An astonishing collection of ancient Greek art is to go on show in the northern city of Mantua next month. The exhibition will bring together 130 precious artefacts exploring the Italian peninsula's long fascination with Greek art, starting some 2,700 years ago, when the southern part of Italy was colonized by Greek settlers. ''This exhibit is so important because it will collect in a single place works of art that are usually stored far from each other,'' said the show's curator, Salvatore Settis, at a presentation in Milan. ''This will give visitors the chance for an in-depth exploration of a style of art that forms the foundation of our own civilization''. The show is attracting particular attention as it will feature a number of works that are rarely, if ever, moved from their permanent homes. The Louvre in Paris has agreed to loan out a bronze sculpture of Apollo for the first time, while an athlete's head held in Fort Worth, Texas, is making its first trip back to Europe since being acquired by the Kimbell Museum.
The exhibit, which opens in Palazzo Te at the end of March, will be divided into three sections.
The first part covers the 7th to the 2nd centuries BC. It features pieces produced in the southern Italian and Sicilian colonies, as well as items imported to the area from Greece and other parts of the Italian peninsula. It includes several items described as masterpieces by art historians.
The Charioteer of Motya, on loan from the island of Mozia off the western coast of Sicily, is a stunning statue of a Greek youth. The marble figure, whose muscled build is clearly visible through the folds of his garment, is larger than life at 1.81 metres tall and is thought to date back to the 5th century BC.
Another crowd-puller from this era will be the Dancing Satyr of Mazara del Vallo, probably created in the 3rd century BC.
Fishermen discovered the bronze statue off the southwest coast of Sicily ten years ago, raising it from its resting place 500 metres below the sea's surface after it got entangled in their net. Although missing its arms and one leg, the movement and wild energy of the figure, depicted mid-leap, have fascinated visitors every time it has gone on show. The second part of the exhibition spans the period between the 2nd century BC and the 4th century AD, as the Roman Empire rose and fell.
Greek art held a particular allure for the upstart Romans, who aspired to the elegance and tradition represented by the ancient culture. The poet Horace once famously summed up this fascination of his fellow Romans, writing: ''Greece, once conquered, in turn conquered its uncivilized conqueror, and brought its arts to the peasants of Lazio''. The Romans were devoted collectors of such pieces, looting items during invasions of Greece and its colonies, as well as bringing well-regarded Greek artists to work in the heart of the empire. The pieces on show here include a marble statue of the tragic mythological figure of Niobe, whose children were killed by Greek divinities, and the Apollo of Piombino. The latter is a famous bronze statuette discovered in the harbour of the Tuscan port Piombino in 1832 and purchased by the Louvre two years later. The third part of the show looks at the centuries following the fall of Rome, with a particular emphasis on the Medieval and Renaissance period, when classical Greek art enjoyed a massive revival. However, the exhibition also features a small ''bonus'' section at the end, showcasing three masterpieces that US museums have recently returned to Italy after lengthy negotiations. These include a marble ceremonial basin decorated with Nereids and a striking painted marble sculpture of griffons attacking a doe, both returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The third piece - returned from New York's Metropolitan Museum this January after decades of discussions - is a terracotta drinking cup painted by the 5th-century BC Greek master Euphronios. The red and black Euphronios krater (a chalice used to mix wine with water) was acquired by the Met for $1 million in 1972 and is considered one of the finest Greek artefacts in existence.
The exhibition, entitled La Forza del Bello (The Strength of Beauty) runs in Palazzo Te from March 29 until July 6.