Devotion and Decadence

Made of silver and gold between c. 175 and 225 C.E. and standing 22 inches tall, this statuette of Mercury epitomizes the Berthouville treasure.

Through January 6, 2019
Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
New York, NY, USA

Luxury arts of ancient Rome are the focus of a unique exhibition hosted by New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. Titled Devotion and Decadence, the show presents a spectacular collection of ancient Roman silver artifacts found buried near Berthouville, France.

The Berthouville treasure, as it has come to be known, was discovered in 1830, when it emerged from under the plow of an unsuspecting farmer in rural Normandy. It consists of about 90 silver objects (statuettes and decorated vessels), some of the finest ancient Roman silver pieces to have survived to modern times.

Produced in the first through third centuries C.E. and deposited at the site of a Gallo-Roman sanctuary of Mercury during antiquity, this temple treasure is rich in religious imagery. The most prominent are representations of the local version of Mercury—the Roman inventor of all the arts and patron of trade and merchants. He is represented by two statuettes and numerous reliefs, as well as votive inscriptions. Other vessels are decorated with relief scenes from Greco-Roman mythology and the Trojan War.

Many of the artifacts were apparently made locally, in which they exemplify the local silversmithing tradition and attest to interactions between Roman and indigenous Gallic culture. The Gallic and Roman names of donors engraved in the objects that were offered to the god Mercury underscore that the Berthouville shrine was a key place of interculturation.

Organized originally by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles—in collaboration with the National Library of France, which owns the treasure—the exhibit additionally show-cases about 75 other luxury objects from the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France that aid the presentation of the diverse contents and contexts of the Berthouville treasure.

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