Classics and Archaeology Virtual Museum

The Classics and Archaeology Collections at the University of Melbourne, Australia

The recently-opened Ian Potter Museum of Art, located on Melbourne's most central street, was designed by Greek architect Nondas Katsalidis and its facade features Christine O'Loughlin's spectacular Greek-inspired "Cultural Rubble". The Classics and Archaeology wing is to open in 1999, allowing the entire collection of some 2,400 antiquities to be displayed for the first time.

The Classics and Archaeology collections were founded with a gift of Greek papyri in 1901. Five more papryi were received in 1922. One of the papyri, P.Oxy. 1620, dated to around 150 AD, contains a unique reading of a passage of Thucydides' Histories. The collections also include a small number of sculptured objects and a full-size bronze cast of Poseidon presented by Greece to the University on the occasion of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.

There are over 80 objects in the Greek Vases collection, which was established in memory of John Hugh Sutton, a young classics student killed in an accident in 1924. The representative collection has been built up progressively since 1970 for teaching and research purposes, and a new illustrated catalogue has been written and is about to be published. Some vases have been attributed to known artists such as the Aischines and Epeleios painters.

The important Cypriot collection comprises 384 objects, most of them from the excavations of J Stewart in the period 1936-1960, which the University supported. There are complete tomb groups from sites such as Palealona, Lapatsa, Dikomo, Ayia Paraskevi, and a large number of vases from Vounous. The collection spans from the Neolithic age to the Roman period. Quite a number of the vases and other objects will soon be published for the first time.

Most of the 745 coins in the collections are of Greek origin. The collection was established systematically in the 1920's as an aid to teaching ancient history, but the professor lamented that the students seemed to be more interested in the aesthetic qualities of the coins than in their historical relevance. The coins are frequently used in classes, and there have been a number of very successful exhibitions.

A database and digital image archive of the entire Classics and Archaeology collection is under construction. A version, with nearly 7,000 images, has recently been made available on the internet. The address of the Virtual Museum is http://vm.arts.unimelb.edu.au/

John Burke

Senior Fellow, School of Fine Arts, Classical Studies and Archaeology

Notes for Slides

1. Cultural Rubble comprises four reinforced fibreglass panels that protrude from the building. Each panel incorporates shattered fragments from classical statuary, architecture and pottery, cast from plaster moulds in the collection of the Musée du Louvre, Paris. O'Loughlin worked on site at the Louvre to produce the individual components in each panel, which were then assembled and shipped in four sections to Australia.

Each panel refers to a different category of the Classical tradition, and is individually entitled 'Perfect Architectural Support, 'Perfect Woman', 'Perfect Man' and 'Perfect Pot'. Fragments of the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Discus Thrower and the Delphic Charioteer, highly decorative Greek urns and vases, and a monumental Doric column, form some of the individual elements constituting the panels.

According to the artist, Australian art history has traditionally been based upon the received ideas and cultural fragments of a European past. Cultural Rubble draws attention to this received history while the use of fragments reinforces the notion of distance from the original culture. O'Loughlin notes in a statement about the work, "The obvious irony in using European cultural rubble which both blocks and bursts from the windows of an Australian contemporary art gallery, becomes a statement of confidence in the dynamism of contemporary Australian art".

2-3 Coin (1929.0063)

Silver stater, Tarentum, c. 340 BC.

A. Naked horseman lancing downwards.

B. Phalanthos riding dolphin, holding spear and shield.

4. Music student. Detail from Attic Red-figure trefoil oinochoe, c. 420-400 BC, Circle of the Meidias painter. (1931.0004).

5. South Italian (Paestan) lebes gamikos with lid. 350-320 BC, Asteas/Python workshop. (1978.0117)

6. Cypro-archaic black-on-red jug with trefoil lip. Cyprus. (1987.0152).

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