Immortales: Roman Emperors invade Norman

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Back in October, my youngest and I joined our homeschool community on a field trip to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art on the University of Oklahoma campus to see a special exhibit from Rome's Capitoline Museum. "Immortales: The Hall of Emperors of the Capitoline Museums, Rome" features 20 ancient busts of Roman emperors and their consorts from the very beginning of the empire through its final century.

The exhibit was originally scheduled to run through December 6, 2015, but I was excited to learn this weekend that it has been extended through February 14, 2016

This is not part of a tour, but the sole showing of these ancient sculptures anywhere in the world beyond Rome, and it's part of a broader collaboration between OU and the Capitoline Museums, bringing ancient Roman artifacts to Oklahoma for study. According to the press release:

The exhibit in Oklahoma is the second phase of the Hidden Treasures of Rome program, which was launched in 2014 by Enel Green Power, in partnership with the world renowned Capitoline Museums of Rome and served as a first-of-its-kind initiative to exchange cultural, educational and technological resources and artifacts between the Capitoline Museums and U.S. universities.

The program's expansion allows EGP-NA to bring the ancient culture of Rome to the state of Oklahoma, creating a distinctive exhibit for the university and innovative way for the company to engage with local residents and communities, Venturini said....

This collaboration also includes the transfer of epigraphs and materials from the
Capitoline museum's Antiquarium to the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History at OU. These artifacts - dating to the period of the Roman Republic (fifth to first centuries B.C.) - are part of 100,000 pieces that were stored for more than 100 years in the Capitoline Museums' Antiquarium but have never shown to the public, creating the opportunity for undergraduate students from the university's department of Classics and Letters to catalog and analyze these artifacts for inclusion in the Digital Latin Library project.

We were fascinated by the realism and detail of these ancient marble sculptures, which showed hair texture, brow furrows, and smile lines, and even scars and double chins. Perhaps the most impressive were the portraits of Vespasian and Livia, both of which used several different types and colors of marble. Vespasian, founder of a new dynasty in the wake of the chaotic "Year of Four Emperors," looked like someone you might see around town, with his broad face and nose, large ears, and receding hairline. Our guide said one visitor thought he resembled Lyndon Johnson. One of our group thought he looked like an old football coach.

It was interesting to compare the marble portraits of Octavian and Augustus -- the same man, but depicted first as ordinary politician and then as deified emperor. In the transition, the sculptor gave Augustus a civic wreath, a svelter nose, and smaller ears than his civilian portrait.

We noticed the addition of carved pupils, beginning with Antoninus Pius, and increasing in sophistication through the years. The exhibit caption noted the emergence of beards after the Greek fashion beginning with Hadrian. The bust of Alexander Severus, showed him with a beard, but a rather insubstantial one, reflecting his youth -- he ascended to the principate as a 14-year-old.

Elsewhere in the museum, we enjoyed the permanent exhibit of French impressionists, were drawn in trying to decipher the Greek and Slavonic captions on the McGhee Collection of Orthodox icons, and were fascinated by a temporary exhibition of works on paper from 18th and 19th century Europe, which included satirical engravings by Goya and Hogarth, a landscape engraving by J. M. W. Turner, and a page from William Blake's Book of Job.

Later in the day, after a picnic lunch at Reaves Park (where the fort-like play structure was the perfect setting for a battle with foam-rubber swords and axes), we visited the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. The dinosaur exhibit is the star of the museum, but we also enjoyed playing mancala in the hands-on Discovery Room and viewing a special exhibit on Galileo and the publishing society of which he was a member, which rescued a book on the birds of North America from oblivion.

OU is celebrating Galileo this year of its 125th anniversary with a series of exhibits around campus. Please note that "Through the Eyes of the Lynx: Galileo, Natural History and the Americas" will close on January 17 to make way for another exhibit on Galileo and Microscopy at the Sam Noble Museum. The exhibit "Galileo and the Scientific Revolution, currently on display on the OU-Tulsa campus in Schusterman Library, will close on December 18.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 16, 2015 12:25 AM.

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