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Troy: Myth and Reality review

  • Museums, History
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Filippo Albacini (1777-1858), The Wounded Achilles, 1825, marble, Chatsworth House Photograph © The Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Troy vey, this show is seriously big. I mean huge, grand, ambitious, sweeping, in-depth, enormous. But take a deep breath and set an afternoon aside because it’s more than worth your time.

The myth of Troy has lasted for millennia. Trojan prince Paris is promised Greek queen Helen by the goddess Aphrodite. He nabs her from her husband and drags her across the Aegean to become his wife. The Greeks aren’t happy and lay brutal siege to Troy for ten years, eventually sneaking into the city via equestrian means and laying the place to waste. In all its violence, jealousy and aggression, in its scale and frightful, prideful idiocy, Troy has become the most enduring of legends.

The show starts with discord and war. Extravagant glazed pots are intricately painted with gods. Eris sows discord at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis; Queen Helen is taken from the arms of her husband Menelaus. There are stunning Etruscan reliefs and gorgeous Roman frescoes.

Then Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter, and Achilles unleashes his rage. It’s so atmospheric in the dark environs of the British Museum that you feel like you’re being dragged into the ancient myth, forced to wade through the blood and hatred. Eventually, Achilles is killed – seen here in a gorgeous nineteenth-century marble by Carlo Albacini – Troy falls thanks to some Greek horseplay and the long journey home begins.

The show then delves into archaeological attempts to find the real Troy, before diving into art inspired by the myth. There’s a fantastic, cramped Rubens painting of Achilles, an unbelievable Cranach the Elder vision of the Judgment of Paris, a brilliantly fierce portrait of Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon, by John Collier and a neon installation by Spencer Finch which is meant to recreate the light that Achilles would have seen while waging war.

Troy is a myth that won’t die. It has persisted for 3,000 years because its lessons are never learnt. Humanity is still vain, jealous, deceitful, angry and endlessly willing to wage war. All the lives lost – for nothing – in the story of Troy have taught us naff-all. Lives are still being lost – for nothing – today. This beautiful exhibition shows us that Troy is a warning, just one that nobody is willing to listen to.

Written by
Eddy Frankel


£20, £17 concs.
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