The Yale University Art Gallery’s collection of ancient Mediterranean art is displayed in the graceful Sculpture Hall in the 1928 Old Yale Art Gallery building, the chronological installation moving from ancient Babylon through early medieval Europe. Visitors first encounter objects representing the ancient Near East, including Assyrian stone reliefs from the palace of the ninth-century B.C. King Assurnasirpal II, followed by a thematic installation of vases, glass, sculptures, and mosaics from the Greek and Roman civilizations. Subjects explored include politics, theater, daily life, the roles of women and children, representation of the “other,” cult and religion, and commemoration, featuring in particular the Gallery’s strong collections of Greek vases and Roman portraits.
The installation includes an important thematic gallery devoted to Yale’s finds from Dura-Europos. The excavations uncovered one of the earliest Christian churches, a synagogue whose assembly room walls were painted with biblical scenes (now in the National Museum in Damascus, Syria), and a shrine to the mysterious Roman god Mithras. Many other pagan religious buildings surfaced, along with paintings, sculptures, papyri and parchments, coins, arms and armor, and items of daily use such as leather sandals, jewelry, and textiles. The new installation explores themes of daily life, religion, warfare, and funerary practices, with the objects contextualized through the history of their excavation. Highlights of the Dura-Europos gallery include a full-scale reconstruction of the Mithraeum, newly restored wall paintings from the baptistery in the Christian building (including what is among the earliest known images of Christ), decorated ceiling tiles from the synagogue, and rare examples of military equipment (including a complete set of horse armor and painted wooden shields). A computer kiosk with excavation photographs and new imagery allows visitors to explore the site virtually and imagine life in the ancient city; click here to access the digital presentation online.
In the 1920s and 30s, Yale also participated in excavations at Gerasa, whose mosaics represent the best of early Byzantine church mosaic production in Jordan. One of the Gallery’s most important objects is a spectacular sixth-century A.D. floor mosaic with isometric images of Alexandria and Memphis, which had been in storage since the 1940s. Recently completed innovative conservation and installation treatment allow it to be a highlight of the Gallery’s installation.