Top 5 Pieces of Ancient Art

5. Fayum Portraits

Although little survives, the Greek and Romans had many painted works of art. Pliny records the names of several paintings that were recognised as masterpieces along the lines of the Mona Lisa or the Night Watch. The subjects and themes of some paintings survive in other media such as mosaics, wall paintings and on vases. The closest we can get to this lost tradition are the Mummy Portraits from the Greco-Roman period.

Often called Fayum Portraits, they depict the dead in their peak. Delicate shading and graduations lend a physical and psychological reality to the portraits.


4. Sarpedon Krater 

Greek vases are such an iconic symbol of classical Greece, that it sometimes hard to see them as art objects. Their ubiquity obscures the high artistry behind their creation. They were a creative collaboration between potter and painter (and other technicians at the Kiln).

The Sarpedon Krater shows the dead warrior Sarpedon being carried from the Battle outside Troy by Death and Sleep under the guidance of Hermes. The two gods strain under the weight of Sarpedon’s body. It is an image that is poetic, spiritual and human. It was made by the potter Euxitheos and painted by Euphronous. It can be dated to 520s because of a complimentary inscription to one Leagors, the most handsome man in Greece at the time. A krater is used to mix water and wine, a requisite for symposia

It was repatriated from the Met Museum in New York in 2008, back to Italy.


3. Parthenon Marbles

The quintessential masterpieces of classical Athens civilisation. The Parthenon marbles are fragmented, have lost all their colour and are removed from their original context, but in spite of this (or because of it) they retain an artistic beauty. Possibly designed by the master sculptor Phidias. Many of the marbles were acquired by Thomas Bruce, Lord Elgin in the eighteenth century in circumstances that will probably always remain shady. Replicas of the frieze can be found across the world, including in the Athenaeum club in London.


2. Winged Victory of Samothrace

The cool ease of Phidias and his contemporaries, was followed by a more frenetic energy in the Hellenistic period. The winged victory of Samothrace, shows the exact moment when that most fleeting of goddesses, Nike lands on the prow of a ship. The folds in her flowing robes are strongly carved and suggests the direction of her movement.

It may be linked to Demetrius Poliorcetes (hero of Elephants and Castles). It was also the model for the Jules Rimet Trophy (Soccer World Cup) and the Queen of Time outside London’s Selfridges.


1. Palestrina Mosaic

Mosaics are one of the best surviving art forms of the ancient world. Made out of small coloured stones, they can be almost indestructible and several have been found dating across centuries.

The Palestrina Mosaic shows the flooded Nile Valley. The cities and temples of Lower Egypt in the North and the wild animals and landscape of Upper Egypt. It was discovered in a cave in Italy dedicated to the goddess Fortuna and was likely covered by water. It has been dated back to the Late Republic. It was restored, following discovery, in the Renaissance.


By Rhakotis Magazine

Classic beyond the classics