Frist opens exclusive Rome exhibition from the British Museum

Fragment of gilded wall painting (Nero’s Golden House, Rome, Italy), AD 54–68. Painted plaster and gold, 7 1/8 x 15 3/4 x 1 5/8 in. The British Museum, 1908,0417.5. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Rome: City and Empire brings to Nashville more than 200 of the British Museum’s most engaging and beautiful Roman objects to tell the dramatic story of how Rome grew from a cluster of small villages into a mighty empire. This marks the first time that art and artifacts from ancient Rome and its empire will be on display at the Frist Center, which is the sole North American venue on the tour.

The British Museum’s exceptionally broad collections—world renowned for its classical antiquities—have enabled the creation of a truly inspiring experience. Visitors will explore how the empire was won and held and learn about the rich diversity of its population. The exhibition is an accessible introduction to the Roman imperial period, yet also provides a depth of material for those with an existing interest in Roman history.

One of the most extraordinary geopolitical powers in history, the Roman Empire continues to capture the imaginations of people across the globe, nearly three thousand years after the city of Rome arose from a cluster of villages in central Italy. Rome: City and Empire includes more than two hundred works from the British Museum that bring this ancient civilization vividly to life.

The exhibition provides insights, through art, into the experiences of the Romans themselves, while cultivating an understanding of the dynamic relationships between the imperial government and the people it conquered. The range of objects, from across present-day western Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, shows the diversity and interconnectedness of the vast empire.

While Rome was a seat of power for over five hundred years, its influence extended beyond its military conquests. Artworks in the exhibition reflect the empire’s social, political, and aesthetic impact, as seen in sculptural portrayals of emperors and military leaders, wealthy citizens, and mythological figures, as well as elegant pottery, paintings, jewelry, coins, and other objects. These artifacts connect us to this bygone civilization: we share with its people an appreciation for art as a means of documenting reality, representing ideals, memorializing the past, and creating beauty on both a grand and intimate scale.

Portraits of emperors, military leaders, citizens, and mythological figures, as well as stunning examples of pottery, paintings, jewelry, coins, and other objects, span ten centuries of Roman history and invite fresh ways of looking at the past while offering points of connection between antiquity and today.

“The exhibition provides insights into the experiences of the Romans themselves, while cultivating an understanding of the dynamic relationships between the imperial government and the people it conquered,” says Frist Center chief curator Mark Scala. “The range of objects, from across present-day western Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, show the diversity and interconnectedness of the vast empire.”

Along with a number of maps and photographs illustrating Rome’s monuments and architectural achievements, as well as sites in which artifacts were found, the exhibition contains a digital map sequence with a timeline that details the empire’s expansion. An interactive in-gallery publication titled “Fortune and Glory” will provide visitors with a role-playing narrative in the form of a laminated comic book with original illustrations by local artist and animator Michael Lapinski. Visitors will make choices that guide them from object to object. Designed to engage families and teens, the activity will enhance understanding of daily life in ancient Rome.

The presentation of this exhibition is an exclusive collaboration between the British Museum and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. The Frist Center is the exclusive North American venue for the exhibition, which runs in the Ingram Gallery through May 28.