The unique Roman silver treasure from Berthouville in France has previously only been exhibited in the USA and France. Now, exceptionally, it is coming to Denmark.
It is the 3rd century AD and the Roman Empire extends across vast areas of Europe. In these occupied regions, for better or for worse, the Romans spread their culture. This also includes a decadent proclivity for celebration and excess.
From 14th March 2018 visitors to the Glyptotek can give their imagination free rein as regards celebration and excess at the exhibition ”High on Luxury. Lost Treasures from the Roman Empire”. Here we shall be presenting the Berthouville Treasure along with a number of other luxury artifacts from the Roman Empire. To create the perfect Imperial Roman atmosphere in the exhibition, one can, while moving around between the ancient goblets, jugs and dishes, listen to podcast magazine Third Ear’s soundtrack, which takes the visitors back 2000 years to a feast at the home of the nouveau riche Trimalchio, which offers all one could desire of Roman decadence and ferocity.
Off to a Party with the Romans
Assuming one were fortunate enough to gain admission to a celebration with the Roman upper class the menu might stretch to such specialties as flamingo tongues, peahen eggs and dormice sprinkled with honey. And everything accompanied by an endless supply of wine. Everything was served from jugs and goblets decorated with dramatic scenes from Greek mythology. The exquisite silverware, and, not least, the motifs with which it was decorated, played a key role in conversation at such gatherings. By displaying one’s knowledge of the myths behind the scenes depicted it was possible to demonstrate one’s cultural sophistication and intellectual prowess – or appear a complete fool through one’s lack of such knowledge.
The Temple Treasure
However, the Roman Empire is not all orgies and excess – there is also war and violence, and at this point in the 3rd century things are getting out of hand in Roman-occupied Gaul (today’s France). The barbarians tirelessly attack the Romans. In order to protect their valuables the Roman priests of the Temple of Mercury hide all their beautiful silver under the tiled pavement in the temple precinct. The treasure is forgotten and it is only in 1830 that the silver resurfaces when a somewhat surprised farmer from the French village of Berthouville literally runs into it while ploughing his field.
The treasure is now the property of the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, which, for four years working jointly with The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, has cleaned and restored the objects so they can be exhibited in all their glory.
A penchant for luxury
At the Glyptotek the treasure will be shown in the Bissen Room, which brewing magnate Carl Jacobsen, the museum’s founder, had decorated with antique motifs interpreted and given shape by sculptor Herman Wilhelm Bissen. Despite not being an exact parallel to the elegantly adorned dining rooms of the Roman elite, it still brings us closer to the treasure’s original use, when the beautifully executed motifs from the silver items are echoed on the ceilings and walls of the exhibition room.
Together with the unique silver treasure from Berthouville the exhibition also presents a treasure chamber filled with luxury items of gold and precious stones, all of which have also been kindly lent by the Bibliothèque nationale de France, which bear witness to the Roman penchant for luxury and to the superb craftsman ship of their artisans, which can still enchant and impress even the most skilled goldsmiths today. The Berthouville Treasure itself consists of some 90 objects of silver which, taken together have a total weight of about 25 kg. And these are drinking vessels, dishes and statues which were all used by the Romans and direct our thoughts back to the enriching and intoxicating feasts of the Roman Empire.
The Treasure has been lent to us by:
Bibliothèque nationale de France i Paris
Our sincere thanks for generous support of the exhibition from:
Aage og Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond
Dronning Margrethes og Prins Henriks Fond
Facts about the Berthouville Treasure:
Because of its scale, beauty and the fact that it is preserved in its totality the Berthouville Treasure has attained legendary status. It was discovered in 1830 near the River Seine in northwestern France – a region which, as a Roman colony, has been given an extensive description by Caesar in his account of the Gallic Wars.
Subsequent excavations have demonstrated that the treasure came from a temple to the Roman god Mercury and can be dated to the 1st to 2nd centuries AD. During times of unrest, possibly in the 3rd century, it was concealed under the tiled pavement in the temple precinct but was apparently never retrieved when the temple was, at some point, burned down, probably during the repeated barbarian attacks on the Roman Empire.
The treasure consists of some 90 prestige objects including everything from goblets to dishes and silver statues up to an impressive 50 cm in height. Fortunately for posterity the 25 kg of silver came to the notice of, and was purchased by the French state before anyone had the chance to melt it down or divide it up.
For four years the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, working jointly with The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, have been cleaning and restoring the objects so they can now be exhibited in all their glory.
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