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The Gallery’s collection of art from the ancient Mediterranean world comprises over 13,000 objects from the Near East, Egypt, Greece, Etruria, and Rome. The collection is also known for its important finds from Yale University’s excavations in the 1920s and 1930s at Dura-Europos (in present-day Syria) and at Gerasa (now Jerash, Jordan).
About Ancient Art
The Yale University Art Gallery’s collection of ancient Mediterranean art is displayed in the graceful Sculpture Hall in the 1928 Old Yale Art Gallery building, the chronological installation moving from ancient Babylon through early medieval Europe. Visitors first encounter objects representing the ancient Near East, including Assyrian stone reliefs from the palace of the ninth-century B.C. King Assurnasirpal II, followed by a thematic installation of vases, glass, sculptures, and mosaics from the Greek and Roman civilizations. Subjects explored include politics, theater, daily life, the roles of women and children, representation of the “other,” cult and religion, and commemoration, featuring in particular the Gallery’s strong collections of Greek vases and Roman portraits.
The installation includes an important thematic gallery devoted to Yale’s finds from Dura-Europos. The excavations uncovered one of the earliest Christian churches, a synagogue whose assembly room walls were painted with biblical scenes (now in the National Museum in Damascus, Syria), and a shrine to the mysterious Roman god Mithras. Many other pagan religious buildings surfaced, along with paintings, sculptures, papyri and parchments, coins, arms and armor, and items of daily use such as leather sandals, jewelry, and textiles. The new installation explores themes of daily life, religion, warfare, and funerary practices, with the objects contextualized through the history of their excavation. Highlights of the Dura-Europos gallery include a full-scale reconstruction of the Mithraeum, newly restored wall paintings from the baptistery in the Christian building (including what is among the earliest known images of Christ), decorated ceiling tiles from the synagogue, and rare examples of military equipment (including a complete set of horse armor and painted wooden shields). A computer kiosk with excavation photographs and new imagery allows visitors to explore the site virtually and imagine life in the ancient city; click here to access the digital presentation online.
In the 1920s and 30s, Yale also participated in excavations at Gerasa, whose mosaics represent the best of early Byzantine church mosaic production in Jordan. One of the Gallery’s most important objects is a spectacular sixth-century A.D. floor mosaic with isometric images of Alexandria and Memphis, which had been in storage since the 1940s. Recently completed innovative conservation and installation treatment allow it to be a highlight of the Gallery’s installation.
Note from the Curator
The destruction and looting of Syria’s archaeological sites and monuments makes international headlines almost daily, where reports of the damage are intertwined with tales of human rights violations and savage executions. The annihilation of cultural heritage in the Middle East, and its repercussions for the international art market and collecting, hit close to home at the Gallery. Yale’s collection of rare artifacts from the extraordinary Roman site of Dura-Europos, on the Euphrates River, is now on permanent display in the Mary and James Ottaway Gallery, where visitors can appreciate the wonders of this ancient city. The collection’s significance increases with the knowledge that an estimated 75 percent of the site has been destroyed by looting in the past few years. Ancient Dura was a crossroads of cultures and trade, fostering communities of soldiers and civilians as well as pagans, Jews, and Christians, who all lived there together harmoniously in the early 3rd century A.D. The spectacularly preserved objects from this site were systematically excavated, so their archaeological context can be understood; such contextual studies are rendered impossible when artifacts are looted, bought and sold without provenance, and displayed or kept in isolation. Visit the Dura-Europos gallery to understand and appreciate the cultural heritage of a fascinating region that is now in alarming peril.
Lisa R. Brody
Associate Curator of Ancient Art
Curator Lisa Brody discusses the Gallery’s sixth-century A.D. floor mosaic from Gerasa
in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Meet the Curators
Susan B. Matheson
Susan B. Matheson, the Molly and Walter Bareiss Curator of Ancient Art, oversees the collections of art from the ancient Mediterranean and ancient Americas. She has organized exhibitions on Greek vases, Dura-Europos, and Neoclassical and Gothic Revival Art, and she was cocurator of the exhibition I, Claudia: Women in Ancient Rome in 1996. Her books include Polygnotos and Vase-Painting in Classical Athens, volumes on Yale’s Athenian vases and ancient glass, and Art for Yale: A History of the Yale University Art Gallery. She teaches courses on Athenian vase painting for the departments of Classics and the History of Art at Yale.Download CV
Lisa R. Brody
Lisa R. Brody, Associate Curator of Ancient Art, received her B.A. from Yale and her PH.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. She has excavated around the Mediterranean and on Yale’s campus, and her publications include Aphrodisias III: The Aphrodite of Aphrodisias. In 2011 she cocurated Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity, which was on view at the McMullen Museum at Boston College and at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, and she coedited the accompanying book. She most recently cocurated Roman in the Provinces: Art on the Periphery of Empire and coedited the exhibition catalogue.Download CV
Baird, J. A.“Photographing Dura-Europos, 1928–1937: An Archaeology of the Archive.” American Journal of Archaeology 115 (July 2011): 427–46.
Baur, Paul V. C., ed. Gerasa: City of Decapolis. New Haven: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1938.
Brody, Lisa R. “Portrait of a Lady: A New Statue at the Yale University Art Gallery.” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2008) 143–47.
Brody, Lisa R., and Gail L. Hoffman, eds. Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity, exh. cat. Chestnut Hill, Mass.: McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, 2011.
Brody, Lisa R., and Carol Snow. “A Mystery in Marble: Examining a Portrait Statue through Science and Art.” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2010): 31–45.
The Excavations at Dura-Europos, Preliminary and Final Reports. New Haven: Yale University Press; Los Angeles: University of California Press; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1929–2001.
Grossmann, Richard A. Ancient Glass: A Guide to the Yale Collection. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2002.
Harrelson, Sam. Asia Has Claims Upon New England: Assyrian Reliefs at Yale. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2006.
Hopkins, Clark. The Discovery of Dura-Europos. Edited by Bernard Goldman. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979.
Matheson, Susan B. Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum: Athenian Red-figure and White-ground Vases in the Yale University Art Gallery. Mainz-am-Rhein, Germany: von Zabern, 2011.
Matheson, Susan B. Greek Vases: A Guide to the Yale Collection. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1988.
Matheson, Susan B. Ancient Glass in the Yale University Art Gallery. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1980.
McCarty, Matthew M. Ancient Bronzes: A Guide to the Yale Collection. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2006.
Scott, Gerry D. III. Ancient Egyptian Art at Yale. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1986.