Aurea Roma: From Pagan Rome to Christian Rome

December 22, 2000 > April 22, 2001

22 December 2000 - 22 April 2001

Rome became golden for poets and men of letters at the very moment that it lost all pretence of political power and was left with the immense and eternal symbolic value it possessed: "Prima urbes inter, divum domus, aurea Roma" (first among cities, home of the gods, golden Rome): so it was defined by Ausonius, poet, historian and political figure of the sixth century. And "Aurea Roma" was the epithet chosen by the curators of this exhibition that dealt with the city's difficult historical and cultural transition from paganism to Christianity, both from a political, religious and social point of view, and from the perspective of the urban design of the city, its monuments and iconography.

Conceived on the occasion of the Jubilee in the year 2000, the exhibition displayed approximately four hundred works from the late antique period, including marble and bronze sculptures, mosaics and paintings, and ivory and silver pieces, lent by the most prestigious Italian and foreign museums, among them the British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris, the Kunsthistorisches in Vienna, the Vatican Museums, the Archeological Museum in Cairo, and the Staatliche Museen in Berlin.

At one end of the spectrum, pagan Rome, with works dedicated to the cult of Isis and Osiris that were found in the nymphaeums scattered along the Appian Way and in the centre of Rome itself; at the other, the symbolic images and effigies of Christ, the Apostles and Maria from the catacombs and the early Christian churches. The Rome that witnessed its splendour crumble is the same city that worshipped Hercules as a Greek hero, but also the new Christ.

The exhibition was divided into five sections. The first was devoted to public and private spaces, and the second to daily life, religious customs and funerary rites. The third focused on portraits of emperors and private citizens and culminated in the central hall with a display of fragments of the bronze colossus of Constantine from the Capitoline Museums. The next section, which illustrated the transition from pagan to Christian iconography, explored pagan themes and images that were appropriated by Christianity with new meanings. Finally, the fifth section was devoted to the Christian basilicas, their decorative schemes and liturgical furnishings, and ended with the first Christian icons.