Defining beauty

I’m very excited to dive into and (in honour of the British Museum’s current exhibition Defining Beautyto see what beauty I discover.

There’s a lot of Greek sculpture in the exhibition so I’m starting with Made of marble.

I’ve found Made of ?, there are 5,811 things made of ?.

1,998 things are Made of human bone???

1,004 things are Made of coconut!

677 of papier mâché.

493 of donkey skin… it gets weirder and weirder…

Made of fish tooth (26 things), bear tooth (25 things), sheep tooth (24 things). Where are the hen’s teeth? Brilliant, just found chicken eggshell (24 things).

Whoops I skipped right past marble, back to page 1, a monumental 10,178 marble objects.

This marble Venus is rather beautiful, resting her left foot on the head of a swan.


Following the Depicted Aphrodite/Venus thread there are, unsurprisingly, lots more depictions of Venus, 3,446 in total. But surprisingly (for me) the depictions are mostly on paper (1,367 of them). And mostly from Italy.

Here are a couple of the Venus/Paper/Italy beauties:
Venus drying her left foot, with Cupid
Venus pulling a thorn from her left foot, with a rabbit

What’s with her left foot?

Anyway, I seem to have gone down a rabbit hole of Italian C16th engravings.

Back to Greek stuff…via Subject: Classical Deity

Nice. Pots and sculptures that’s what I’m after…

I recognise these guys, they are pretty beautiful, and they’ve been on tour with the Body Beautiful exhibition to the US and Australia.


Another Venus, from the photo it looks like she’s tucked away in some storeroom. The Place information is blank, so it doesn’t look like she’s on display. Maybe she got some limelight in the exhibition…


I haven’t had a huge amount of luck finding objects that are actually in the show. One facet called Appeared in exhibition: Human Body in Greek Art has a lot of the biggies that I know appear in Defining Beauty (Discobolus, Ajax, Westmacott Athelete). But some others like Lely’s Venus, Illissos, Dionysos are missing from that facet. Perhaps if the database was used consistently then you would be able to find the complete set through the Appeared in exhibition facet.

What’s so brilliant about is there is cool, surprising, and beautiful stuff whichever way you turn.

It is a very freeing experience.

You don’t have need to have any knowledge of the collection before diving in. And even if you have a bit of prior knowledge (I worked with the collection for nearly 10 years as part of the digital team), it makes you realise how many more objects there are to discover.

A beautiful new way of exploring the awesome collection of the British Museum.


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