Lead curatorial position for ancient art endowed at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

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Lead curatorial position for ancient art endowed at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Renee Dreyfus in the installation of Last Supper of Pompeii, May 2021. Photograph by Gary Sexton. Image provided courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco announced the endowment of the Museums’ lead curatorial position for Ancient Art, made possible by a generous donation by long-standing museum supporters George and Judy Marcus. Marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Ancient Art Council at the Museums, the gift will support the Department of Ancient Art study and promotion of antiquities. Renée Dreyfus, who has worked closely with the Marcuses during her 45-year tenure with the Museums, is the first to assume the title George and Judy Marcus Distinguished Curator in Charge, Ancient Art. The first endowed position at the Museums, it marks the celebratory start to a dedicated initiative to secure endowments for key curatorial roles across the de Young and Legion of Honor.

"We are deeply grateful to George and Judy Marcus for this extraordinary gift, and for their decades-long support of the Fine Arts Museums, and our ancient art program”, stated Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “This endowment is a fitting tribute to Renée’s exceptional work in building the Department of Ancient Art and will ensure that the Fine Arts Museums’ study and promotion of Ancient Art will continue to thrive into the future”

“It is with great pleasure that we celebrate the 25th birthday of the Ancient Art Council with this gift,” stated George and Judy Marcus. “Drawing on years of warm collaboration, we are delighted that the first incumbent of the endowed position is Renée Dreyfus, whose dedication, loyalty, and contributions to the Museums are well known and respected.”

Steadfast supporters of the Museums and the work of the Department of Ancient Art, the Marcuses encouraged Renée Dreyfus to found the Ancient Hellenic Arts Council in 1997 to advance acquisitions and educational programming. In 2006 this support organization was renamed the Ancient Art Council to reflect the spectrum of art, culture, and civilizations the department encompasses: ancient Egypt, the Near East, ancient Greece, Etruria, Rome, and the art of early Islam.

Renée Dreyfus added: “With George’s advocacy and patronage, the Ancient Art Council has witnessed increased membership and support and has become the department's educational component with its acclaimed lectures and performances. It has become synonymous with the department, which allows its use as a fundraising arm to sponsor programs, acquisitions, and exhibitions. For that reason, the Ancient Art department remains indebted to George and Judy Marcus for their unstinting and stalwart support and encouragement.”

The Marcuses’ Elios Charitable Foundation has generously donated two core works to the Museums’ collection of ancient art—a 5,000-year-old marble figure from the Cyclades and a rare sixth-century BC yellow faience perfume vessel in the shape of a horse-rooster (hippalektryon). Through the years, they have funded Ancient Art symposiums, publications, and essential education programs that introduce ancient art to schoolchildren. George Marcus is a former member of the Board of Trustees of the Museums, and the Marcuses were generous supporters of the de Young museum building campaign in the early 2000s.

Renée Dreyfus serves as the Museums’ first George and Judy Marcus Distinguished Curator in Charge, Ancient Art, in recognition of her international reputation for scholarly achievement, her respected role as a curator in her field, and her long-standing institutional commitment to the Museums. Dreyfus has enhanced the Museums’ collection of ancient art with many significant and rare acquisitions. Among the series of exhibitions exploring life in the ancient Mediterranean civilizations, she presented Last Supper in Pompeii: From the Table to the Grave at the Legion of Honor in 2021 and will open Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs at the de Young museum on August 20, 2022. During her tenure at the Museums, Dreyfus has organized more than 20 exhibitions, including the 1979 Treasures of Tutankhamun, which first brought Egyptomania to San Francisco, and its 2009 sequel, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. Other major exhibitions include: Gods in Color: Polychromy in the Ancient World; The State Museums of Berlin and the Legacy of James Simon; Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh; Ancient Gold: The Wealth of the Thracians—Treasures from the Republic of Bulgaria; Pergamon: The Telephos Frieze from the Great Altar; and The Search for Alexander; to name but a few. Dreyfus frequently shares unique perspectives and insights on the cultural heritage and artistic development in Mediterranean archaeology and the ancient Near East through numerous publications and lectures. She received her PhD in Near Eastern art and archaeology from the University of California, Berkeley; her MA in ancient Mediterranean Studies from Brandeis University; and her BA in philosophy from Boston University.

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