It’s a new world at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology—in fact, three of them.

The March opening of “Worlds Intertwined: Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans,” was the culmination of a $3 million, 10-year effort to create a suite of modern galleries to display the Museum’s rich collection of objects from these cultures and to enlighten visitors on the histories and links among the great classical civilizations of Greece and Rome and the lesser-known Etruscans, the first rulers of central Italy.

Added to the Greek World gallery, which opened in 1994, the new spaces are bright and open-feeling—a reasonable approximation of the sunny climate of the Mediterranean—thanks to a combination of modern lighting and design and the restoration of some original building features obscured over the years, such as vaulted windows and a skylight that had been covered over. The artfully displayed objects are organized around thematic concepts—daily life, childhood, trade, etc.—and augmented by maps, videos, and wall-mounted texts designed to give visitors “a better sense of who these ancient classical peoples were—and how their vision of the world continues to influence us today,” in the words of Dr. Donald White, curator-in-charge of the Museum’s Mediterranean section.

In all, there are some 1,000 objects on display, including marble and bronze sculptures, jewelry, metalwork, mosaics, glass vessels, gold and silver coins, and pottery. To give readers some sense of what the galleries have to offer, we asked Dr. White and the other curators involved in organizing the exhibition to select and describe some of their favorite artifacts.—JP

 

A new permanent exhibition of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman artifacts is both a loving restoration/update of the University Museum’s classical galleries and a dramatic exploration of the links among these key civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean.

Footed bowl from Narce,
early seventh century B.C.

The Etruscan World

Footed Bowl From Narce
One of the strengths of our Etruscan collection is a series of tomb groups that came to the Museum in the mid-1890s. Especially noteworthy are those from the site of Narce, in the area known as the Faliscan zone, between southern Etruria and Rome. The Faliscans were Etruria’s near neighbors, and their culture was distinct from but closely related to that of the Etruscans.

This footed bowl, dating from the seventh century B.C., is from a wealthy woman’s tomb, one of three of our Narce tomb groups included in the Etruscan gallery. On its rim stands a man between horses, and the composition displays the angularity and abstraction that is characteristic of much Etruscan and Faliscan art, and it is really appealing to the modern eye.

One can learn a great deal from complete groups of grave goods, and in this case we can tell something about the woman who owned this bowl. She was probably the wife of the warrior whose tomb contents are also on exhibition, for the warrior’s tomb contained a footed bowl clearly made in the same workshop as this one. The only difference is that while her bowl shows a man between horses, the warrior’s vase is decorated with the “mistress of horses”—a woman between horses. It is possible that the two vases were exchanged in a betrothal or wedding ceremony.

—Dr. Ann Brownlee, co-curator and senior research scientist, Mediterranean Section

Bronze “Negau" helmet, circa 500 B.C.

An Etruscan’s Helmet
The businesslike, Etruscan “Negau” helmet isn’t from Negau in Slovenia, but the type’s namesake was found there. It looks plain, but the pot-shaped, cast-bronze helmet (made circa 500 B.C. in an armory in the city of Vulci) in a way symbolizes the whole of Etruscan culture. The culmination of the aspirations of the Etruscans’ Iron Age warrior ancestors, it tells of the zenith of Etruscan society, technology, and history, and foreshadows their political demise that consigned them to the histories written by Greek and Roman enemies. Two similar helmets now in the British Museum were fished out of the River Alph at Olympia, where they once formed part of a trophy erected by “[king] Hieron and the Syracusans,” who took them from Etruscan marines defeated in 474 B.C. by a Greek-Roman coalition in the naval battle of Cumae off the Bay of Naples. Etruscans had dominated central Italy and the Tyrrhenian shipping lanes since about 700 B.C., but after Cumae, they would be absorbed city by city as Rome grew. By the first century B.C., they had become tame citizens of Rome.

—Dr. Jean MacIntosh Turfa, consulting curator for the Etruscan Gallery


May/June Contents | Gazette Home

2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 04/28/03