Ancient class distinctions displayed in Rome exhibit

An intimate look at life in ancient Rome is on rare public display outside Italy in an exhibit at the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, Mass.

Courtesy of Smith College
A central Italian dressel is on exhibit at Smith College.

An intimate look at life in ancient Rome is on rare public display outside Italy in “Leisure & Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis Near Pompeii” at the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, Mass., now through Aug. 13. The exhibition showcases 250 artifacts excavated from the city of Oplontis, which was engulfed after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. 

Jewelry, coins, wall paintings, sculptures, and other everyday items, as well as an ornate gilded strongbox, reveal the dramatic class distinctions of citizens in the ancient world. 

The artifacts come from two adjacent sites: a large luxury villa on the Bay of Naples and a second structure that served as a commercial emporium and export portal for items such as wine, olive oil, and a fish sauce beloved by the Romans.

“The materials in the exhibit have been locked away in storage for 40 years, so it’s the first chance to see all of this material together in one place,” Barbara Kellum, a professor of art at Smith College, says. 

“The wall paintings, for example, are as fresh as they were on the day of their excavation. The frescoes have the kind of vivid color that you very seldom see unless you’re at an archaeological site.”

The exhibition also recounts the wrenching calamity that befell 54 individuals huddled together in a remote room of the emporium who appear to have died while waiting for rescue, including a woman who was eight months pregnant. 

“She was wearing some pretty extraordinary jewelry that is some of the most valuable pieces in the show – a gold and emerald necklace and a pair of matched pearl earrings that are thought to be the single most costly jewelry find that’s ever been made on the Roman Bay of Naples,” Ms. Kellum says. 

In addition, a finely detailed room from the luxury villa with paintings, floorings, moldings, and recordings of a couple speaking Latin by a gurgling fountain has been reconstructed for a true-to-life sensory experience.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Ancient class distinctions displayed in Rome exhibit
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Arts/2017/0509/Ancient-class-distinctions-displayed-in-Rome-exhibit
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe