REVIEW: Luxury and Power: Persia to Greece, British Museum

The museum’s latest exhibition is filled with dazzling artefacts – but does it go far enough in terms of exploring the surprising similarities between Persia and Greece?

(c)the Trustees of the British Museum

The amazing display of wealth and power on display in this exhibition alone means that there is a lot of material to explore in this well executed and somewhat dazzling exhibition at the British Museum.

While the exhibition might begin with two heads (one from a Greek perspective and the other of course from the Persian outlook) to highlight the rivalry between the two cultures, Luxury and Power actually offers a refreshing outlook – highlighting the many similarities in ideas in terms of displaying power and wealth. From luxurious court robes, elegant jewellery and drinking vessels to intricate statuettes the way in which the British Museum explores this topic is consistently elegant – even if you feel that there is there is still more to be said.

The pale walls and sheets that hang around each section, add a sense of breeziness to the exhibition – ensuring that the whole display has lightness of touch to it that makes the objects shine even more brightly. Each section of Luxury and Power flows nicely and never feels jarring at all, which is impressive considering how heavy the subject matter could have been handled.

This is an exhibition that feels slightly constrained in the space it has been given, with Alexander the Great only really receiving a brief mention. However, what makes it stand out is the selection of objects that form the the exhibition – including the wonderful variety of vessels such as four animal-faced rhytons that certainly would provide amusement for those watching those drinking out of them, or the beautiful miniature chariot that is filled with extraordinary detail for example.

But as well as the glamour on display, the exhibition is filled with compare and contrasts that links each culture perfectly – particularly as the way in which the Greeks attitude about displaying wealth seemed to change as the years went by, contrasting with the Persians who took pride in highlighting their wealth. To see how the Greeks changed from being modest until the arrival of Alexander the Great is fascinating display how the wealth could be used as a weapon to show power and strength.

It is a tight and concise exhibition that never overwhelms visitors, allowing them to sit back and back and be thoroughly amazed by the quality of the objects on display, while absorbing the fact that the ideas of wealth and power shown here are still very much in existence – rightly or wrongly.

Yes perhaps it feels a bit more of an introduction to the subject rather than a full exploration on – but it is still a refreshing take on these two cultures instead of focusing on the differences between them, it shows how they could have been much more united than divided.

By Emma Clarendon

Luxury and Power: Persia to Greece is on display at the British Museum until the 13th August 2023.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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