DEFINING BEAUTY at the British Museum

Male nudes and lots of them, that’s what you get at the British Museum’s latest exhibition.  The blurb before you get to see any Greek Gods tells you that whilst the men are in the main unclothed, women get to be dressed.  That having been said, the first thing that greets you as you walk in is a female bottom belonging to Aphrodite: as goddess of lurve she is allowed to get naked.  Not only is she naked, she is also a copy; getting on for two thousand years old maybe but a copy none the less. The Romans were so impressed with Greek statues that if they couldn’t get hold of the real deal then they just had them copied.  This Aphrodite is such a good copy that she is part of the Royal Collection.

Defining Beauty

Marble statue of Aphrodite crouching at her bath. Roman copy of a Greek original, 2nd century AD
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

Standing just next to Aphrodite is an enormous bronze statue of Apoxyomenos or the Scraper, so called because it depicts an athlete scraping his body free of oil and dust after a spot of sport.  This bronze was found in the sea off Croatia in 1996 covered in sponges and other sea creatures.  When I first looked up at him I thought ‘Gosh his lips look red’, so polished I my glasses and looked again and then read the information board.  His lips really are reddish, the bronze has been overlaid with copper to make his lips and nipples look more realistic.

Defining Beauty

Apoxyomenos. Bronze, Hellenistic or Roman replica after a bronze original
© Tourism Board of Mali Losin

Once you’ve dragged yourself away from Aphrodite and Apoxyomenos you are greeted by a magnificent discus thrower.  Once again he is a Roman copy of a Greek original but you can see what prompted the Romans to copy him.  You almost feel that you have to duck just in case the discus gets loosed toward you.  These Greek chaps had muscles that put Poldark to shame and they are all expertly depicted in bronze and marble.  The first room of Defining Beauty is worth the price of admission alone.  The entire exhibition is beautifully lit with statues framed in dramatic pools of light.  Greek vases, some of the Parthenon carvings and the statue that provided Michelangelo with inspiration for the Sistine chapel are among the 150 objects on display.  When you have done with Defining Beauty, then you can go into the wider museum and see more in the permanent collection.

Defining Beauty

Discobolus, Roman copy of a bronze Greek original of the 5th century BC.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Spring had sprung on the day that I visited Defining Beauty and so I chose not to sit inside for my coffee and lunch stops.  There are two vintage Citroën vans outside the British Museum that serve coffee, but sadly no cake.  For lunch I wandered off down toward Shaftesbury Avenue and bought a falafel wrap from a stall in Earlham Street and ate it sitting on base of the Seven Dials.

DEFINING BEAUTY 26 March – 5 July 2015
British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG
Admission: Adults £16.50, children under 16 free
Open: Monday – Thursday 10am – 5.30pm
Friday 10am – 8.30pm
Saturday – Sunday 9am – 5.30pm



  1. April 23, 2015 / 9:33 pm

    Sounds fab. And I’m very pleased that Poldark got a mention!

  2. April 26, 2015 / 8:29 am

    It is rather funny that the Romans copied the Greeks, not something that I realised happened!

    • April 26, 2015 / 9:39 am

      Me neither but knowing what it makes me feel better for decades of being unable to see a difference between Greek and Roman statues!

  3. April 28, 2015 / 1:17 pm

    Just found your blog. Great to meet another museum blogger. I’m following now and looking forward to seeing where you’re heading next/

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