12457 - 20170205 - Objects regarded among the finest surviving works of ancient Roman silver on view in Houston - 01.01.2017-05.02.2017


Roman, Offering Bowl with Bacchus, Hercules, and Coins, “Patera of Rennes,” c. 210 AD, gold, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Monnaies, médailles et antiques, Paris.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is presenting Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville, an exhibition of over 170 objects from the ancient Roman Empire, including an opulent collection of silver objects known as the Berthouville Treasure. This cache—accidentally discovered by a French farmer in the early 19th century and recently conserved by the J. Paul Getty Museum—is being displayed alongside a selection of precious gemstones, glass, jewelry, and other Roman luxury items from the royal collections of the Cabinet des Médailles of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The exhibition is on view in Houston until February 5, 2017.
“The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is honored to be the final U.S. stop for these significant treasures before they return to France next spring,” said Gary Tinterow, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. “We’re particularly grateful to the Getty Museum for their expertise and dedication in conserving the Berthouville Treasure, paving the way for additional research and study of these important antiquities.”

“These unique objects offer insight into the diverse role luxury arts played in ancient society at the time,” added Frances Marzio, MFAH curator, antiquities, and organizing curator of the Houston presentation. “In examining the techniques employed by ancient craftsmen in designing and creating these treasures, fascinating aspects of Roman technology, culture, and religion are revealed.”

Highlights of the exhibition include the “Patera of Rennes,” a shallow libation bowl that remains one of the few surviving examples of Roman gold tableware; the “Shield of Scipio,” a silver and gold plate depicting the Homeric hero Achilles, extracted from the Rhone river in 1656; and a bejeweled cameo of the Emperor Trajan, intricately carved from multilayered sardonyx.

The Berthouville Treasure
In March of 1830, while plowing a field near the village of Berthouville in Normandy, France, a farmer named Prosper Taurin struck an ancient tile, revealing a buried cist. Within the cist, he discovered a cache of approximately 90 Roman silver objects weighing 55 pounds and dating back to the first and second centuries A.D. Now known as the Berthouville Treasure, the hidden stash included two statues of the god Mercury and more than 70 elaborately decorated vessels, many of which depicted mythological scenes. This spectacular hoard of objects is presented in its entirety for the first time outside of Paris in Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver from Berthouville.

Soon after Taurin’s rich discovery, the Berthouville Treasure was acquired by the collections of the Cabinet des Médailles of the Bibliothèque Nationale of France, where it has resided since the 19th century. In December 2010, the entire collection was sent to the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Antiquities Conservation Department in Los Angeles for a comprehensive conservation treatment. Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville is the celebration of a four-year project to research, conserve, and meticulously clean the collection. A video detailing ancient silversmithing techniques used by Roman craftsmen—the result of years of in-depth research undertaken by the Getty—supplements the objects on display. Houston is the last stop on the four-venue U.S. tour of the exhibition.