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Museums: Classics in the City of Brotherly Love Volume 56 Number 3, May/June 2003
by Jarrett A. Lobell

The University of Pennsylvania Museum features everything from a nineteenth-century bronze cast of the satyr Silenos (left), to a helmet from the eighth-century B.C. (center), to an aryballos (right) from eastern Greece, ca. 600-570 B.C. (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology)

After ten years, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has finally re-opened all sections of its impressive classical collections in a permanent exhibition, "Worlds Intertwined: Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans," which showcases more than one thousand artifacts spanning more than three millennia of Mediterranean civilization.

The museum's earliest classical galleries were opened in 1899 and then redesigned in the 1920s. The new exhibition recalls these early days (the original bronze lighting fixtures from the 1929 Etruscan gallery were discovered in the museum's basement and re-installed), while at the same time following the contemporary museum trend of thematic rather than simple chronological ordering of exhibitions. All the spaces have been redesigned to reflect this more modern approach. Gone are the rows of glass cases jammed with artifacts accompanied by didactic, hard-to-read panels. These have been replaced by larger, more open spaces that can accommodate the exhibition's thematic approach and allow visitors to move freely around the artifacts.

One of the highlights of the Etruscan gallery--the only comprehensive collection of its kind in the United States--is the language section, where visitors can hear a recording of Etruscan texts being read, a unique opportunity to hear spoken an ancient language that is unrelated to any living language family.

Moving through the well-restored spaces, the visitor passes through the Greek gallery (opened in 1994 and already a bit dated--it relies more on the old tradition of displaying artifacts in sometimes crowded cases) and comes to a remarkable Roman gallery filled with light evoking sunlight on a bright Italian day. Marbles from a sanctuary on Lake Nemi are displayed against a vibrant painting of the lake; shining gold coins make a chronology of emperors far more interesting than the traditional timeline; and a scale model of a Roman house gives visitors a feel for the way the Romans (at least the elite ones) actually lived.

Click here for ARCHAEOLOGY's list of current exhibitions.

© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America