For the third time in a row, the Tampa Museum of Art has scored a winning, major exhibition. First came the museum's spotlight on the University of South Florida's Graphicstudio earlier this year. The landmark show, “My Generation: Young Chinese Artists,” is still on view here and at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.
Now the focus is on one of the superstars of the museum's own collection: a five-foot tall marble sculpture of the Greek god of sea, Poseidon, who was called Neptune by the Romans. You can see the muscled and bearded god up close and personal in “Poseidon and the Sea: Myth, Cult and Daily Life.”
“This is the largest and best preserved statue of Poseidon in the United States,” said Seth D. Pevnick, the museum's Chief Curator and Richard E. Perry Curator of Greek and Roman Art. He put together the exhibition, which is the first one completely developed and toured by the museum.
“Much like the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome, life in Tampa is tied to the sea,” added Pevnick.
Many casual visitors will be charmed by glimpses of daily life thousands of years ago, from fierce battle scenes to the most charming pieces of dinnerware any hostess today could want.
Dedicated museum-goers might note that thanks to its acquisition of the Joseph Veach Noble collection in 1986, the Tampa Museum has one of the most important collections of antiquities in the Southeast. This exhibition highlights those treasures, augmented by loans from such celebrated institutions as the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art. On view are 130 works, 25 of them from Tampa's collection.
Who is Poseidon, and why was he so important to folks who lived back then? Poseidon was a power to contend with. As one of the main gods of the Greek and Roman world, he was boss of the seas. That made him a key player in an era when commercial vessels crowded the Mediterranean.
Fishermen brought home abundant catches as you can see in a Roman mosaic that also shows folks worshiping at an altar likely dedicated to the god who helped the fishermen score big.
The ancients did not have animated cartoons but they tried their best. Don't miss seeing five warships plowing the seas on the inner rim of in a clay vessel made to hold wine and water. When the vessel is filled to the top, the moving liquid near the rim would slosh around, making the ships appear to be riding the waves. Meanwhile, fierce battle scenes decorate the outer rim, illustrating stories popular 500 years before the Christian era.
Think of today's comic book superheroes: Superman and Wonder Woman. Mix in some national myths: Paul Bunyan, Casey Jones, even Ichabod Crane. Then throw in some revered American scenarios: Washington crossing the Delaware or the Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima.
This mash-up of fact and fiction gives you an idea of how people in the ancient world thought of their god of the sea and of horses, including the winged horse, Pegasus. Also referred to as “Earth Shaker,” Poseidon was believed to cause earthquakes and volcano eruptions when he had a bad day.
Clearly, he was a force to be respected, a feeling quite evident when you consider the materials and labor that went into the fashioning of a giant bronze trident. Cast in five sections, it was the weapon always carried by Poseidon. At 200 pounds and 14 feet in length, the trident must have been attached to a statue more than twice life-size.
“This is the largest trident in the world,” said Pevnick. “It's the first time in more than 30 years it's been on view. It's been in storage at the Getty.”