Permanent exhibition of Classical Antiquities at the Museum of Fine Arts 2
A shared characteristic of the cultures of classical antiquity presented here is that they did not live and develop in isolation, but were always open to influences from other regions. They learnt from each other and they inspired each other, and it is always a question of perspective who the master was, and who acted as a disciple. What arrived from elsewhere, they transformed according to their own taste. This openness did not result in the loss of identity: quite the contrary, it helped them find new ways of expressing what they had to say (1–2).
The stage for these cultures was the Mediterranean (3). Before the Roman Empire, southern Europe was culturally closer to the coasts of north Africa and the Levant than to northern Europe. The sea brought the people together who lived around its coasts rather than separating them: their universe was the Mediterranean Sea and its coastal areas (4). Maritime routes established networks of circulation for raw materials, craft skills, religious beliefs, myths, and an infinite variety of artistic motifs. Many periods saw intense contacts with the Baltic regions and the Far East, although the further away they ventured from the coasts, the more foreign the territory seemed. Far from the sea at the edges of the world lay the homelands of mythical peoples.
The Collection of Classical Antiquities primarily preserves ancient Greek, Etruscan and Roman works of art, and only hints at some of the other cultures, such as the Cypriote, Phoenician, Jewish, or Iberian, which were also important in antiquity. Walking around the room, characteristic features of these cultures are highlighted in geographical (5–6), historical (7–8), and thematic arrangements (9), while the objects exhibited in the centre provide an overview of the history of two important genres: Greek figural vase painting (10) and Roman portraits (11). These examples outline one of the fundamental characteristics of classical antiquity: the openness, or willingness to welcome and engage with other cultures. This connectivity is one of the most important legacies of these cultures in our own time.