Exhibitions are an important aspect of a curatorial department. The Ancient Art Department has organized and mounted over the years exhibitions showcasing art from different ancient cultures in the Mediterranean. Some of these exhibitions are also accompanied by scholarly catalogues written, edited, or with contributions by the curator in charge of Ancient Art and Interpretation, and published by the Publications Department. Exhibitions, like publications, fulfill the fundamental commitment of the Department to education, research, and scholarship.

Current Exhibitions

The Future of the Past: Mummies and Medicine

Date: Saturday, May 14, 2016 - Sunday, August 26, 2018
Location: Gallery 1, Legion of Honor

Ancient Egyptian mummies meet modern medicine in this hauntingly beautiful exhibition to highlight the complex cult of the dead in Egypt. Three coffins, two of which with their mummies, assemble in one gallery augmented with amulets, scarabs, sculpture, and tomb furnishings to facilitate the deceased in attaining and maintaining a happy afterlife.

The two mummies, Irethorrou and “Hatason,” have both undergone high-resolution, three-dimensional CT scans and the resulting data studied and interpreted to shed new insights into the two embalmed individuals: how they lived, died, and prepared for eternity. The pièce de résistance is an interactive virtual dissection table, which allows visitors to examine both mummies without “unwrapping” them.

The Ancient Art Department and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco would like to thank the following individuals and their institutions for their expertise, knowledge, unstinting help, and generosity:

Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium: Jonathan Elias
Anatomage: Jack Choi, Philip Mansour, and Kris Thomson
Stanford University School of Medicine: Rebecca Fahrig, Kerstin Müller, Lior Molvin
Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley: for the loan of the model boat
RETNA: for his wall design

This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Support was provided by the Ancient Art Council; Skot Jonz; Keesal Young & Logan; Mary N. Lannin; Elizabeth Moyer, PhD, and Michael Powanda, PhD; and Dr. and Mrs. Bernard von Bothmer in honor of Dietrich von Bothmer.

The exhibition is free after museum admission.

Upcoming Exhibitions

Gods in Color: Polychromy in the Ancient World

Date: Saturday, October 28, 2017 - Sunday, January 7, 2018
Location: Special Exhibition Galleries, Legion of Honor

The exhibition reimagines how Classical sculptures might have been painted and appeared to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Based on close study of the originals and on scientific analyses and examination of the polychromatic paints found on them, the pigments have now been identified and reproduced on modern full-sized copies of the Greek and Roman originals. An array of these reconstructions will be on display next to Classical, Near Eastern, and Egyptian art from the Fine Arts Museums as well as ancient sculptures on loan from public and private California collections. The exhibition will also be complemented by an assemblage of watercolors of landscapes and ruins of Greece drawn by Edward Dodwell (1777 or 1778‒1832) and Simone Pomardi (ca. 1757‒1830) from 1805 to 1806, on loan from the Packard Humanities Institute.

Gods in Color: Polychromy in the Ancient World

Date: Saturday, October 28, 2017 - Sunday, January 7, 2018
Location: Legion of Honor: Rosekrans Court | Galleries B‒F

The art of ancient cultures was often painted to dazzling and powerful effect. Polychromy—the painting of objects in a variety of colors—was a regular feature of sculpture in Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Aegean, Greece, and Rome. When antiquities were rediscovered after prolonged exposure to the elements or centuries of burial, their colored surfaces had often faded to invisibility. As a result, later sculptors such as Michelangelo who were inspired by Greek and Roman sculpture left their own marble and bronze surfaces unadorned, perpetuating this inaccurate classical ideal. Gods in Color emphasizes how ancient sculpture is incomplete without color. White or monochrome sculpture would have been as strange to the ancients as the color reconstructions might seem to us.

Modern scientific methods have revealed new evidence for painted surfaces on classical sculpture and allowed us to determine what pigments were used. This exhibition and its catalogue present reconstructions of well-known sculptural works dating from Bronze Age Greece to Imperial Rome, reinstating these bright colors to familiar works and uncovering the spirit of classical civilizations as never before. Also on view is a selection of antiquities from Egypt and the Near East that allows us to investigate the use of polychromy in these ancient cultures.

Examples of colorful sculpture in this survey include Cycladic figures of the third millennium BC, reconstructed examples of Archaic-period Greek marble and bronze sculptures, and marble portraiture by Roman artists. A number of statues from the Athenian Akropolis are represented through colorfully painted casts, including several examples of the “Peplos Kore,” each with a different chromatic interpretation. Reproductions also include a portion of the pedimental sculpture from the Temple of Aphaia on the Greek island of Aegina; one of its figures, of a Trojan archer, is interpreted with vivid patterns on his clothing, exemplifying how the Greeks rendered the colorful garments of eastern “barbarians.” Modern copies of two life-size warriors from Riace reveal how polychromy was applied to bronze sculpture using copper, silver, and colored stones. A reconstructed marble portrait of Caligula from the Roman Imperial Period provides an opportunity to see how artists of this culture used a wide range of pigments and surface applications to create lifelike images.

These ancient examples, both original and reconstructed, are complemented by watercolors of Greek landscapes by English antiquarian Edward Dodwell and by Italian artist Simone Pomardi. These works show that some ancient architecture still retained their original color when they were depicted in the early nineteenth century.

This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in collaboration with the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection, Frankfurt. For ticket information:

Donors to the exhibition:

Presenting Sponsors
Barbro and Bernard Osher
Diane W. Wilsey

Curator's Circle
Packard Humanities Institute
Lisa Sardegna and David A. Carillo

Additional support
Bernard and Jane von Bothmer in honor of Dr. Dietrich von Bothmer
Elizabeth D. Moyer, PhD and Michael Powanda, PhD
Keesal Young and Logan

The symposium, The Pervasiveness of Pigment in Antiquity, is held on Saturday, 28 October, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, at the Gould Theater, Legion of Honor, to celebrate the opening of the exhibition. The symposium is sponsored by Elizabeth D. Moyer, PhD and Michael Powanda, PhD. Registration is required. To register, please email ancientart@famsf.org.

Past Exhibitions

Original Date: Saturday, September 19, 2015 - Sunday, January 10, 2016
Original Date: Saturday, June 28, 2014 - Sunday, January 4, 2015
Original Date: Saturday, July 28, 2012 - Sunday, June 23, 2013
Original Date: Saturday, April 23, 2011 - Sunday, July 24, 2011
Original Date: Saturday, October 31, 2009 - Sunday, October 31, 2010
Original Date: Friday, June 26, 2009 - Sunday, March 28, 2010
Original Date: Saturday, October 18, 2008 - Sunday, January 18, 2009
Original Date: Saturday, February 16, 2008 - Sunday, August 10, 2008
Original Date: Saturday, October 15, 2005 - Sunday, February 5, 2006
Original Date: Saturday, August 10, 2002 - Sunday, November 3, 2002
Original Date: Friday, July 31, 1998 - Sunday, October 11, 1998
Original Date: Friday, April 25, 1997 - Saturday, August 23, 1997
Original Date: Saturday, May 4, 1996 - Sunday, September 8, 1996
Original Date: Friday, September 15, 1995 - Sunday, January 7, 1996
Original Date: Saturday, February 26, 1994 - Sunday, May 29, 1994
Original Date: Saturday, April 27, 1991 - Sunday, June 30, 1991
Original Date: Thursday, October 4, 1990 - Sunday, January 6, 1991
Original Date: Saturday, June 25, 1988 - Sunday, September 25, 1988
Original Date: Wednesday, November 27, 1985 - Sunday, March 9, 1986
Original Date: Friday, February 19, 1982 - Sunday, May 16, 1982
Original Date: Friday, February 19, 1982 - Sunday, May 16, 1982
Original Date: Monday, June 11, 1979 - Sunday, September 30, 1979
Original Date: Sunday, July 20, 1975 - Saturday, October 18, 1975