted to touch and follow the folds in the garment. This texture relates to that of the human skin, and as such, arouses realist feelings from the viewer. The viewing experiences of these sculptures highlight the need for one to go to the museum even in the age of the digital media because the aesthetic and realistic feelings derived from viewing the original cannot be substituted by any clarity of a digital image. This is true given the fact the digital size is small compared to the original size of the sculptures in the museum.
In conclusion, the Hope Hygeia and the Hope Athena share several things. One is their history given that they were discovered in the same place, sold to the same person, and later resold together to another person. In addition, the sculptures also show the influence of Greek culture in the Roma art. The two sculptures are copies of Greek original statues, which were either destroyed in war or taken after the invasions. Despite the military prowess and architectural advancements of the Romans, they still appreciated Greek art, which was based on narratives and traditions, especially mythology. Further, Hope Hygiei and Hope Athena highlight the need for going to the museum even in this age of digital media. This is because the two sculptures provide experiences that can only be sensed when one isviewing the original work. In particular, viewing the original work becomes important in cases of restored parts such as those of Hope Hygiei becomes they are more distinct in original works than in digital images; thus, emphasizing the need for conservation of works of art.