Ancient Art

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).
Nolan Amphora showing Athena and Hermes
Kylix with a Symposion Scene
Human Attendant Carrying a Bow, Arrows, and a Mace
Scutum (Shield)
Mosaic Floor with Views of Alexandria and Memphis
Arsu Riding a Camel

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 vases, glass, sculptures, and mosaics from the Greek and Roman civilizations. In particular, the display features the Gallery’s strong collection of Classical Greek vases, as well as private and imperial Roman portraits.

The installation also includes an important gallery devoted to Yale’s finds from ancient Dura-Europos, in Syria. Excavations in the 1920s and 1930s uncovered what is likely the earliest Christian church, a synagogue whose assembly-room walls were painted with biblical scenes, and a shrine to the mysterious Roman god Mithras. Many other pagan religious sanctuaries surfaced, reflecting the multicultural nature of religious communities in the Roman provinces. Also discovered were paintings, sculptures, papyri and parchments, coins, arms and armor, and items of daily use, such as leather sandals, jewelry, and textiles. The extraordinary sculptures found at Dura-Europos are presented together with works from nearby Palmyra, asserting the close connections and exchanges between the two cities. Other highlights include a full-scale reconstruction of the Mithraeum, wall paintings from the baptistery in the Christian church (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).

At the same time as the Dura excavations, 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 the Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Memphis, which had been in storage since the 1940s. An innovative conservation treatment was recently completed, allowing the mosaic to be a highlight of the Gallery’s ancient Mediterranean installation.

Explore the Related Online Feature about Dura-Europos

Note from the Curator

A new installation at the Gallery features highlights from its extraordinary collection of ancient glass, which is one of the largest and best in the country. The display showcases 56 exquisite and rare examples of Near Eastern, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman glass that range from the 14th century B.C. to the 7th century A.D. The selection represents the full spectrum of masterful techniques and styles developed during the early history of glassmaking, illustrating the high level of artistry achieved by glassmakers in the ancient world.

On view are works of mosaic glass, which inspired the later artisans of Renaissance Venice; free-blown and mold-blown glass; core-formed and cast glass; and vessels adorned with marbled and splashed glass, gilding, or threads of molten glass. While the names of most ancient glassmakers are unknown today, the most accomplished among them did sign their works. One of the most spectacular vessels in the installation is a bowl signed by the Roman glassmaker Ennion, a master of mold-blown glass in the early to mid-1st century A.D. The bowl is one of about 20 surviving vessels that bear his signature.

Lisa R. Brody
Associate Curator of Ancient Art
Installation of ancient glass in the Mary and James Ottaway Gallery of Ancient Dura-Europos

Related Online Feature

The archaeological site of Dura-Europos, in modern Syria, is a fascinating crossroads of ancient cultures. It is perhaps best known for the important finds unearthed during the excavations in the 1920s and 1930s sponsored by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters. These discoveries included a shrine to the god Mithras, a synagogue whose assembly room walls were covered with painted biblical scenes, and one of the earliest Christian house churches.

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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.

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Susan B. Matheson

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.

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Lisa Brody.

Further Reading

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.