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Highlights of Open Horizons

Images credited to Museums Victoria. Photographer: Tim Carrafa.

Open Horizons: Ancient Greek Journeys and Connections is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see some of the most significant items from Athens' prestigious National Archaeological Museum.

The exhibition, now showing for a limited time at Melbourne Museum, features over 44 ancient works that tell the story of ideas, influences and connections that formed and built communities. Visitors are taken on a journey through ancient Greece to explore how the trade of ideas and goods influenced Greek culture and in turn, the ancient world.

The team from the Hellenic Museum recently visited the exhibition. From the Early Bronze Age to the Roman period, these are a few of the objects that left their mark on us. Look out for these incredible pieces during your visit!

Grave stele of Alexandra

Maria, Development Manager

Aside from the fact that it is beautiful, this grave stele is a particular favourite because it clearly shows us the cultural exchange that occurred in the ancient world. Alexandra is depicted in the characteristic dress and with symbols of the Egyptian goddess Isis.

We can also see that this grave stele has been cut lovingly and likely reused – perhaps for some construction or to cover a different grave. How thrifty!

I am fascinated by the interplay of macro and micro histories – and as much as this grave stele can tell us about the society that created it, its subsequent life has much to tell us too!

White-ground alabastron

Lily, Marketing Manager

This clay alabastron (perfume bottle) is a beautiful illustration of the cross-cultural influence at the heart of Open Horizons. Despite being from Thebes in the ancient region of Boeotia, central Greece, this alabastron is decorated with an African archer.

As the exhibition tells us, recent scholarship on white-ground alabastra with this type of decoration has identified the warriors as followers of Memnon, leader of the Ethiopian contingent at Troy. The decoration could also be interpreted as a trademark, noting the African origin of the perfume once held inside.

Whether the alabastron was crafted in Thebes or travelled there, the connection to Africa is clear. And while there are many objects in Open Horizons that cross cultures, I find the alabastron particularly striking for its use as a perfume bottle.

This vessel traverses cultures, but it also resonates across time in the personal beauty rituals that persist today. It reminds us that even with almost 2500 years between us, we are not entirely different from the original creators and owners of these objects.

Cycladic figure

Sara, Assistant Curator

Situated at the entrance of the Open Horizons exhibition to greet visitors as they come in, this Cycladic figure might not catch your eye or interest immediately – but don’t let its humble appearance fool you.

During the Bronze Age, the Cycladic culture of the Aegean islands, rich in natural materials and supported by sea trade, flourished and produced the distinctive art they are known for today. The most characteristic of which are the female figures carved from marble, and range in both size and shape; from realistic to abstract, from small to tall (our friend here is about 60cm tall).

Cycladic figures are striking in their minimalism and geometry, but what might surprise you is that, similar to later Classical Greek sculpture (though to a far lesser extent), they used to be painted! If you look closely at her face, you can see the facial features in raised relief (that is, it's been carved to rise out from the face); features like this would have been painted in blues and reds – how cool!

In the first half of the Twentieth Century, the modern appearance of Cycladic figures, which had inspired famous modern artists, saw a market demand for them and widespread looting of ancient sites and graves took place. Today, the origin of most Cycladic figures is unknown. Subsequent archaeological excavations have uncovered them predominantly from graves, but the knowledge we lost from those that were illegally traded is permanent.

What we do know is that they were important – from the sourcing of the marble and pigment, to the use of tools to carefully shape them and their deposition in graves – and that there was a shared culture (and likely belief system) between the islands.

This rich history and its many unknowns are what make this object so fascinating to me. I can’t help but wonder, what secrets lie behind these unassuming figures?


Hellenic Museum is proud to partner with La Trobe University and Museums Victoria for Connected Worlds, a four-part lecture series as part of the Open Horizons: Ancient Greek Journeys and Connections exhibition program.

Led by Dr Gillian Shepherd, Senior Lecturer of Classics and Ancient History at La Trobe University, experts and academics will discuss the history and stories of figures of the ancient Greek world, trade connections, mythology and the underworld and how these ideas continue to affect our lives today.


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