Festina lente: Conserving Antiquity, an unconventional behind-the-scenes approach to viewing the Greek and Roman art in the Davis permanent collections, opened at the Davis Museum
on January 30. Focused on collecting, conservation, and stewardship, the exhibition invites new research and scholarship regarding a range of objects some, deeply beloved long-time fixtures in the Davis galleries, and others, hidden from view for decades. On view through July 7 in the Marjorie and Gerald Bronfman Gallery, the exhibition is free and open to the general public.
Infused by a spirit of inquiry and wonder, the exhibition and related programs (featuring scholars, curators, and conservators) illuminate the challenges facing museum antiquities collections, including questions of attribution, provenance, and authenticity; the science of investigation; changing strategies and shifting aesthetics in restoration; the function of and framework for managing fragmentary objects; the search for traces in abraded and eroded surfaces; and trends in collecting over time.
According to Lisa Fischman, Ruth Gordon Shapiro 37 Director and curator of the exhibition, The classical adage, Festina lente, greatly favored by the first Roman emperor, Augustus, pertains to the collecting and conservation of antiquitiesbut also to the larger project of museums overall. To make haste slowly, is to balance urgency and diligence, risk and caution. This perfectly describes the accumulation of knowledge on any subject, and is particularly apt in regard to the focus on collecting, art history and archaeology, scientific research and conservation treatment that distinguishes this project.
While referencing open storage, the exhibition is designed to encourage study in the galleries as well as to present research culled from the Museums object files and new scholarship as it develops. Featuring vases and vessels of all sorts and designs, relief portraits and standing figures, mosaics, coins and jewelry, human and animal forms, the scope of the collection reveals tremendous vitality of form and function rendered in clay, terracotta, metal, and stone. With works from the third millennium B.C.E through the early fourth century C.E., the exhibition will allow viewers to see the evolution of style over time, as well as a regional variety in art from the ancient world.
Among the rarely seen items that will be on view is a marble, limestone and glass tesserae mosaic panel from the Greek city of Antioch. According to Kimberly Cassibry, Assistant Professor of Ancient Art, the Rinceaux and Meander mosaic was created by one of the very best workshops of antiquity. The mosaic once formed part of an elaborate dining room floor, which was divided up among five different museums after excavation. The adjacent section is now in the Louvre! Because of its size and weight, the Rinceaux panel has been in the Davis' deep storage for years. Festina lente offers the opportunity I've been waiting for to bring it back into the galleries. Visitors will enjoy the beauty of its intricate floral design and will also be interested in the story its excavation tells about Wellesley's place in the history of archaeology."
"Its very exciting that so many of the Greek and Roman artifacts will be on display this spring in a setting where we can consider what kind of conservation and research they deserve, added Bryan Burns, Professor of Classical Studies. It's also great to learn the history of some of these items, such as a group of small objects that was donated by an alumna (Harriet W. Allen '24) whose grandfather was a friend of the famous archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. She also donated two books one inscribed by Schliemann himself in Greek which have been in the stacks of the Art Library, used by students for decades. I have to wonder if any of those students reading about the excavations at Troy ever noticed that this book was actually signed by the author!"