The Hellenic Museum at the former Royal Mint will soon play host to an unusual collection of collections.
Launching in mid-May, the exhibition brings together private collections of Greek pottery and coins ranging from 1600 BC until 1974.
“You think of England and you think of that one small island. You think of Greece and it’s so nebulous.” Curator Peter Minard
The collections themselves are privately owned by Greek-Australians, and have been brought together by curator Peter Minard.
“It’s three rooms covering three key time periods: ancient Greece, the Byzantine Empire and the Modern Greek state,” he says.
“The overarching theme of the exhibition is asking, ‘what is Greece?’
Because Greece has had so many different political systems, so many different religions, covers such vast geographical area, it’s Greece as an idea more than a place.”
The exhibition is Minard’s first as curator, having mainly done heritage work in the past. He is part-way through a PhD in history, which is why the exhibition piqued his interest.
“The reason I picked it up was because it’s such an interesting area, because Greece is so hard to define.”
“You think of England and you think of that one small island. You think of Greece and it’s so nebulous.”
“If you’re thinking territory it could be anywhere over three continents. If you think religion, what religion hasn’t been practiced by someone of Greek extraction over the last 3000 years?” he says.
The inspiration is similar for the collectors as well, Minard says.
“They view it both as artworks and as pieces of historical evidence of their country’s history.”
This, he says plays a role in individual identity formation and developing a sense of belonging in time and space.
“It’s key to everyone’s identity knowing where we’ve come from and what our ancestors have done,” Minard says.
Coin collector Dean Kalymniou, whose collection will be on display as part of the exhibition, agrees.
“In collecting coins from the Greek world, one partakes in a tangible way, in 4000 years of continuous Greek history.”
“To hold in one’s hand, an Athenian tetradrachm that may have been used by Socrates himself, or a coin depicting Alexander the Great, which would have been used by one of his soldiers … is to step back in time and establish an immediate connection with a diverse, fascinating, and always convoluted cultural heritage,” he says.
Through coins, Kalymniou says, it is possible to trace the entire history of Greek civilisation.
“Some of the coins tell their own story. One can trace the decline of the unitary vision of Alexander through the coinage of his generals and their successor states,” he says.
“One can also see how Greek culture permeated through Asia, right up to Afghanistan, through the coins of the first Greek Buddhist King, Menander.”
“Through the Byzantine collection for example, one can see how art in the years of Constantine morphed from its Roman beginnings to something approaching Christian propganda, with depictions of Christ and the Emperor.”
The exhibition is scheduled to launch on 17th May and will be housed at the Hellenic Museum for six months.