Classics and Archaeology Classics and Archaeology Collection


Exhibitions are organised in the Classics and Archaeology Gallery in the Ian Potter Museum of Art.


Past Exhibitions


Liquid Form: Ancient and Contemporary Glass

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 13 March to 28 October 2018

Guest curator: Christine Elias

This exhibition celebrates the luminous medium of glass. Displaying significant artefacts from the Egyptian and Roman periods alongside the work of contemporary makers, Liquid Form examines the development of faience and glass manufacture in the ancient world and demonstrates how these methods have been reinvigorated and extended in the modern era.

Originally thought of as a substitute for stone by the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians and traded throughout the ancient world, by Roman times the use of glass was becoming increasingly more common. Today, the medium has a ubiquitous and largely utilitarian presence in everyday life, but is still valued by makers and collectors as a challenging medium through which to push craft techniques and the boundaries of design.

Some of the glass making methods developed in the ancient world include core and rod forming (vessels and small items with organic cores around which glass was wound or formed), casting and moulding (items produced through the use of moulds, both open face and closed), cane or mosaic glass (coloured circular glass rods cut into small pieces and then fused to form vessels and objects), sagging (reheated glass blanks sagging over or into moulds or forms), cold working (shaping and decorating after casting) and mould and free blowing. Many of these techniques continue to be used by artists today, and are represented in the exhibition in work by some of Australia’s most influential makers.

Highlighting the treasures in the University of Melbourne’s Classics & Archaeology Collection, Liquid Form will be the first major exhibition of glass at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. The exhibition also showcases significant works from major collections around Australia, including the Australian Institute of Archaeology, Melbourne; the Dodgson Collection of Egyptian Antiquities at Queens College, the University of Melbourne; the John Elliot Classics Museum, the University of Tasmania; the RD Milns Antiquities Museum, the University of Queensland and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.



Angela Brennan: Forms of Life

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 5 September 2017 to 25 February 2018

Forms of life is a response by Melbourne-based artist Angela Brennan to the University of Melbourne’s collection of Greek and Cypriot artefacts. Featuring a newly-commissioned body of work, Brennan’s ceramics, drawings and fabric works will be presented alongside objects from the University’s antiquities collection. Informed by stylistic properties such as shape, decorative marks, and material textures, embedded in the artefacts, Brennan’s new work considers the question of how pre-modern artefacts may contribute to contemporary practice.

Brennan has been an important figure in Australian contemporary art since the 1990s when she emerged as part of an influential group of artists re-engaging with colour abstraction. In recent years, Brennan has turned her attention to ceramics, which she employs with the same exuberant approach to colour and form evident in her paintings.

Angela Brennan is represented by Niagara Galleries, Melbourne and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.



Syria: Ancient History – Modern Conflict

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 28 March to 27 August 2017

Syria: Ancient History – Modern Conflict explores three decades of fieldwork conducted by The University of Melbourne in Syria within the context of the current conflict and destruction. The exhibition more broadly considers how objects that have been lost, stolen or destroyed nevertheless remain part of collections and are the subject of ongoing research.

The University of Melbourne has conducted fieldwork in the region since 1980s, specifically in the middle and upper Euphrates River valley.  As a direct result of the Syrian civil war, fieldwork in the region has ceased since 2010. The whereabouts of objects uncovered during University fieldwork, which were transferred to the Aleppo National Museum before the war, remains unknown.

This destruction did not escape Syria’s most iconic ancient site, Palmyra. The jewel of the site, the Palmyra Arch of Triumph was built by the Romans and dates back two millennia. Destroyed after the city was captured in early 2015, the Institute of Digital Archaeology (US/UK) has recreated the arch from Egyptian marble using 3D technology based on photographs of the original arch. A short film about this process is also be presented in the exhibition.

Syria: Ancient History – Modern Conflict seeks to illustrate the key findings of the University’s research projects and the contribution they have made to our understanding of the archaeology of this historically important area, while suggesting new methods of object based research and preservation.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a symposium 11–13 August 2017.

The Dead Don't Bury Themselves

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 27 September 2016 to 19 March 2017

Burial as an act of commemoration first occurred nearly 100,000 years ago in the Middle East. Grave goods were often placed in early burials and may be directly associated with the deceased’s identity as well as that of their community. In considering these burial practices, it is important to remember ‘the dead do not bury themselves’.

This exhibition features an important collection of Early Bronze Age vessels recovered by Professor Paul Lapp’s excavations at Bab edh-Dhra in the Dead Sea plain of southern Jordan, along with selected works from the Australian Institute of Archaeology. Exploring the role of objects from burials and the mortuary traditions of the ancient Near East, the exhibition also considers the distribution of the Bab edh Dhra finds and the innovative solution proposed by Paul Lapp’s widow Nancy Lapp to the issues around the ‘Storage Wars’ and ‘curation crisis’ in archaeological collections management.

Images of Life: Ancient Greek Vases

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 26 April 2016 to 18 September 2016

At the end of the Late Bronze Age, Greece was plunged into a Dark Age lasting for several centuries. In the 9th century BCE there was a revival of economic and artistic activity that culminated in the glories of the Classical period. During this time black-figure and later red-figure vase painting techniques developed, enabling artists to produce some of the most distinctive artistic works of ancient Greece.

Most of the important pottery producing centres of the Greek world are represented in the University of Melbourne’s Classics and Archaeology Collection: Athens, Corinth, east Greece and south Italy. The Greek vase collection held at the Ian Potter Museum of Art covers the period from the thirteenth to the fourth centuries BCE, and is regarded as one of the most significant in Australia.

The images and iconography of Greek vase-painting are a tremendously rich resource for looking into the attitudes and values of the ancient Athenians and classical civilization. The diversity of scenes provides one of the best sources for understanding Greek society, from daily life to religious beliefs. Images of Life includes vases showing mythical narratives and heroic subjects alongside more prosaic scenes such as sporting events, music lessons, domestic chores and children at play, all painting a vivid picture of life in ancient Greece.


Ian Potter Museum of Art, 29 Septmber 2015 to 17 April 2015

Curator: Andrew Jamieson

Mummymania focuses on the figure of the Egyptian mummy and its role within the themes of life, death, resurrection and immortality. Ranging from the mummy’s original role in ancient Egyptian funerary practices to its importance in early scientific investigations into ancient disease and medicine, and its popular reception as a malevolent Hollywood monster-figure, the exhibition looks at the changing perception of the mummy over time.

Mummymania includes a small number of mummified objects that reveal the mummification process in ancient Egypt and its relationship to Egyptian afterlife beliefs. The history of the exploration of Egypt by Europeans and the export of ancient Egyptian antiquities including mummies also features, including the public mummy-unrolling spectacles that were popular in the nineteenth century. The pivotal use of mummies in medicine, and the scientific analysis of tissue including the use of CAT scanning in order to understand ancient disease, is an important aspect of the legacy that is not widely known. This lesser-known history is explored alongside the mummy’s well-known role as a Hollywood horror film star.

Souvenirs of the Grand Tour: The Vizard Collection of Antiquities

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 25 April to 25 September 2015

Curator: Andrew Jamieson

Comprising of sixty objects this collection of antiquities was acquired by the Vizard Foundation and now forms an integral part of the Vizard Foundation Art and Antiquities Collection held at the University of Melbourne.

This exhibition will present the collection, which includes Acheulian stone tools, ancient bronze weapons and utensils, Egyptian faience figurines, Greek and Cypriot ceramics, Roman glass and Byzantine jewellery, in its entirety for the first time. Supplemented with prints that relate to the Grand Tour the exhibition will explore the theme of the antiquarian imagination and the historical practice of collecting antiquities.

Between Artefact and Text: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome in the University of Melbourne Classics and Archaeology Collections

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 25 October to 19 April 2015

Curator: Andrew Jamieson

Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome are all great civilisations of the ancient world: each one imbued with particular linguistic, social, religious and political systems. On one level these different societies are characterised by distinctive cultural developments and unique literary traditions. On another level connections and influences are clearly discernable.

Between artefact and text features selected objects from the University of Melbourne’s Classics and Archaeology collections situated against the backdrop of four great literary works from the ancient world: the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Egyptian Tale of Sinuhe, Homer’s Iliad from Ancient Greece and the Roman Vergil’s Aeneid. The objects inhabit a realm created and reinforced by the unfolding narratives represented in the literature. It is a space filled with spreading artistic styles and evolving cultural influences.

Secret Lives, Forgotten Stories: Highlights from Heritage Victoria’s Archaeological Collection

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 16 April to 12 October 2014

Presented in partnership with Heritage Victoria, Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure

Curator: Andrew Jamieson

This exhibition features highlights from the archaeological collection of Heritage Victoria. The field of historical archaeology has developed and matured over the last 20 years and for the first time it is now possible to see the evolving story of Victoria's settlement and development reflected in its archaeology.

Excavations in Victoria have uncovered significant archaeological remains and relics. Objects from the failed 1803 settlement site near Sorrento are perhaps the oldest historical artefacts ever found in Victoria; these will be on display alongside artefacts from the Eureka historic precinct that relate to the Victorian goldfields and the gold rush. Chinese gaming tokens and ceramic jars reflect the activity at a Bendigo kiln site and market garden in the 1880s and an assortment of small finds from the home of a seamstress at Cohen Place in the CBD shed light on life in early Melbourne.

Fine porcelain and other prestigious items found in the ruins of Viewbank homestead on the banks of the Yarra near Heidelberg provide an insight into the way of life of Melbourne’s developing upper class. More recent discoveries at the former Pentridge prison include artefacts associated with Ned Kelly, one of the most notorious of all Australians. The exhibition will also include items recovered from two unique Victorian shipwrecks: the Cheviot and the City of Launceston.

Jericho to Jerusalem

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 23 October 2013 to 6 April 2014

The Classics and Archaeology Collection at the University of Melbourne includes an important collection of Bronze and Iron Age pottery from the excavations of Dame Kathleen Kenyon (1906–1978) at Jericho and Jerusalem. Kathleen Kenyon was arguably the most influential woman archaeologist of the twentieth century. Kenyon made particularly significant contributions in the field of excavation techniques and ceramic methodology.

Kathleen Kenyon is best known for her excavations at Jericho and Jerusalem. Through these in particular, she helped to train a generation of archaeologists, including Australian scholar Basil Hennessey, who went on to become a professor of Near Eastern archaeology at the University of Sydney. In the 1950s, the University of Melbourne received a small Middle Bronze Age pottery corpus from Tomb A136 at Jericho and a portion of a large Iron Age (II) deposit from Cave 1 in Jerusalem, excavated by Kenyon from 1952 to 1954 and 1961 to 1967 respectively. This exhibition presents over 100 remarkable early ceramics from these famous excavations and tells the story of Kathleen Kenyon’s contribution to archaeology.

The John Hugh Sutton Collection

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 17 April to 13 October 2013

An antiquities collection established in 1925 in memory of John Hugh Sutton, an outstanding Classics student and resident of Trinity College.

Ceramic Art of Ancient Cyprus

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 21 April to 14 October 2012

The University of Melbourne has one of the most important collections of Cypriot antiquities in Australia. The collection is representative of the human history of this strategically important island and includes a wide range of Bronze and Iron Age artefacts that were brought to Australia by the late Professor JR Stewart from the 1930s until the early 1960s.

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean and is renowned as the island of Aphrodite. The exhibition featured significant ceramic assemblages recovered from Bronze Age tombs at Vounous from 1937 to 1938 and the Bronze Age cemeteries at Karmi in 1961.

The exhibition was a collaboration between Dr Andrew Jamieson, Classics curator at the Ian Potter Museum of Art and Dr Jennifer Webb and Professor David Frankel, both from the Archaeology Program, La Trobe University.

Treasures: Antiquities from Melbourne Private Collections

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 22 October to 15 April 2012

For those with an interest and appreciation of past civilisations, antiquities are objects of great enchantment. Private collections of antiquities began when the first European travellers visited the ancient sites in Greece, Rome, Egypt and the Near East, where they legally acquired the majority of artefacts according to the laws of the day. The subsequent dissolution of these European collections created the majority of the objects circulating in the antiquities market today.

Melbourne is fortunate to have a number of important private collections of Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Near Eastern objects. Treasures featured a selection of these rare artefacts, many of which were publicly displayed for the first time. Not only do these intricately crafted works reveal fascinating insights into the history and society of the time, but they also reveal the passions and motivations of collectors.

Casts and copies: Ancient and Classical Reproductions

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 16 April to 16 October 2011

Most of the objects in this exhibition were acquired by the Classics and Middle Eastern Studies departments of the University of Melbourne in the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s to enhance teaching and research. Many of the certified casts were obtained from the prestigious international institutions which housed the originals, including the Louvre, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Remarkable in their own right, key works include the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, the Mesha Stele and the Acropolis kore.

The exhibition includes significant plaster casts of Near Eastern, Egyptian, Greek and Roman originals that date from the 4th millennium BCE to the 2nd century CE.

See: Katrina Raymond, 'Reproducing the ancient world', Voice, vol. 7, no. 4, 10 April-8 May 2011, p. 7.

Ancient Coins: Heads and Tales from Antique Lands

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 26 October 2010 to 10 April 2011

This exhibition featured selected coins from the empires of the Greco-Roman world and the regions beyond. Symbols and standards, Greek gods and goddesses, Roman emperors and politicians, Parthian kings and Sassanian rulers, heroes and mythological creatures dominate the iconography of ancient drachmas, denarii and darics. The heads of Athena and Apollo, Alexander and Augustus, Christ and Constantine, Diocletian and Domitian, Herakles and Hadrian, Juno and Jupiter, Minerva and Mercury, Pegasus and Pan, Venus and Vespasian and Trajan and Zeus feature on many of the ancient coins in this exhibition, revealing fascinating tales from antique lands.

See: Katrina Raymond, 'Heads and tales from antique lands', Voice, vol. 6, no. 11, 8 November-12 December 2010, p.7.

Devotion and Ritual

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 17 April 2010 to 17 October 2010

The terms 'devotion' and 'ritual' evoke practices that are followed piously, in a prescribed order, often involving the performance of rites or ceremonies that are regularly and routinely observed. In the ancient and tribal worlds, devotional and ritualistic acts are remarkably varied and complex. Within different regions, societies developed specific mythologies and belief systems unique to that locality. Different groups produced devotional objects - some for ritual use - that are the hallmarks of their cultures and civilisations. The objects in this exhibition speak not of one codified or universal belief system, but of many different customs and traditions. Selected artefacts from the Mediterranean, African, Meso-American and Oceanic regions represent unique examples of relics associated with ceremonial practices, belief systems and sacred customs of the ancient and tribal worlds.

Texts and Textiles

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 16 October 2009 to 11 April 2010

Egyptian hieroglyphs, Mesopotamian clay tablets, ancient Greek papyrus, fragments of woven linen Pharaonic tunics and woollen Coptic shawls feature in this exhibition that explores how texts and textiles were produced and used in antiquity. Highlights include papyrus fragments from a book by Thucydides found at Oxyrhyncus, faience shawabti figurines inscribed with lines of hieroglyphs known as Spell Six of the Book of the Dead and part of a Coptic tunic (or possible wall hanging) made from linen and wool with elaborate embroidered patterns. This exhibition offers a view into the lives of elite as well as average citizens from the great river valleys of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilisations through the texts and textiles that they read and wore.

Selected Artefacts from the David and Marion Adams Collection

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 16 April 2009 to 11 October 2009

Professor Marion Adams (1932–1995) enjoyed a long and distinguished academic career in the field of German literature at the University of Melbourne. She was dean of the Faculty of Arts from 1988 to 1993 — a milestone in the history of the University of Melbourne, as she was the first women to hold this office. Among her many interests was an enthusiasm for collecting objects from antiquity. During her lifetime Marion acquired an impressive art collection including works from Greece and Rome, Egypt and the Near East, Africa, India, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Following her untimely death on 6 January 1995, Marion's husband David Adams continued to add to the collection in memory of his wife and as a legacy of their shared interest in the cultures of the past.

Greek Vases

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 20 September 2008 to 5 April 2009

Some of the most important pottery producing centres of the Greek world are represented in the University of Melbourne Classics and Archaeology Collection: Athens, Corinth, east Greece and south Italy. This important collection covers the period from the thirteenth to the fourth centuries BCE and is one of the most highly regarded collections of classical antiquities in  Australia.

Australian Archaeologists at Pella

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 10 April to 14 September 2008

This exhibition looks at the ancient city of Pella in the North Jordan Valley and tells the story of technology, trade and daily life over many centuries. It also describes the significant discoveries Australian archaeologists have made in Jordan for over fifty years. Excavations have revealed Pella as one of the most important ancient cities in Jordan, with a pattern of continuous human settlement stretching back to Neolithic times (c. 6500 BCE). Objects in the exhibition are drawn from the National Gallery of Australia’s collection, currently on long-term loan to the University of Sydney’s Nicholson Museum, augmented by artefacts held in the University of Melbourne's Classics and Archaeology Collection.

Cypriot Antiquities

Ian Potter Museum of Art, 5 September 2007 to 16 March 2008

The University’s Cypriot Collection is representative of the human history on this strategically important island and includes a wide range of Bronze and Iron Age artefacts that were brought to Australia by the late Professor JR Stewart from the 1930s until the early 1960s. The exhibition was based on and coincided with the publication of a catalogue on Cypriot antiquities by Sally Salter (Pan Macmillan).

A full catalogue of the Cypriot antiquities in the Classics and Archaeology Collection is now available. Written by Sally Salter, a long-time researcher of this important collection, the book is generously illustrated and available from the publisher or the University Bookroom. The objects date from the early Bronze Age (c. 2500 BCE), through middle and late Bronze Age and all phases of the Iron Age and Hellenistic times to the Roman era (c. 200 CE). They are principally pottery items, including some very handsome painted jugs, amphorae and bowls from the much-admired Cypriot geometric and archaic periods.

Discovering Egypt

31 March to 26 August 2007

The Egyptians are one of the most fascinating peoples of the ancient world. This exhibition in the Ian Potter Museum includes artefacts drawn from University of Melbourne and Queen's College collections.

Illuminations: Middle Eastern Manuscripts

2 September 2006 to 26 March 2007
Persian manuscript detail Intricate hand embossing, gold inlays and exquisite colourful illuminations of plants and animals feature in these irreplaceable texts dating from the 1500s. These treasured manuscripts, from the Special Collection of the Baillieu Library detail plans and pilgrimages, Sufi poems and ancient prayers, astrological insights and weaponry.

Persian manuscript (detail) Quaran (Part 22) Surah ah-Ahzab (Surah 33)
23x15.7 cm
Special Collections

The Ancient Near East, Egypt, Greece and Rome:
Selected Works from the Classics and Archaeology Collection

25 February to 27 August 2006
The University of Melbourne’s Classics and Archaeology Collection began in 1901 and is one of the oldest and most important collections of antiquities in Australia. Many of the 2500 items in the collection come from, or reflect the cultural traditions of, the ancient Near East, Egypt, Greece and Rome. This exhibition featured objects that relate to death and ritual from the Predynastic and Pharaonic periods in Egypt, and a range of objects from the Near East, including ivories from Nimrud, stamp seals from Amman, and inscribed bricks from Elam. The exhibition also included a selection of Roman glass vessels, bronze weapons from Luristan and artefacts from Greece. A corpus of Near Eastern animal and human figurines that may have served cultic or religious functions and a typology of ancient lamps spanning the Bronze, Iron, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Medieval periods are also featured.

This exhibition, demonstrating the diversity of material represented in the Classics and Archaeology Collection, is one in a series of focus exhibitions curated by RE Ross Trust Curator Andrew Jamieson that will present key items, some of which have never been seen before, from this important and unique collection.

Early Writing in Egypt and Mesopotamia

August 2005 to February 2006
Early Writing

This exhibition on Early Writing included artefacts from the Classics and Archaeology Collection, complemented by items on loan from the Australian Institute of Archaeology, Melbourne. The selected objects demonstrate the diversity of materials used for early writing in Egypt and Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq ), and the range of uses for which writing was employed. The exhibition was initiated by Associate Professor Antonio Sagona, Head of the School of Art History , Cinema, Classics and Archaeology, and developed by Christopher J Davey, Director of the Australian Institute of Archaeology.

An exhibition catalogue is available: C. Davey, Early Writing, Melbourne, 2004.

Cover - Early Writing exhibition catalogue (eds.) Bala Starr and Joanna Bosse. Melbourne, 2003


For information about exhibitions contact the R E Ross Curator, Dr Andrew Jamieson,
on telephone (03) 8344 3403 or email asj@

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