News | Published: Fri 29 Jan 2010

Rediscovering Greece & Rome: newly displayed gallery now open to the public

Visitors can now experience "the best collection of antique art outside London’ (Sunday Times) in a completely new light, thanks to a £950,000 gallery refurbishment.

The Fitzwilliam Museum’s Greek and Roman Gallery reopened on Saturday 30 January 2010, after being closed for the last 18 months to enable an intensive period of conservation, research and redisplay that has transformed one of the Fitzwilliam’s most popular collections.

Prior to this major redisplay, the gallery had remained fundamentally unchanged since the 1960s. The redesign will bring this world-class collection of antiquities into the 21st century - creating a new modern setting that complements the gallery’s 19th-century architecture and vastly enhancing the visitor experience with improved object display, lighting and layout.

In these completely refurbished surroundings, visitors can rediscover a collection that includes Greek and Roman sculpture - from a portrait of Plato to a enormous faceless ‘caryatid’ figure - intricately carved sarcophagi, sacred figurines, as well as funerary items and everyday objects from ancient times, from dress pins and helmets to a 3000-year old cosmetics box and a Roman ‘Swiss Army knife’ - even an example of ancient graffiti.

Visitors can also explore the Museum’s superb collection of Greek vases and dishes, and discover more about the intriguing scenes depicted upon them, as well as how such objects were made. Also showcased are treasures from Emperor Hadrian’s vast country palace at Tivoli, near Rome, including a marble head of the leader’s young lover Antinous, produced after the youth’s death by drowning in the Nile, and and a imposing black marble relief depicting the adventures of the Argonauts and Odysseus. Many of these treasures have been specially conserved for these displays, and some are here on public display for the first time.

More about the project:

The primary focus of the new displays is upon people - the figures who, across the centuries, have given these objects their appearance and shaped their history. New object information aims to build up an illuminating picture of the artists and craftsmen who created the works, the customers who commissioned or used them, and the collectors, restorers and conservators who have affected the way they look today.

The new gallery has been redesigned in collaboration with historians and classical archaeologists from the University of Cambridge’s Classics Faculty, and reflects some of the questions that are being currently asked about the ancient world. The new display, arranged in a loosely chronological order, explores such issues as: what did people do at drinking parties? How did they relate to their gods? How did they remember the dead? The display also reveals the more recent history of the objects - how did they come to Cambridge, and what has happened to them since? A map and timeline will show gallery visitors the close relationship between the Greek and Roman worlds, giving visitors a greater sense of the time and place these objects came from.

Timothy Potts, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum said: "The Fitzwilliam’s collection of Greek and Roman antiquities is of international significance, so I am delighted that we now have a superbly redesigned space in which to display it to its full potential. This new presentation, which is based on recent research and conservation work, will offer many fresh insights, not only to new visitors, but also to those who are familiar with the collection."

The gallery redisplay is the first result of an ongoing research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to explore and publish the Museum’s Greek and Roman collection.

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