Students are lucky if they get to study works of art in person.
But 13 Duke students did more than look at works of art from the ancient Mediterranean world: They pored over heroic battle scenes and ancient symbols, compared bronze and stone to terracotta, discovered “conversations” among some objects and worked with a conservator to restore the luster of others. The students were part of a spring 2010 seminar, taught by professor Carla Antonaccio in Duke’s Department of Classical Studies, where they co-organized a new exhibition at the Nasher Museum, “Containing Antiquity.”
“Containing Antiquity” highlights the great variety of vessels―storage jars, perfume bottles, serving bowls and drinking cups―made and used in the ancient Greek cultural sphere throughout the Mediterranean region. The exhibition combines objects from spiritual and daily life, including votive figures, gold jewelry, red- and black-figure paintings and marble sculptures. More than 60 works of art ranging in date from about 2000 BCE to 150 BCE are on view, many for the first time.
Kiki Fox, T’12, grew so close to the objects that she found herself yearning to see fingerprints in glazes on the vessels. Who made them? Who touched them every day? It was not lost on her that the works of art had spent thousands of years underground, in storage or otherwise out of public view.
“It’s wonderful to give them their voices back through an exhibition, to bring them alive again and make them interactive and vivid,” Kiki said. “They are all telling their own individual stories.”
As Kiki and Andrew Tharler, T’11, led a public gallery tour on Oct. 24, they explained to visitors how they collaborated on selecting objects, created the theme of the exhibition and drafted text panels for each object. Alexandra Jorn, T’11, created a scale model of the gallery so the students could move objects around and create a floor plan.
The students shared some of the interesting facts they collected along the way. Susan Foster, T’11, pointed out that the bronze objects in the exhibition are quite rare because Greek bronzes were often melted down over the centuries to create bullets for warfare. Andrew told visitors that ancient Greek athletes would carry tiny aryballos vessels filled with oil, and, after a workout, pour oil over themselves “to smell good again.”
Andrew was most surprised at how quickly the exhibition came together in the past two weeks, he said. “Professor Antonaccio was so encouraging.”
His mother, Jackie Friedman, worries less about the future after seeing her son and other young people so interested in ancient things, she said. “I think the pride of the students came out.”
John Fox, Kiki’s father, said the Nasher Museum project pulled together all of his daughter’s interests, from archaeology to language to art. “The Nasher is really her second home, and it’s the place we know best on campus.”
“I can’t tell you how proud we are,” said Anne Schroder, the museum’s curator and academic programs coordinator, who was the in-house curator for the exhibition. “They’ve really done a phenomenal job.”
“Containing Antiquity” combines items from the Duke Classical Collection and an anonymous gift made to the Nasher Museum in 2006. Support for the exhibition comes from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, an anonymous donor, the Teasley Family Classical Antiquities Endowment Fund, the Department of Classical Studies at Duke University, the John O. and Jeanne Miles Blackburn Endowment, and the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation.
IMAGE: Photo by Dr. J Caldwell.