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Museum of Fine Arts, Boston debuts only gallery dedicated to coins at a major U.S. art museum
Obverse Dekadrachm (Demareteion) of Syracuse with quadriga.

BOSTON, MASS.- —Five hundred ancient Greek and Roman coins from the world-renowned collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, are showcased in the new Michael C. Ruettgers Gallery for Ancient Coins, debuting today. It is the only gallery dedicated to coinage in a major US art museum and is unique for its emphasis on ancient coins as works of art—masterpieces on a miniature scale. The gallery also illustrates how coins are both a form of cultural expression—reflecting the customs, beliefs, and ideals of those who produced and used them—and primary documents of ancient history. It is named in recognition of Michael C. Ruettgers, whose generosity has made possible the creation of this spectacular new gallery. In addition, Mr. Ruettgers has given 14 rare and important Roman gold coins to the MFA, including Aureus with the bust of Aelius Verus (AD 137).

To enhance visitors’ appreciation of these works, moveable magnifying lenses facilitate closer examination of the coins on view in several cases. In addition, by using iPads affixed to five cases running down the center of the gallery, visitors are able to explore in-depth 274 Greek and Roman coins using the new MFA Coins application developed by the MFA. It allows users to view both sides of each coin, to zoom in, and learn more about the significance of these objects. The app includes highlights of the coin collection, information about Greek and Roman coins, and a timeline of ancient coins. The iPad app is available for free download from Apple’s App Store, or by clicking on a link to the App Store on the new page for the Michael C. Ruettgers Gallery for Ancient Coins on the Museum’s website Also in the gallery is a touchscreen where visitors can create their own coins—choosing symbols, motto, and metal—and learn the elements of a coin by designing one.

“We are especially pleased to be able to share with our visitors many of the greatest treasures from the MFA’s coin collection in a beautiful new gallery, where they can explore the depth of our holdings and also use interactives to enhance the experience,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “It is the latest in a series of niche galleries at the Museum highlighting special aspects of our collection, ranging from ship models to jewelry to period rooms. We appreciate the generosity of Michael Ruettgers in making this newest addition possible.”

The gallery, located on Level 2 of the George D. and Margo Behrakis Wing, presents a representative selection of Greek and Roman coins, ranging in date from the mid-7th century BC to the early 5th century AD. These include Greek coins of various denominations, such as the dracma, the base unit of measurement; the tetradrachm, worth four drachmas; and the dekadrachm, worth 10 drachmas; as well as Roman gold (aureus) and silver (denarius) coins. The visitor experience begins with a display of 10 highlights of the MFA collection, followed by surveys of Greek coinage from around the Mediterranean and beyond, and Roman coins from the Republican and Imperial periods. Thematically arranged cases examine ancient coins as both economic instruments and as works of art, and explore how mythological subjects and portraits are represented on coins.

These ancient coins, shown thematically and chronologically, are drawn from the Museum’s extensive numismatic collection, which comprises more than 19,000 coins, medals, medallions, paper currency, and tokens ranging from the 7th century BC to the mid 20th century. The exhibition showcases several of the MFA’s most important examples of Greek and Roman works, many prized through the centuries as objects of wealth and status. The world-renowned Dekadrachm of Syracuse with head of the nymph Arethusa (about 465 BC) is the most famous Greek coin in the Museum’s collection, while the Tetradrachm of Amphipolis with head of Apollo (390–370 BC) is one of the most sculptural. Both coins rank among the most artistically refined and sophisticated coins ever made. Other coins illuminate the political and cultural history of the ancient world. The Denarius with head of M. Junius Brutus (43–42 BC)—a coin issued by Brutus in the aftermath of the assassination of Julius Caesar—offers a powerful connection with a momentous event. The 8-aureus medallion with bust of Claudius II Gothicus (AD 268–270), the largest gold coin in the Museum’s collection, offers a message of stability during an extended period of turmoil in the Roman Empire.

Also on view in the gallery are works of art illustrating how coin engravers engaged in a dynamic exchange with other ancient craftsmen, including sculptors, vase-painters, and metalworkers, sharing much of the same visual vocabulary and employing similar artistic conventions. “How coins relate to classical works in other media will be explored through thoughtful juxtapositions of coins with sculpture, ceramics, metalware, gems, and other objects,” said Richard A. Grossmann, Consulting Curator for Numismatics. “This is an endeavor that is only possible within the setting of an encyclopedic museum with Greek and Roman holdings as deep and diverse as the MFA’s.”

Additionally, the display incorporates a variety of post-antique works—from a selection of European and American coins and medals to a pair of Renaissance illustrated books—which show the enduring influence of ancient coins on Western art and culture.

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