A Poetic Journey Through Love and Time
Till January 20th, Ovid’s poetry traverses the ancient and contemporary world through a collection of neon lights, masterful paintings, elaborate ceramics, and iconic sculptures in the Scuderie del Quirinale. These three-dimensional forms find inspiration in Ovid’s verses, and eternalize the poet’s stories of desire, betrayal, and revenge. From Botticelli’s Venus Pudica to Joseph Kosuth’s illuminated fragments of Ovid’s verses, the collection demonstrates a timeless intertwining of Ovid’s aesthetics with cultural practices.
Publius Ovidius Naso (43 B.C.–17 or 18 A.D.) was a Latin poet, love guru, and interpreter of classical mythological tales and figures. Born from his playful approach to love and myth are practical instructions on the art of love (Ars Amatoria) and fictional love letters between distant lovers (Heroides). His prolific writings include more than his ruminations on love, delving into reflective letters from exile (Epistulae ex Ponto), an exploration of Roman festivals (Fasti), and a chronological history of the world’s creation up to Caesar’s deification (Metamorphoses).
“Loves, Myths, and Other Stories” draws upon the Metamorphoses and visual masterpieces from the last two thousand years that depict Ovid’s tales of gods, lovers, and nymphs. The narrative poem vividly describes more than 250 myths, standardizing classical stories and idealizing (or condemning) certain archetypes, societal customs, and psychological qualities in the Western world. Ovid’s explorations of mankind’s passionate depths resonate throughout the collection’s artistic mediums and demonstrate the timelessness of the Metamorphoses.
Upon entering the exhibition, neon fragments of Ovid’s poetry attract contemporary art lovers and prepare visitors for what’s to come. Snippets of verse from the Metamorphoses like And so the whole round of motion is gone through again and So the moments fly, and others follow, and they are renewed capture its themes of transformation and fluidity. The stories within the Metamorphoses (Latin for “transformations”) feature many different kinds of physical–and often violent–changes: Daphne’s skin hardens into bark during Apollo’s pursuit, Artemis turns the hunter Actaeon into a stag, Salmacis’s prayer summons Hermaphroditus’s sexual transfiguration. Joseph Kosuth’s installation captures these themes, along with others of identity, obsession, and longing.
Following the entrance, visitors will find paintings, frescoes, archeological artifacts, and sculptures representing these transformations and famous tales. Mirrors, lamps, and other trinkets depict erotic scenes of Ovid’s sensual world, demonstrating the application and popularity of his lessons on love in the ancient world. Also present are medieval manuscripts of the Metamorphoses, bearing the physical magnitude of the poet’s words.
Besides the tangible artifacts and manuscripts, it’s painter’s and sculptor’s visual representations that carry the turmoil and euphoria of Ovid’s couples through time. The exhibition divides and frames certain themes found in Ovid’s work, such as courtship, abandonment, and youth. Illustrations from the 17th century depict the disastrous courtship of Apollo and Diana, Proserpina’s mournful retreat into the underworld every winter, and Icarus’s premature death. Artists cling to Ovid’s poetry, sometimes creating a visual representation from just a few lines of it. The drastic light and shadow of these (mostly) tragic depictions also emit a sense of fluidity, as if the visuals await their own transformation.
Speckled throughout paintings and frescoes, sculptures turn Ovid’s sensory imagery into a tangible, three-dimensional experience. Hippolytus, a man killed by his frightened horses, lays sprawled in mid-fall, bones and muscles torn from the speed of his chariot. Hermaphroditus lays naked, awaiting an observer to soak in a surprising duality of body and sexuality. These sculptures–and many others–lift Ovid’s tragedies and sexual adventures from the page, animating them without constraint.
Visitors depart from “Loves, Myths, and Other Stories” with sentiments of struggle, longing, and elation, all on the cusp of transformation and motion. While the collection draws upon Ovid’s primary theme, the movement from his poetry to visual art demonstrates a metamorphosis within itself, and questions the freedoms and constrictions of moving between artistic mediums. In the opening lines of the Metamorphoses, Ovid writes, “I intend to speak of forms changed into new entities,” and while both his characters and stories morph into new mediums, humankind’s occupations with love prove universal and immutable.
Till January 2oth, 2019
Scuderie del Quirinale
Via XXIV Maggio, 16 (Monti)
Opening hours: Sun-Thu 10am-8pm; Fri-Sat 10am-10.30pm
Entry fee: €13 – 15