The New Greek and Roman Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

by Peter van Alfen

Photography by Alan Roche


Fig. 1. Overview of the Leon Levy and Shelby White Court.

On April 20, 2007, the premier universal art museum in the United States, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) in New York City, unveiled its spectacular new Greek and Roman galleries. After five years of construction, the Lamont Wing has been converted back into galleries—gone are the offices and restaurant that many will remember in that space since the 1950s. Visitors now stroll into a soaring two-story atrium, sunlight streaming through the skylight and unblocked windows, to view some of the choicest examples of monumental Greco-Roman sculpture in the world. In the center of the new Leon Levy and Shelby White Court, a fountain quietly burbles away, adding an aural dimension to the aesthetic experience. Around the perimeter of the court, continuing galleries on two levels present nearly six thousand additional Hellenistic, Etruscan, southern Italian, and Roman objects, many of which have not been on view in over forty years.

Included among the objects on view in the new galleries are 112 Hellenistic and Roman coins from the ANS on long-term loan. These join 179 ANS coins already on view in the MMA’s Archaic, Classical, and Byzantine galleries, which were loaned in 1996 and 2000 when the MMA remodeled and reopened these galleries. While the MMA retains some coins in its permanent collection, the majority of its numismatic holdings were sold in the early 1970s to help finance the purchase of the famed Euphronios Crater, a large painted vase for mixing wine and water, for the (then) unheard-of price of one million dollars. (At the epicenter of the recent antiquities debate, the crater will be returned to Italy in 2008, although until that time it remains on display in the MMA—yet another reason to visit the MMA soon!) Because the MMA values the ability of coins to help tell the story of antiquity, the ANS staff has been keen over the years to assist MMA curators in their numismatic needs. For the new galleries, Elena Stolyarik, Ute Wartenberg Kagan, Peter van Alfen, and Andrew Meadows worked closely with MMA curators Christopher Lightfoot and Séan Hemmingway to select the coins and arrange them in the displays. Ute Wartenberg Kagan was primarily responsible for writing the captions accompanying the Hellenistic material.


Fig. 2. Curators Andrew Meadows and Peter van Alfen examining the ANS coins in the Hellenistic Treasury.


Fig 3. The coin display in the Roman galleries.

The institutional ties that the ANS and the MMA have formed over the years are among the strongest the ANS enjoys and among the most mutually beneficial. The ANS not only receives reciprocal loans of items of great importance (the MMA provided prized vases and other material for the ANS’s 2004 Olympics exhibit), but we also are thrilled to have nearly three hundred treasures from our collection featured prominently in one of the finest and most visited venues in the world. Visitors to the new galleries will no doubt appreciate the three generous and well-lit numismatic display cases in the “Hellenistic Treasury” and the Roman hall; additional ANS coins can be found in other displays throughout the galleries. Among the rarer ANS loans in the Hellenistic Treasury are a tetradrachm of Seleucus I (ANS 1967.152.675), a tetradrachm of Mithradates III (ANS 1960.60.4), and a tetradrachm of Alexander I and Cleopatra (ANS 1959.124.2). On the Roman side, visitors will be able to see a gold medallion of Constantius I and Galerius (ANS 1944.100.63131), an aureus of Carausius (ANS 1967.153.91), and a solidus of Fausta (ANS 1967.153.50), in addition to scores of other coins. For years to come, the new MMA Greek and Roman galleries will remain a landmark of content and context, form and function. We are pleased that the ANS has helped make this so. (For those unable to visit the exhibit in person, all of the ANS’s coins on display can be viewed on our Web site, located at http://www.numismatics.org.)


Fig. 4. Wall painting from the Cubiculum Nocturnum of the villa of P. Fannius Synistor, at Boscoreale, Italy, c. 50-40 BC.


Fig. 5. View of a first- or second-century AD Aphrodite and the fountain, through the legs of the Three Graces.


Fig. 6. An Aphrodite of the first or second century AD.


Fig. 7. Sarcophagus depicting Selene and a panther, first or second century AD.


Fig. 8. Roman bronzes from the Study Collection.


Fig. 9. Classical monumental black glazed vases from the Study Collection.


Fig. 10. Classical vases and sculptural fragment from the Study Collection.