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London/Mazara del Vallo Diary: Bronze

The Bronze exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of Arts is about an almost indestructible material, rather than about a single artist/culture/period and its aesthetic. Humans have made art with bronze since close to 4,000 BC (there are pieces in the show of that era from Israel) and they continue to do so today. The Royal Academy has assembled works from Asia, Africa, Europe and North America that were produced over the last six thousand years. You would not be wrong to think of the show as a celebration of human creativity.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is the dynamic figure of a Dancing Satyr, displayed alone to dramatic lighting in the show’s first room. A Greek work from the 3rd or 4th century BC, it was discovered by fishermen off of Sicily in 1998. The statue normally resides in Mazara del Vallo, a western Sicilian fishing port near Marsala. When earlier this week we entered the museum there that is dedicated to the piece, the ticket vendor apologized that the Satyr was not present. We reassured her that its absence was not a worry; we had seen it in London several weeks before. To our surprise, she quickly called over three of her colleagues to ask about the Royal Academy exhibit. How was the Satyr displayed? What did people think of it? Was it provided a prominent position in the show? The group was happy to hear that the Satyr had been given pride of place in London.

Perhaps the Italian state owns the statue, but, in fact, the guards and administrators at the Museo del Satiro think of it as well and truly theirs.


Addendum: The short film accompanying the Dancing Satyr in Mazara notes that the bronze shows none of the touching up that is evident in a copy. Though the museum’s director does not quite say so, he gently leaves you with the notion that his Satyr is Praxiteles’ original work.


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