An exhibition featuring more than 30 Roman portrait heads, stone figures and relief fragments, dating from the first Century BC to the third Century AD will be at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts from March 13 through July 4. “The Miller Collection of Roman Sculpture: Mythological Figures and Portraits” draws from the private collection of Dr Michael Miller of Armonk, N.Y., and has been assembled over the last 20 years with the advice of Dr Richard Brilliant, professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University.
Comprising images of familiar mythological subjects, funerary fragments and a large group of portraits including several imperial examples, the exhibition provides a rare opportunity to view known personalities, mythological iconography, Classical style of dress, as well as sculpting techniques of the time.
The exhibition includes some full figures, but the majority of objects in the exhibition are heads. Portrait heads of recognizable imperial personages such as Augustus, Gaius Caesar, Faustina Minor, Commodus and Diocletian are on view as well as mythological subjects. Within this imperial group, one can view clear stylistic distinctions between male and female portraits that suggest political ideology and a few portraits that illustrate familial connections.
The mythological figures in the exhibition include images of Silenos and satyrs as well as divine subjects including Zeus, Hercules, Cupid, the physician Asklepius and Medusa. Images of youth and maturity can be found in this grouping. The god Zeus, for example, is just as idealized and perfect in his maturity as Cupid is in his youthfulness. Zeus wears a beard as a sign of age, but seems to suffer no other physical effects.
Portraits, however, represent the most prestigious aspect of the exhibition. Initially reserved for the aristocracy or deceased heads of state, portraiture grew popular among the entire Roman populace. For nearly 500 years, from the mid-Republic until the late Empire, prosperous merchants, professionals, freedmen and even some slaves could afford to have portraits carved in grave reliefs. At the same time, the aristocracy also commissioned numerous portraits of themselves and their families for display in their homes and businesses as well as public spaces.
An accompanying catalog prepared by independent scholar Dr Sheree Jaros with an introduction by Professor Brilliant is available, $35 paperback.
The free lecture “Portraits of Barbarians in Roman Art” will be presented by Elizabeth Bartman, scholar, author and expert in Greek and Roman art, on Thursday, April 1 at 6 pm. Bartman will explore the role of the face-mask helmet in the hippika gymnasia, an equestrian spectacle. Some of these masks represent wo-men, raising questions about the relationship between war violence and gender in Roman culture in the imperial age.
The free symposium “The Miller Collection of Roman Sculpture: Intentions and Acquisitions” will take place Friday, April 16, and Saturday, April 17. Registration is recommended. The symposium will open a keynote address “In Touch with the Ancient Past” by Dr Richard Brilliant on Saturday, April 17, from 10 am to 5 pm. Four lectures will address major topics relevant to persons interested in the Roman world, including the subjects of collecting and connoisseurship, portraiture, power, and politics, and architecture. The symposium will conclude with a discussion featuring all presenters.
“Sculpture in the Ancient Mediterranean World” will be conducted by students Sunday, April 18, 12:30 to 4:30 pm. Students from area colleges and universities, including Macalaster College, the University of Minnesota and the University of St Thomas, will present research papers.
For information, 612-870-3131 or www.artsmia.org.