At the Baths of Diocletian, a major exhibition investigates our relationship with the ancients

From May 4 to July 30, 2023, the Baths of Diocletian present the exhibition "The Instant and Eternity. Between Us and the Ancients." Through some three hundred works, the exhibition aims to explore the complex and varied relationship we have with the ancients.

The National Roman Museum presents at the Baths of Diocletian from May 4 to July 30, 2023 the exhibition The Instant and Eternity. Between Us and the Ancients, promoted by the Italian Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Culture and Sport of Greece (Ephorate for the Antiquities of the Cyclades), organized by the General Directorate for Museums and the National Roman Museum in collaboration with Electa, conceived and curated by Massimo Osanna, Stéphane Verger, Maria Luisa Catoni and Demetrios Athanasoulis, with the support of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii and the participation of the Scuola IMT Alti Studi Lucca and the Scuola Superiore Meridionale.

Through some three hundred pieces including Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Italic, medieval, modern and contemporary works, the exhibition aims to explore the complex and varied relationship we have with the ancients. For the occasion, some of the Great Halls of the Baths of Diocletian, which hosted the Archaeological Exhibition in 1911 as part of the celebrations for the first fiftieth anniversary of the Unification of Italy and which still preserve, to this day, part of the historical layout of the 1950s, reopen to the public after decades. Our relationship with the ancients is essentially twofold: on the one hand, it has been built through a long and discontinuous historical process of intellectual and artistic transmission that has shaped our classical culture between continuities, fractures and manipulations; on the other hand, it has sometimes taken the form of a relationship of identification, developed with people who, although they lived long ago, faced all the events of life and to these they gave voices and forms that have come down to us. Because of this, the ancients seem to us at once distant and close.

The first room of the exhibition (Room I - The Eternity of an Instant) opens with the cast of two anonymous victims of the eruption of Vesuvius that archaeology has returned to us as eternally immobilized in the instant of death. Around them, on the other hand, various popular and cultured forms of modern reinterpretation of the ancient are presented.

The second room (Room II-The Eternal Fame of Heroes) explores the forms of cultural transmission and tradition of antiquity through art and literature: how moderns have inherited ancient ways of displaying and representing power, from Caesar to Cosimo de’ Medici; how the great mythical cycles handed down in various forms since antiquity have remained alive in the contemporary popular imagination; and how, on the contrary, other mythical traditions have fallen into oblivion, and then recovered only thanks to the erudite and philological rediscovery of ancient literature carried out in the post-antique age.

From myth we move, inRoom III (The Order of the Cosmos), to ancient representations of space and time, which take the form of deities, personifications, and abstract entities that gave rise to our spatial and temporal categories. Thus concludes an initial journey to eternity - Aion - and the unchanging order of the world - kosmos: some outstanding exhibits in this section stand out, such as theomphalos - the navel of the world - that stood in the great sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi.

In the second part of the tour, the intimate relationship of identification that, despite the cultural and temporal distance that separates us from the ancients, makes them very close to us whenever we identify the events of their lives with our own is illustrated. InRoom IV (The Works and Days) we reconstruct, through a series of recent discoveries, important moments of social life, both in the home and in the city, punctuated by private and public rituals. Antiquity has handed down an inexhaustible variety of ways of representing the individual, from Neolithic stele statues to Classical and Hellenistic compositions. A significant selection of these depictions is on display in Hall V (Divine Humans). Prominent among them are the monumental female statue from Santorini, one of the oldest in all of Greek sculpture, exhibited for the first time ever to the general public, the bronze statue of the harringer, and one of the Sardinian giants from Mont’e Prama. Around these deified human figures, we follow the long path that leads the deceased to the afterlife, both through the various depictions of funerary ritual and through the various beliefs in the afterlife that antiquity has handed down to us.

Accompanying the visitor on this journey of discovery and confrontation are a number of extraordinarily representative works from not only the major Italian museums, as part of the National Museum System coordinated by the General Directorate of Museums, but also from very important institutions in Greece. Many of the works in the exhibition are presented to the public for the first time: new discoveries, such as the parade chariot from Civita Giuliana and the statue of Hercules from the Appia Antica Archaeological Park; new acquisitions, such as the Tabula Chigi from the National Roman Museum; and, above all, numerous masterpieces usually kept in the deposits of museums in Italy and Greece, such as the statue of Santorini.

The exhibition represents a further opportunity for the Depositi (Re)scoperti project, conceived and promoted by the National Roman Museum, allowing it not only to continue the initiative, but also to increase it with the creation of new exhibition stages in the institutes of the Lazio Regional Museums Directorate in Nemi and Sperlonga.

“The value of freedom, the value of the West is the common thread of this exhibition. The intent is to propose the origins and the path of our history. I would like to thank the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Greece for the active and friendly cooperation. Our roots lie in Greco-Roman civilization, and it is our task to safeguard and make usable to all this heritage that reminds us of our cultural heritage and inspires our contemporary philosophy. Tradition and modernity, two sides of the same coin, are part of the path of the exhibition The Instant and Eternity. Between Us and the Ancients,” said Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano.

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Photo by Studio Zabalik for Electa

At the Baths of Diocletian, a major exhibition investigates our relationship with the ancients
At the Baths of Diocletian, a major exhibition investigates our relationship with the ancients

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