Worlds Intertwined: Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans

Ancient Cultures of the Classical World Brought to New Light in University of Pennsylvania Museum's Renovated Galleries

Major Re-installation of Museum's Roman and Etruscan Galleries to Open on March 16, 2003

Philadelphia, PA...On Sunday, March 16, 2003, with fanfare and celebration, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (UPM) will inaugurate the major re-installation of its Roman and Etruscan galleries and herald the completion of its nearly 10-year program to present its unique classical collections in a modern, thematic context.

The UPM’s grand Opening Day Celebration of Worlds Intertwined: Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans will take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission is free. (Please see more specifics below.) The Museum is located at 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA. Call 215-898-4000.

Totally renovated, The Etruscan World and The Roman World galleries will be aided by a brand new Introduction to the Classical World gallery and a newly-produced video designed to orient visitors geographically, chronologically and culturally to the civilizations of ancient Italy and Greece. The Etruscan World gallery will be the only comprehensive exhibit of Etruscan objects currently on display in the United States.

Worlds Intertwined: Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans is a multi-million dollar project that completes the suite of four permanent classical galleries at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. (The Greek World gallery opened in 1994.) The new galleries invite the visitor to explore the rich, interconnected and intertwined cultures of the sun-drenched ancient Mediterranean -- and to discover anew how these cultures continue to influence and inspire our world today.

More than one thousand ancient artifacts – including marble and bronze sculptures, jewelry, metalwork, mosaics, glass vessels, gold and silver coins, and pottery of exceptional artistic and historical renown – tell the remarkable story of the Etruscan peoples, the first great rulers of central Italy (800-100 BC), and their empire-building Roman successors (500 BC- AD 500). Many of these objects have never before been on public display. They are drawn from the Museum’s outstanding Mediterranean collection of more than 30,000 objects, dating from 3000 BC to the 5th century AD.

The earliest classical galleries, installed when the University of Pennsylvania Museum opened in 1899, displayed objects in a typical 19th century eclectic manner. The next major installations were in the 1920’s and again in the 1950’s, presented in the exhibition styles of their times.

"These newly-renovated galleries are part of the ongoing ‘modernization’ of the Museum," says Dr. Jeremy Sabloff, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. "We are delighted to be able to invite visitors to explore and discover the classical world in a way that shows its enduring legacy."

"We want the visitor to go away with a better sense of who these ancient classical peoples were -- and how their vision of the world continues to influence us today," said Dr. Donald White, Curator-in-Charge of the Museum's Mediterranean Section.

Many objects on display in Worlds Intertwined: Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans come from recorded excavations and are rich with information about their context. Of special importance are artifact groups from the Etruscan tomb groups excavated at Narce and Vulci, Roman statuary from the Sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis on the shores of Lake Nemi, south of Rome, and sculpture and architectural decoration from the Museum's own excavations at Minturnae, north of Naples.

Like The Greek World gallery, The Etruscan World and The Roman World galleries exhibit culturally and artistically important objects thematically, allowing visitors to draw parallels and make comparisons among the cultures. Topics such as ancient religion and the pagan gods, commerce and trade, daily life, written language, and death and burial are explored through text, maps, models and the artifacts themselves.


The Etruscan people and their long-lived civilization are known from contemporary Greek commentary – much of which painted a decadent portrait of these people – and through their own sophisticated and remarkable art and artifacts, mostly unearthed from Etruscan tombs. The Etruscan civilization has received a significant renaissance of interest in recent years, as archaeologists and historians work to understand the Etruscans’ unique language and customs and to elucidate the Etruscan contributions to Roman culture – especially Roman numerals and the Latin alphabet, religious rituals, concepts of city planning and tiled roofs. UPM’s Etruscan collection is among the finest in the United States and encompasses the full range of Etruscan culture from the 8th century BC to the final days of Etruscan civilization in the 1st century BC.

Highlights from The Etruscan World include exceptionally fine bucchero pottery, fired dark gray and black in shapes that recall luxury metalwork. There are grand carved sarcophagi and ash urns with detailed sculptured images of Etruscan men and women. Terracotta architectural ornaments from temples, some adorned with relief heads, evoke the intriguing world of Etruscan religion and mythology. Granulated and filigreed gold jewelry, as elegant today as in antiquity, give evidence of high technical skills.

Engraved gems, bronze statuettes, arms and armor, and terracotta vessels all point to a once-prosperous and influential culture. A brief audio segment invites the visitor to hear the unusual sounds of the Etruscan language. Six rare Etruscan inscriptions are on display in this gallery, with an explanation of the importance of the Etruscan language for understanding who these people were and where they came from.

At the height of their civilization in the late 8th through 6th centuries BC, the Etruscans gained wealth from their rich mines and lively trade with their neighbors, including the Greeks. The Etruscans greatly admired and collected Greek art and, in fact, most of the exceptional Greek pottery in The Greek World gallery comes from Etruscan tombs. This "intertwined" relationship between the Greeks and the Etruscans is a key theme of the new exhibition.


Dominating the new Roman World gallery is an internationally famous military relief, once part of a commemorative arch for the emperor Trajan, erected in AD 102 at ancient Puteoli near Naples. This monumental sculpture is also a prime example of Roman politics combined with Roman practicality – the opposite side of the marble block contains an earlier inscription honoring the emperor Domitian. Visitors can see how the inscription was painstakingly, but incompletely, chiseled off after Domitian's assassination and official disgrace by the Roman Senate in AD 96.

The artistic, commercial and technical achievements of the Romans are evident in The Roman World gallery, which is filled with marble sculptures, including a highly unusual head from a cult statue of the goddess Diana as well as other deities, priests and men and women of the Roman Republic and Empire. Numerous bronzes, including several 19th century cast replicas of objects excavated at Pompeii and Herculaneum and given to UPM by department store founder and Museum board member John Wanamaker in 1904, enhance the display of Roman domestic life.

Beautiful miniature engraved gems, jewelry and gold and silver coins reveal much of the artistic skills of the Romans through their exquisite detail and craftsmanship. Objects from the Museum's celebrated Roman glass collection -- an exhibition of which recently traveled nationally -- offer colorful and sparkling reminders of the sophistication of Roman taste and style. Amphoras from the 1950’s explorations of the renowned Jacques Cousteau off the coast of Marseilles tell part of the story of Roman maritime trade. Portraits of Roman women, perfume vials, jewelry and cosmetic implements fill out the theme of women in Roman society, while portraits of children and their toys offer insight into the lives of children in the Roman world.

Objects from the houses of Roman men and women, their dining vessels and household decoration, such as painted wall plasters and mosaics, as well as utilitarian objects -- the lead pipes that brought them drinking water -- are seen in the section of The Roman World gallery on domestic life. The centerpiece of this part of the gallery is a 4 ft. x 2 ft. model of a Roman house of the type excavated at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Visitors can hear the "voice" of Vitruvius, a famous Roman architect, describing variations in housing design.


Visitors enter the Worlds Intertwined galleries through An Introduction to the Classical World that sets these ancient Mediterranean cultures in time and space, even as it challenges the viewer to look around and see the enduring legacy of the classical world in modern architecture, philosophy, politics, mathematics, commerce, language and art. An adjacent video theatre shows a new 10-minute video, produced for the Museum, focusing on the legacies of the classical world right here in Philadelphia.

THE GREEK WORLD GALLERY (opened in 1994)
The storied world of the ancient Greeks is explained through exquisite painted vases with depictions of ancient gods and myths, bronze armor, marble sculptures and coinage. The 400-plus objects displayed in this gallery come from the Greek homeland, the early colony foundations of the Greeks, Etruscan tombs and far-flung outposts of the empire of Alexander the Great. Setting the format for the newest galleries, The Greek World is organized into thematic sections, including religion, daily life, commerce and trade, and death and burial.

Reminiscent of the sunny Mediterranean, the newly renovated classical galleries of the University of Pennsylvania Museum make ample use of light -- through windows, the re-creation of an original skylight and enhanced lighting installations. The Museum building itself is a Victorian-era, eclectic-style structure designed by Wilson Eyre that incorporates classical elements, including the arched windows in these galleries.

Dr. Donald White, Curator-in-Charge of the Museum’s Mediterranean Section, served as co-curator of Worlds Intertwined: Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans along with Dr. Ann Blair Brownlee, Senior Research Scientist in the Mediterranean Section, and Dr. Irene Bald Romano, Research Associate in the Mediterranean Section, who also served as coordinator for this project. Etruscan scholar Dr. Jean MacIntosh Turfa is the curatorial consultant for The Etruscan World.

A Guide to The Etruscan and Roman Worlds at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology accompanies the new exhibitions. ($14.95, paperback; $29.95, cloth.112 pages, including color illustrations. University Museum Publications. Available at the Museum Shop or by direct order 1-800-537-5487.)

Funding for the $3 million project of renovation and reinstallation of the classical galleries and accompanying programs has come from a variety of sources: The National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the William B. Dietrich Foundation, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and many other foundations, corporations and individuals. Major funding for The Etruscan World gallery was provided by a generous anonymous donor. The Greek World gallery has been refreshed with a new coat of paint and improved lighting through the generosity of the Hellenic University Clubs of Philadelphia and Wilmington and the Karabots Foundation.

Especially gratifying for the Museum has been the support of the Italian-American community in Philadelphia who raised the funds for The Roman World gallery, named in honor of Andrew N. Farnese, Esq., a distinguished son of Italy and citizen of Philadelphia. The Etruscan World gallery has been named in honor of Kyle M. Phillips, Jr. (1934-1988), a noted American archaeologist who excavated the important Etruscan site of Murlo.

The renovation of the galleries was undertaken by the architectural firm of Atkin, Olshin, Lawson-Bell and Associates, with construction supervision by Turner Construction Company. The exhibition was designed by Staples and Charles, Ltd., in collaboration with John T. Murray, head of the Museum's Exhibition Department. Avalon Exhibits, Inc. fabricated the exhibition furniture and graphics. Conservation of objects was by the Museum's Conservation Department under the direction of Virginia Greene, with the assistance of freelance conservator Tamsen Fuller.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum has planned an exciting array of public programs – "A Classical Year" – which began in Summer 2002 and continues through 2003. Designed to attract visitors of all ages, upcoming special events include a triumphant Gala – "Return to Rome"–organized by the UPM Women’s Committee on Saturday evening, March 15 and an Opening Day Celebration for families on Sunday, March 16 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Opening Day on March 16 will feature an encampment of soldiers – legions from "The Roman Imperial Army in North America," theatrical presentations, and a fashion show of ancient costumes. There will be demonstrations of ancient crafts including glassmaking, bead-making, and topiary art. Penn athletes will demonstrate some of the events of the ancient Olympic games, with commentary by a Museum scholar. Colorful performances by Greek and Italian music and dance groups and a café menu with ancient Roman and Greek-inspired foods will add to the festivities.

Winter/Spring 2003 programs include an evening with mystery novelist Steven Saylor on January 23; five weekends of original theater-in-the-galleries by the Vagabond Acting Troupe (March 16 through April 13); an international symposium – "The Etruscans Revealed: New Perspectives on Pre-Roman Italy," March 28 and 29; a concert of works inspired by the classical world performed by the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia on March 29; children’s workshops; lectures; and gallery tours.

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