Picasso and Antiquity in Athens

Picasso and Antiquity

Line and clay

An art historian museologist as visitor at

Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens

Open from 20 June 2019 until 20 October 2019


If all the ways I have been along
were marked on a map and joined up
with a line, it might represent a Minotaur.

(Picasso, 1934)

The archaic influences in the art history are one of the basic themes of my research. I was so happy that I could see the exhibition “Prehistory, a Modern Enigma” at the Center Pompidou in Paris on 30 May 2019. This theme continues in Athens. The Museum of Cycladic Art is organizing a rare and original exhibition entitled Picasso and Antiquity. I visited this exhibition on 13 September 2019. I took some photos at exhibition. Come with me and see my photos and read the text of curators of this interesting exhibition.

Line and Clay where ceramics and drawings by Picasso interact with ancient artefacts, as part of its Divine Dialogues exhibition series. Curated by Professor Nikolaos C. Stampolidis, Director of the Museum of Cycladic Art, and art historian Olivier Berggruen, the exhibition will last from 20 June to 20 October 2019.

Sixty-eight rare ceramics and drawings by Picasso, featuring birds, animals, sea creatures, humans, and mythological beasts (centaurs, the Minotaur) or inspired by ancient drama and comedies, converse thematically for the first time with sixty seven ancient works, creating another Divine Dialogue between Greek antiquity and modern art.

Pablo Picasso | Standing woman, Vallauris, 1949 – Ancient Female figurine

Clay female figurine, Allegedly from Amari ca. 1400-1300 BC – Clay female figurine, Gortyn, rurar villa at Kannia ca. 1750-1600 BC – Pablo Picasso | King of Athens

Female figurines – Detail of exhibition

Detail of exhibition

Picasso’s compositions—ceramics and drawings created between the 1920s and 1960s—come from foreign foundations, museums, and collections, including Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte (FABA), Musée National Picasso – Paris, Musée Picasso Antibes, Museo Picasso Μálaga, Museum Berggruen (Berlin) and private collections.

Goats – Detail of exhibition

Goats – Detail of exhibition

Detail of exhibition

The antiquities come from 15 Greek museums and collections, namely the National Archaeological Museum, the Archaeological Museums of the Ancient Agora, Agios Nikolaos, Chania, Chora (Messenia), Delos, Eretria, Herakleion, Marathon, Paros, Patras, Thebes, the Museum of Cycladic Art, the Alpha Bank Numismatic Collection and the Cyprus Museum. They include sculptures, ceramics and bronze artefacts dating from Prehistory (from c. 3200 BC) to the Late Roman period (to the mid-third century AD)


Detail of exhibition

Pablo Picasso | Silenus in the company of dancers, Cannes, 1933

Dance – Detail of exhibition

Among the most interesting “pairs” presented in this exhibition are: the white clay Centaur with incised and slip-painted decoration, which Picasso created at Vallauris on 3 January 1953, conversing here with the unique tenth-century BC Proto-Geometric Centaur figurine from Lefkandi in Euboea and a sixth-century BC Cypro-Archaic Centaur. Or Picasso’s Blind Minotaur Guided by a Little Girl by the Sea (Boisgeloup, 22 September 1934), paired with the Κilling of the Minotaur by Theseus on a Late Classical Red Figure calyx krater (340–330 BC) from the National Archaeological Museum or the Torso of a Minotaur statue, a Roman copy of an Early Classical prototype.

Clay Centaur figurine from Lefkandi in Euboea, 10th century BCPablo Picasso | White clay Centaur, Vallauris, 3 January 1953

Bulls – Detail of exhibition

Clay Centaur figurine from Lefkandi in Euboea, 10th century BCPablo Picasso | White clay Centaur, Vallauris, 3 January 1953

Unlike his unique paintings, the great twentieth-century artist’s drawings and ceramics are little known to the wider public. These are closely related to antiquity, inspired by the Creto-Mycenaean, Greek, and ancient Mediterranean civilizations in general. This exhibition reveals a world the artist carried within himself. It showcases antiquities that he might have seen in the ancient lands of the Mediterranean, but also in European museums, in the books he read, or during his encounters with Christian Zervos and Jean Cocteau.

Bulls – Detail of exhibition

Κilling of the Minotaur by Theseus on a Late Classical Red Figure calyx krater (340–330 BC)

Pablo Picasso | Blind Minotaur Guided by a Little Girl by the Sea, Boisgeloup, 22 September 1934

Bulls – Detail of exhibition

Throughout his long and productive career, Picasso consulted a wide variety of sources, adapting and transforming them relentlessly. The Classical tradition provided the Spanish master with a vocabulary of endless possibilities to be manipulated and modified. Prominent among these sources was ancient Greece, for it created an enduring mythology as well as a fertile iconography. From the time he copied antique plaster casts in his youth, Picasso was seduced by many themes derived from Greek mythology, drawn by their amplification of the mundane or their persistent aspiration to highlight humanity’s conflicting impulses. The Minotaur, for example, this Dionysian creature, half-beast, half-human, symbolized the dark regions of the psyche, becoming a telling symbol of the irrational forces of war.
Clay owls – Detail of exhibition
Clay pigeons – Detail of exhibition
Owls – Detail of exhibition – Right: Pablo Picasso | The Owl, Vallauris, 12 December 1952
Clay ‘teapot’, Vasiliki, ca. 2400-2200 BCPablo Picasso | Bird, Vallauris, 1947-1948
Another, more benign vision of Greece emerged as well, one in which the ancient themes and stories lead to an idealized vision, a timeless Arcadia, which Picasso developed in sculptures and ceramics after the war. Yet, these works, unlike some earlier ones, are devoid of weighty associations with Greek myth. Rather, Picasso invented a fictitious or imagined antiquity. In the small village of Vallauris in the late 1940s and 1950s, he developed an extraordinary body of ceramics, objects that give us a vague idea of a mythical past, imbued with timeless and relevant imagery in the form of fauns, birds, musicians, etc.
Fishes – Detail of exhibition
Fragment of a marble grave stele with a grooting scene, 4th century BCPablo Picasso’s work
Detail of exhibition
Fishes – Detail of exhibition

The element that binds both ceramics, old and new, and Picasso’s illustrations derived from the antique (the Three Graces or Aristophanes’s Lysistrata) has to do with form and design, and not just iconography. Of particular relevance is the line, whether in drawings from the 1920s and 1930s or the lines traced on ceramics and reminiscent of Attic Red Figure vases, for example. «Picasso and Antiquity. Line and Clay» exhibition demonstrates the force of Picasso’s imaginary, yet strongly felt Antiquity and the lasting spell that objects from the past cast on us.

Detail of exhibition

Torso from a statue of the Minotaur belonging to a group with Theseus – Roman copy of a 5th century BC prototype

Picasso wearing a bull’s head intended for bullfighter’s training, La Californie, Cannes, 1959 (Photo by Edward Quinn)


Text from the website of Museum of Cycladic Art.

Curated by Professor N. C. Stampolidis – Olivier Berggruen

The exhibition is organized with the support of FABA – Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Musée Picasso Antibes, Museo Picasso Malaga and Musée National Picasso – Paris as part of the “Picasso-Mediterranée” project. 

Related posts

Prehistory | Centre Pompidou, Paris

Calder & Picasso – Musée Picasso, Paris

The Nature of ARP

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)


  1. Csodaszép ez a kiállítás is. Kár, hogy olyan messze van. Gratulálok a kiállított tárgyak és festmények megjelentetéséhez!

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