Ancient Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Ancient Mediterranean art collection of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is one of the largest on the East Coast, spanning more than 5,000 years of human history, from Pre-Dynastic Egypt in the 4th millennium BC through the fall of the Byzantine Empire in AD 1453. The collection includes objects from Egypt, the Near East, the Aegean, Greece, Etruria, the Roman Empire, and Byzantium.

Myths – are stories people tell to explain the world around them, from natural occurrences to the activities of the gods, the structures of their society and norms of behavior. There could be countless versions of a myth, each of which is equally true. In ancient Mediterranean cultures, myths were the primary means by which poets and artists worked out their most profound thoughts; in doing so, they laid the foundation for ancient religion, literature, figurative art, philosophy, and science.

These objects represent the major collecting areas of the Department of Ancient Art, from ancient Egypt, the arts of Greece, Rome and the Byzantine Empire. They include works that illustrate the cross-cultural connections that criss-crossed the Mediterranean and come from religious, state, and domestic contexts. The materials range from a beautiful Egyptian head carved from granite, a prestigious hard stone, to wonderfully worked examples of Greek vases made from the modest material of clay.

Lamp with Handle in the shape of a Griffin’s Head
The griffin, a mythical monster part eagle and part lion, was considered the keeper of light in classical mythology. Christian symbols – the dove, the dolphin, the cross, and the Christogram (the first letters of Christ’s name) – place this griffin in a Christian context.

Male Head
Unusual and irregularly veined stones fascinated sculptors of the Late Period. Here a rose-colored vein has been used both to accentuate the curves of the head and to add contrast to the symmetry of the face. The high polish and elongated egg shape of the head are typical of the Late Period.

Seated Man
This statue of a man holding his cloak tightly around his body has an identifying inscription down the front of the cloak: “an offering that the King gives to Osiris, First of the Westerners, Lord of Abydos, that he may give the sweet breath of life to the Ka of the Commissioner of Police, Res, true of voice.”

In theory, only the king or a god could make an offering. An ordinary person who died and wanted to make an offering acceptable claimed that the king intervened to do so. In the Middle Kingdom, members of a powerful and wealthy upper class dedicated many such statues.

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (“Caligula”) Sculpture
Overall: 80 × 26 1/2 × 19 1/2 in. (203.2 × 67.31 × 49.53 cm)

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, United States
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, or VMFA, is an art museum in Richmond, Virginia, in the United States, which opened in 1936.

The museum is owned and operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia, while private donations, endowments, and funds are used for the support of specific programs and all acquisition of artwork, as well as additional general support. Admission itself is free (except for special exhibits). It is one of the first museums in the American South to be operated by state funds. It is also one of the largest art museums in North America. VMFA ranks as one of the top ten comprehensive art museums in the United States.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, together with the adjacent Virginia Historical Society, anchors the eponymous “Museum District” of Richmond (alternatively known as “West of the Boulevard”).