ROME: Griffins, sirens and minotaurs went on display here Thursday for an exhibition on the monsters of antiquity. Hollywood special-effects experts – still inspired by the classical creatures – acted as consultants. The show brought together 100 works including statues, frescoes and vases from museums around the world depicting fantastical creatures – all in a web of passages intended to resemble the minotaur’s labyrinth.
“Monsters are part of the myths of every culture, every civilization,” said Elisabetta Setari, co-curator of the exhibition with Rita Paris, director of the National Roman Museum which is hosting the show.
“They have characterized our civilization from the dawn of time until now,” Setari said, adding that the images of monsters – such as the Medusa in luxury fashion house Versace’s symbol – were still widely used today.
The exhibits range from the Bronze Age to ancient Rome with sphinxes, gorgons, centaurs, dragons, hydras and a bronze chimera from the sixth century B.C. used on a Greek soldier’s shield.
The works are on loan from 40 museums in Italy and internationally, including the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the United States.
There is a fine Greek vase with a multiheaded hydra from the sixth century B.C. from an Italian collection, as well as two 17th-century paintings – one with a Medusa and the other with the flying horse Pegasus – to show the endurance of monstrous images through the centuries.
“Monsters are aggressive creatures,” she said. “They are part animal so they have an animalistic force. Monsters in antiquity were above all protectors, for example of tombs where they appear on gravestones.”
Hollywood heavyweights have been involved in the exhibition, which is being accompanied by a series of lectures on the influence of classical mythology on high-tech special effects and fantasy films today.
“If we look at Hollywood and the monsters that have inspired us we can trace them all back to classical monsters,” said Scott Ross, a former partner of George Lucas and James Cameron, who has worked on blockbusters such as “Terminator 2” and “Titanic.”
“It’s sort of like the concept of music where there are only 12 notes, it’s how you combine them together that makes a symphony,” said Ross, speaking next to a fresco of griffins in one the exhibition’s dark passageways.
Out of all the movies he has worked on, Ross said some of the ones with the most monstrous content had been “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” but most of all “Terminator 2,” which he called “a post-human vision.”
“Sea dragons used to warn sailors about the dangers of the sea,” he said. “Monsters today are like robots. They are warning us about post-human humans.”
Ross said the representation of monsters in films had transformed since the first “Frankenstein” by Edison Studios in 1910 when only makeup was used for effects.
“Nowadays it’s computer-generated imagery to the point that you can create anything,” he said, although he added that modern monsters were still “very simple.”
Another consultant on the exhibition is Shane Mahan, co-founder of “Legacy Effects” – a special effects company that has worked on “Avatar” and “Iron Man” – who also said he was inspired by ancient monsters.
“Monsters have remained with us in fairy tales but also in cinema,” said Paris, the show’s co-curator, explaining that they came from the battle between Zeus and Typhon – the most deadly monster of Greek mythology.
“If Typhon had won,” she observed, “chaos would have reigned.”