Ketty Iannantuono

Classical Antiquity in Vitrine. The Reception of Graeco-Roman Material Cultures in 20th and 21st Century Archaeological Exhibitions.

Home > Projects > Classical Antiquity in Vitrine. The Reception of Graeco-Roman Material Cultures in 20th and 21st Century Archaeological Exhibitions.

Under the push of post-colonial studies, critical museology has acknowledged museum exhibitions as powerful agents forging narratives that reflect contemporary issues. From this perspective, the analysis of museum displays of ancient Graeco-Roman material culture(s) represents an ideal field of investigation to explore mechanisms of canonization and resemanticization of the Classical world in modern and contemporary societies.

This project focuses on modern and contemporary receptions of the Classical world by looking at exhibitions of ancient Graeco-Roman artifacts held in the 20th and 21st century. The research question driving the project is: How have museum displays of ancient material cultures contributed to the codification of Classical antiquity as a ‘reference culture’?

The projects intends to engage with current debates about decolonization of antiquity, the impact of new technologies in our relationship with tangible remains of the past, and restitutive justice in relation to looted cultural artifacts. Thus, it investigates archaeological displays taking into account three macro-area of analysis: cultural identities formation, cultural authenticity evaluation, and cultural property assessment. First, display strategies of ancient Graeco-Roman artifacts exhibited in the context of international expositions held in the 20th and 21st century are considered proxies for the various ways in which the Classical world has been conceptualized in relation to diverse establishing cultural identities. Highly exposed showcases of ideological narratives, world fairs have attracted a great deal of scholarly attention. This project proposes to study such vitrines with a focus on how the Classical past has been represented in these contexts. Second, the use of various types of reproductions of Graeco-Roman antiquities - from photographs, scale-models and plaster casts, to 3D reconstructions, virtual and augmented reality experiences - in modern and contemporary Classical archaeology museum displays is analysed. In this case, the focus is posed on the levels of epistemological awareness of production-processes involved in the use of different technologies aiming at replicating the Classical culture. Finally, this project means to explore the possible consequences of the repatriation of looted ancient artifacts in terms of assessments of cultural property and self-representations proposed by different institutions involved in museum displays (at the both ends of repatriation acts).

This project makes use of the concept of ‘anchoring’ as a heuristic tool to explore how the cognitive map of ‘Classical antiquity’ has been continuously (re)produced and (re)negotiated in modern and contemporary societies.

Banner image) Bronze copies of ancient sculptures and reliefs produced for the St. Louis World’s Fair (1904). The photo shows the bronzes as displayed at the “Graeco-Roman Section”, Pepper Hall, Penn Museum, Philadelphia, ca. 1905. Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Archives