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Greece and Rome at the Fitzwilliam Museum: supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

The physical work on the new installation has been funded by a variety of sources. But underpinning the success of the project overall is a generous grant from the AHRC. The funding programme to which we applied was called 'Research to underpin new displays and temporary exhibitions - Maximising the impact of scholarly research in the arts and humanities'. This programme was designed to set up partnerships between people working in museums and in university departments. The idea is that museum displays can benefit from the additional expertise brought in from outside, while university academics in turn get the opportunity for closer involvement with a museum collection than they would usually enjoy.

Conservator Christina Rozeik examining a red-figure amphora

Conservator Christina Rozeik
examining a red-figure amphora

The partnership that we have established is between the staff of the Department of Antiquities here at the Fitzwilliam Museum, principally the Keeper, Lucilla Burn, and the Senior Assistant Keeper (Conservation), Julie Dawson, and three historians and classical archaeologists in the University of Cambridge's Faculty of Classics: Mary Beard, Robin Osborne and Carrie Vout. The grant also provides funds for the employment of two additional members of staff, classical archaeologist Kate Cooper and conservator Christina Rozeik. Christina, whose post is funded partly by the AHRC and partly by other sources, will be based in the museum for two years; once the redisplay is finished Kate will be dividing the remainder of her three-year contract between the museum and the Classics Faculty.

Our grant application stressed the need to ensure that developments in the way that the material remains of the ancient world have been viewed are reflected in the organisation and information provision of the new display. Since the last fundamental redisplay of the Greek and Roman gallery took place in the 1960s there have been several such developments, including:

  • the realisation that much ancient marble sculpture was originally painted
  • the assertion that political motives underlie much of the imagery of the Roman imperial period
  • the proposal to view the scenes on Greek vases as parts of a coherent 'discourse' on social custom rather than individual snapshots of everyday life or illustrations of myth
  • the recognition that objects are changed by their reception into the collection of an individual or a museum.
The 'Flaxman Apollo'

The 'Flaxman Apollo' (GR.2.1885):
this headless, limbless torso was
restored in 1797 as the god Apollo

We also argued that there was a need to re-integrate 'people' into the picture in the interests of building up the individual 'biography' of each object or group. In other words, we want to look at all the people who have had a hand in giving each object in the collection its current shape and appearance. These will include some or all of the following:

  • the craftsman who made it
  • the customer who commissioned it or bought it in the market
  • the person who used it and placed it in the location where it was later found
  • the excavator
  • the collector who first acquired it
  • the conservator or restorer who may have had a quite drastic influence on its appearance
  • the curators who have displayed it in various ways since its entry into the museum.

What are the main outcomes of the project?

  • the redisplay itself
  • a lot more information about the collections that will gradually become available. The display will incorporate labels, panels, a map and timeline; there will also be a series of hand-held information boards for use in the gallery, which will introduce some of the underlying themes that can be pursued in various areas of the room. All the information in the gallery will also be available on the website, along with further resources and links to follow.
  • a programme of talks, day-schools and conferences for both general and academic audiences about the collections and the redisplay is already under way and this will continue both during the run-up to re-opening and subsequently
  • one or more publications focusing on different aspects of the project and the collections

The main bulletin board for progress on the project will remain the blog so to see how we are getting on, please keep watching this space!