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Seeing Color in Ancient Mediterranean Art

Mummy mask of a man, Roman imperial period, early 3rd century CE. Painted plaster with glass-covered eyes. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Dr. Robert Waelder, 1965.551.


Harvard Art Museums
32 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA

Twelve years after the Harvard Art Museums exhibition Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity, research on color in Greek and Roman art continues to change our understanding of Classical art and to resonate in contemporary conversations about race and representation in the museum setting. In this talk, scholars Jennifer Stager and Sarah Derbew will share new research that compels us to take a fresh look at how we understand color in the ancient Mediterranean world.

Revisiting important scholarship from the past 20 years, Jennifer Stager will consider how color connects ancient Greek and Roman art with artistic practices throughout the ancient world, questioning artificial divides of media, time, and place and challenging monochrome understandings of ancient society. She will discuss how explorations of material color were fundamental to philosophical investigations into the nature of the universe in the ancient Mediterranean world.

Next, Sarah Derbew will highlight the clash between past and present that can occur when modern audiences encounter representations of black people in Greek antiquity. Her investigations of the treatment of Nubia in museum displays reveal a troubling hierarchy that privileges ancient Egypt as a marker of legitimacy and legibility and underlines the need for inclusive and contextualized exhibitions of representations of black people in antiquity.

This talk is presented in conjunction with a series of Materials Lab Workshops titled Investigating Color in Art.

Offered by:
Sarah Derbew, Junior Fellow, Harvard Society of Fellows
Jennifer Stager, Assistant Professor of Ancient Mediterranean Art and Architecture, Johns Hopkins University

The lecture will take place in Menschel Hall, Lower Level. Please enter the museums via the entrance on Broadway. Doors will open at 5:30pm.

Free admission, but seating is limited. Tickets will be distributed beginning at 5:30pm at the Broadway entrance. One ticket per person.

Complimentary parking available in the Broadway Garage, 7 Felton Street, Cambridge.

Support for the lecture is provided by the M. Victor Leventritt Fund, which was established through the generosity of the wife, children, and friends of the late M. Victor Leventritt, Harvard Class of 1935. The purpose of the fund is to present outstanding scholars of the history and theory of art to the Harvard and Greater Boston communities.