“Greek Gold: Jewelry of the Classical World” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
December 2, 1994–March 4, 1995

Gold was the most appropriate material for statues of the gods in antiquity, according to Pliny, because its ethereal cast, radiant and incorruptible, was like that of divine flesh. Many bronze sculptures of gods were covered with it in the Classical period; Hellenistic rulers, having learned the power of images from Alexander the Great, often had their own portraits gilded for glory, and so did the Roman emperors.

Gold, chrysos in Greek, was highly refined in antiquity, commonly used almost entirely purified of its natural silver and copper components, in a state roughly equivalent to our modern twenty-two-carat standard. (A gold coin was divided into twenty-four keratia in Byzantine times.) Portable, gold was an important part of private wealth. In the form of coins,...

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