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  • The Worcester Art Museum Reawakens the Roman Empire in Antioch: The Lost Ancient City

    WORCESTER, MASS., September 8, 2000 - The most ambitious and significant undertaking in the Worcester Art Museum's 102-year history opens on October 8, 2000, with Antioch: The Lost Ancient City. This landmark exhibition reawakens one of the great cities of the Roman Empire with 160 extraordinary treasures created nearly 2,000 years ago and reunited for the first time since their discovery in the 1930s.

    Visitors will experience the luxury of an actual Roman dining room with mosaics from the Louvre and other major museums. They'll know what it was like to walk Antioch's colonnaded streets, take the waters at its famed spa, drink at its public fountains, attend its theaters, and visit its baths. The people of cosmopolitan Antioch will come to life through magnificent mosaics, exquisite jewelry, stunning glassware, sensuous sculpture, and other objects from internationally renowned collections.

    Organized by Dr. Christine Kondoleon, curator of Greek and Roman Art at the Worcester Art Museum and a leading authority on Roman mosaics, the exhibition illuminates life in the forgotten city of Antioch, once host to such famous visitors as Julius Caesar, Trajan, Diocletian, Constantine the Great, and John Chrysostom.

    "Our goal is to bring the city of ancient Antioch to life by evoking the luxury of the domestic settings of the elite as well as the street life of polyglot urban metropolis," Kondoleon said. "The exhibition also introduces visitors to the important role the Worcester Art Museum had in a significant archaeological expedition of Antioch."

    Now known as Antakya, Antioch was the capital of Syria closest to Belkis, Turkey, on the Euphrates River, where archaeologists are now trying to salvage one of the world's richest treasure troves of Roman mosaics before they are destroyed by a man-made dam. "Antioch: The Lost Ancient City is an opportunity to enjoy extraordinary objects from the Roman Empire," said Kondoleon, who visited Belkis just before its flooding. "These newly-discovered mosaics in Belkis were undoubtedly made by the Antioch artisans."

    After leaving Worcester on February 4, 2001, Antioch: The Lost Ancient City will travel to Cleveland Museum of Art (March 18 - June 3, 2001), and Baltimore Museum of Art (September 16 - December 30, 2001). A 272-page catalogue edited by Kondoleon and published by Princeton University Press will be available in October 2000.

    The City of Antioch

    Located in southern Turkey near the border of Syria, Antioch was the capital of Ancient Syria and the leading city of the Roman East. As a vital trading hub on the crossroads between the East and West, Antioch ranked with Rome, Carthage, and Constantinople as one of the four great cities of the Roman and early Christian world. Roman emperors (100-520 AD) favored the city by building palaces, public baths, circuses, and an amphitheater. With a population that grew to more than half a million by the 4th century, Antioch was in the forefront of major changes in art, philosophy, and religion. In the 6th century, earthquakes, plagues and famine weakened Antioch and it became impossible to defend against invaders from the East.

    Antioch was known as the "Athens" of the Near East. This reputation, and the fame of the nearby spa town of Daphne, which was also revered as the cult center of Apollo, inspired an American-led team of archaeologists to excavate the site from 1932-39. The institutions leading the excavation - Princeton University, Baltimore Museum of Art, Mus&eactue;es Nationaux de France (Louvre), and the Worcester Art Museum - discovered ancient treasures that were buried beneath fields and olive groves for more than a millennium. The excavations yielded the largest collection of the highest quality Roman domestic mosaics found anywhere in the Mediterranean dated from 120 - 520 AD.

    Antioch: The Lost Ancient City will be the first time the institutions participating in the excavation will show the unearthed objects together. "All of these museums enthusiastically agreed to be part of this exhibition, which will allow us to rejoin spectacular mosaics that have been separated for more than half a century," Kondoleon said. In making an unprecedented loan, the Louvre agreed to lend Judgement of Paris and other Antioch mosaics for the first time since they had been installed on the walls of France's national museum in 1935.

    Like New York City today, Antioch was a consumer city that attracted ambitious entrepreneurs from all over the Mediterranean. It was a melting pot of many cultures and faiths with an astonishing variety of people. Among the languages they spoke or read were Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Syriac, and Persian. Their many religions included Judaism and Christianity; and Egyptian, Near Eastern, and Roman Pagan cults.

    In many ways, Antioch mirrors cities of the 21st century in the diversity of its people and cultures, and the complexity of its intellectual and spiritual life. At the start of a new millennium, Antioch: The Lost Ancient City presents a vivid model of an ancient city that encourages visitors to consider civic community and diversity in both the past and present.

    Thematic Elements of the Exhibition

    To bring the lost city of Antioch to life, the Worcester Art Museum has divided objects in the exhibition into the following thematic units within four gallery areas: City and its People; City Life: Bathing and Entertainment; Dining in Roman Antioch (including a reconstructed dining room); and Worship in the City.

    City and its People
    The geography of the Mediterranean and the high status of Antioch will be shown through miniature precious statuettes representing the great Mediterranean cities. The voice of its citizens can be heard through a wall of inscriptions and funerary reliefs. Various marble and bronze portraits of important rulers and citizens will give visitors an immediate contact with these individuals. A combination of portraits, reliefs, mosaics, and luxury objects such as jewelry will give visitors a closer look at the people of Antioch, how they dressed, their neighbors, and their enemies.

    City Life: Bathing and Entertainment
    This gallery will be divided into two parts: one devoted to entertainment and the other to water. Archaeological and textual evidence attest to the existence of a theater, circus/hippodrome, amphitheater, and stadium where performances, chariot races, and athletic contests were the spectacles of the day. Theatrical performance is the topic of the Princeton mosaic with the playwright Menander reclined beside a female figure named KWMWDIA (Comedy). The other side of this gallery will present the theme of water as seen in the art and texts of the citizens of Antioch. A large floor mosaic with the bust of Thetis amidst marine life will be a featured image in this part of the gallery, including a scale model of a Roman bath. A male bust identified by a Greek inscription as the River Pyramos, on loan from Smith College, will introduce the concept of rivers as deities. In addition, the border of the magnificent "Worcester Hunt" will be restored and displayed.

    Dining in Roman Antioch
    In this section, the Worcester Art Museum will physically reconstruct the dining room from a second century house excavated in 1932. To accomplish this, the famous Worcester mosaic, The Drinking Contest between Dionysos and Herakles, will be joined with its pendant parts now in the Baltimore Art Museum of Art (Satyr, and Dancing Maenad), Princeton Art Museum (Aphrodite and Adonis), and the Louvre (Judgement of Paris). Glassware, silverware, and mosaics with dining scenes will accompany the installation. In addition, selected examples of statuary from Antioch will adorn a reconstructed garden with a fountain and greenery.

    Worship in the City
    This is the most demanding of the exhibition themes because of the great variety of faiths practiced in Antioch. To give some sense of the multicultural aspects of the city, the exhibition will include objects that relate to the local Syrian cults, those that reflect Greco-Roman beliefs, Christian objects from Antioch and its surrounds, and a model of a syna-gogue from Asia Minor.

    The thriving Christian community of Antioch and its key role in the formation of the new faith will be highlighted. Saints Peter, Paul and Barnabas preached in Antioch. According to Acts 11:26 of the Bible, "And in Antioch they first called the disciples Christians." A special highlight in this section of the exhibition will be the Antioch Chalice, a gilded openwork cup decorated with Christ and the Apostles seated in a vine scroll.

    Worcester Mosaics
    "One of the lasting benefits of this exhibition is the conservation of several of the mosaics on loan from Princeton, Baltimore, and Honolulu, not to mention the treatment of the Worcester mosaics included in the show," Kondoleon noted. With grants from the Kress and Mellon Foundations, the Worcester Art Museum's Conservation Department has been conserving these treasures since 1995. During this time, the public has been invited to view the conservation treatments in progress at the Museum. The exhibition also includes supplementary gallery space with illustrations and explanations of how Roman mosaics were created and the "before and after" views of the recent conservation.

    The mosaics in the Worcester Art Museum span six centuries of artistic production, and the transitions between Hellenistic and Byzantine art are evident. All of Worcester's mosaics were floor mosaics, paving dining rooms, reception areas, cemeteries, baths, and porticoes. Many of them weighing more than 1000 pounds, Worcester's 12 mosaics were brought to the Museum in several shipments (1933, 1936, and 1939), and installed in and around the Museum's Renaissance Court. The Museum's enormous Hunt mosaic, covering some 500 square feet, was part of a villa in Daphne destroyed in the 526 earthquake. Brought to America in five sections that each weighed more than a ton, the mosaic was reassembled on the floor of the Renaissance Court.

    Related Programming
    The public preview party for Antioch: The Lost Ancient City is Saturday, October 7, from 8 - 11p.m. Visitors will be invited to experience the thrill of finding ancient treasures at this recreated archaeological dig. Throughout the exhibition, a full range of educational programs and material will communicate the thematic ideas of the project. A short video - using 1930s film footage, still photographs, and quotes from the excavation diaries - will be a key introductory tool for the show. The exhibition will be integrated into the Museum's ongoing youth and adult education classes, free school tours, and free public tours. Antioch will also be the focus of ArtSmart, an art education outreach program presented in collaboration with Centro Las Americas, a Worcester social service agency supporting the rapidly growing Latino population in Worcester County.

    Other programs will also be offered, including a four-part lectures series; Teachers' Workshops; a Family Day; and artists' demonstrations on mosaic, glass and metalworking techniques and applications. In addition, the North American Branch of AIEMA will hold the 8th annual Colloquium on Ancient and Medieval Mosaics and Painting from November 18-19, 2000, at the Worcester Art Museum, co-sponsored by the Classics Seminar of Centre Universitaire de Luxembourg (SEMANT) in collaboration with Clark University's European Center in Luxembourg.

    Antioch: The Lost Ancient City is sponsored by Sovereign Bank New England. Major support is provided by National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and The J.F. Costopoulos Foundation. Additional generous support is provided by The Thomas J. Watson Foundation, Christos and Mary Tonna Cocaine Charitable Trust, Paul and Nancy Morgan, Leon Levy and Shelby White, Mr. and Mrs. Christos Bastis, an anonymous donor, John and Ruth Adam Exhibition Fund, and Michie Family Curatorial Fund. Antioch Family Day sponsored by Fleet. Franco-American aspects of this exhibition are funded by Saint Gobain/Norton Company and The Florence Gould Foundation. The media sponsors are Telegram & Gazette, WSRS/WTAG, and Charter Communications, Inc.

    Museum Background

    Opened to the public in 1898, the Worcester Art Museum is the second largest art museum in New England. Its exceptional 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints and drawings is displayed in 36 galleries and spans 5,000 years of art and culture, ranging from Egyptian antiquities and Roman mosaics to Impressionist paintings and contemporary art. Throughout its first century, the Worcester Art Museum proved itself a pioneer: the first American museum to purchase work by Claude Monet (1910) and Paul Gauguin (1921); the first museum to bring a medieval building to America (1927); a sponsor of the first major excavation at Antioch, one of the four great cities of ancient Rome (1932); the first museum to create an Art All-State program for high school artists (1987); the originator of the first exhibition of Dutch master Judith Leyster (1993); and the first museum to focus its contemporary art programs on art of the last 10 years (1998). The Museum's hours are: Wednesday through Sunday, 11am-5pm, and Saturday 10am-5pm. Admission: FREE for members; Non-members: $8 Adults; $6 Seniors and full-time college students with current ID; FREE for youth 17 and under; FREE for everyone Saturday mornings 10am-noon sponsored by The TJX Companies and Massachusetts Electric Company. For more information, call (508) 799-4406 or visit the Museum at 55 Salisbury Street in Worcester.