The Museum

The core of the museum is a magnificent  * collection of Archaic sculpture from the site, dating from what was arguably the island’s artistic and spiritual zenith—the 7th and early 6th centuries bc—before the controlling hand of Athens made itself felt in the sanctuary and its art. These are all works from the great sculpting centres of Naxos and Paros, and they possess the clarity, purity and vigour of artists who knew and perfectly understood their medium—the soft, crystalline, local marble that came from the two islands. The pieces are mostly worked not with iron but with bronze tools, and they consequently have the simpler forms and volumes which softer tools impart. Drapery in the female statues, or korai, does not hide the forms of the body in Archaic sculpture, but enhances them; similarly the effect of the nakedness of the male kouroi is to simplify and emphasise the volumes.
   The Central Hall (Galleries I & II) displays a fine assembly of fragmentary, Apollonian kouroi: some of the heads, although damaged or eroded, are of great beauty (especially the couple against the right wall). The centre of the gallery is occupied by a large Triangular Dedication Base with its narrow point decorated with a ram’s head and the other two corners with apotropaic gorgon masks. The inscription in clear Archaic lettering on the left side states that the base carried a statue (of Apollo) by the late 7th century bc, Naxian sculptor, Euthychartides. In the immediate right-hand corner, on entering the room, is the hand of the colossal Apollo of the Naxians which held the bow. Towards the centre is the Archaic Sphinx of Parian workmanship (early 6th century bc), re-placed on its Ionic capital which would once have stood on top of a monolithic column (cp. similar sphinxes at Delphi and at Aphaia on Aegina). Just beyond is a group of fragments of several figures of divinities: even the small bust and shoulders of a goddess gives ample scope to observe the beautifully rhythmic patterning of their design. At the end of the hall are two doves from the Heraion, and (end bay) a pair of lions from the Temple of Artemis with small perforations along the spine for the affixing of a gilded, bronze mane.
   The right-hand (south) area of Gallery III has a number of fragments of men on horses similar in date and conception to the ‘Rampin Rider’ in Athens. In a room on their own further to the right are the original * lions from the Terrace of Lions. These sleekly stylised beasts—which differ notably from one another—show how much early Greek art was influenced by Egyptian ideas and techniques, but also how different and independent and confident its own Greek voice was becoming. Not withstanding the toll taken by wind erosion and damage, the detail of the haunches and feet, of the elongated flanks with protruding ribs, and of the modelling of the shoulders—where it has survived— is admirable. It heralds a new attention to a raw energy which is quite different from anything in Egyptian art prior to this period.
   In the left-hand (north) area of Gallery III, we are already in the Classical world—full of movement, naturalism and narrative. The stillness and vigour of the Archaic is gone, however. The centerpiece here is an elaborate tableau which was the acroterion of the eastern pediment of the Temple of the Athenians (c. 420 bc), depicting an Athenian legend in which Boreas, god of the North Wind, abducts Oreithyia, the daughter of King Erechtheus of Athens.
   In Gallery IV (northeast corner of building) we come to mostly later Hellenistic statuary, where the use of the running-drill to ‘under cut’ the marble and create deeply folded drapery is now paramount: the drapery is fine, especially on the female statue, but seems at times to weigh the figures down—in a manner similar to female costume in 18th century Europe. It unfurls dynamically, however, in the beautiful, 4th century bc piece of Artemis taking a Stag in the hunt. In the attractive, archaising relief of Hermes leading Athena, Apollo and Artemis (immediately left on entering), some of the original colour still remains; and on the same left side of the gallery, the original (red) under-colouring persists is the sandals under the feet of the statues. The north (end) wall of the gallery shows one of the finest Delian mosaic floors with a sumptuous border of fruit and flora, removed from a house on the Hill of Skardana. Its black, red and yellow colours are particularly vibrant.
   Gallery V (north side of building) is dominated by an enormous statue of Cauis Ofellius Ferus from the Agora of the Italians, carved around 115 bc by two Athenian sculptors, Dionysios and Timarchides, showing the extent to which Greek artists now adapted themselves wholly to a dominating Roman style. In the arch between the Galleries VI and VII, is a rare votive stele which has survived with its bronze plaque depicting Artemis presiding at a sacrifice (3rd century bc).
   In Gallery VI, the finest aspects of Roman art come out in the characteristically naturalistic portrait busts. The base pedestal for a bronze Roman statue with the broken, bronze foot still in position shows how such figures were customarily attached into marble blocks by means of lead dowels which filled the inside of the foot for greater stability, and locked the piece into the marble base below.
   Gallery VII (which returns to the main entrance) is filled with a fascinating selection— one of the best outside the Archaeological Museum of Naples—of domestic objects and decorations, which give a rare view of the extraordinary intensity and clarity of the decorative finishings to the interiors of houses. (West side): votive terracotta figurines of great delicacy, as well as moulds for their production in series; fine marble figurines for temple offerings, and several mosaic emblemata with leopards, doves etc. (East side): jewellery of remarkable refinement incorporating elements in glass paste and semi-precious stones, fragments of wall paintings, mostly of interest for their decorative detail and chromatic intensity (examples of pigments used); a show case containing explicitly erotic and phallic objects, including a memorable relief of two jousting, winged phalli (once coloured), each endowed with its own phallus as well as a phallic tail, above an inscription which reads, ‘this for me and this for you’. The decorative painted friezes exhibited make extensive use of a brilliant, iron-oxide red, and some of the marble statuary shows vestiges of the same colour. Many of the sketched scenes were advertisements for fights or spectacles—similar to ‘posters’ on the outside of buildings—and those overwritten with ancient graffiti were from public places. A show-case displays glass and tableware, with kitchenware (grills and frying-pans) and mixing receptacles nearby, and a circular lamp with 24 flames for illuminating a room. In the centre of the room is an exquisite * table-top in an engraved and painted, dark marble. Few other collections give a more vivid sense of the liveliness and elegance of Hellenistic interiors than this one room.
   Gallery VIII (to right of the main entrance—frequently closed) exhibits the finds from earliest antiquity, and the museum’s vase collection. Of particular note and refinement are the * carved Mycenaean ivory tablets of the 13th century bc (first case in centre), found below the Artemision, together with (right) a bronze statuette of a helm eted figure (?deity) holding a harp. The wide provenance of the ceramic objects—Rhodes , Chios, Melos, Corinth—reflects the vigour of Delos ’s early trading and presents a remarkable variety of styles and colours.

Delos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.

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