Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville features more than 170 objects from the ancient Roman Empire, including an opulent collection of silver objects known as the Berthouville Treasure. This cache—accidentally discovered by a French farmer in the early 19th century and recently conserved by the J. Paul Getty Museum—is displayed alongside a selection of precious gemstones, glass, jewelry, and other Roman luxury items from the royal collections of the Cabinet des Médailles of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Regarded among the finest surviving works of ancient Roman silver, these unique objects offer insight into the role that luxury arts played in ancient society. The techniques employed by ancient craftsmen in designing and creating these treasures reveal fascinating aspects of Roman technology, culture, and religion.
Highlights of the exhibition include the “Patera of Rennes,” a shallow libation bowl that remains one of the few surviving examples of Roman gold tableware; the “Shield of Scipio,” a silver-and-gold plate depicting the Homeric hero Achilles, extracted from the Rhone River in 1656; and a bejeweled cameo of the Emperor Trajan, intricately carved from multilayered sardonyx.
The MFAH is the final U.S. stop for these significant treasures before they return to France in 2017. The restoration of the Berthouville Treasure paves the way for additional research and study of these important antiquities.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether you go or not, the sumptuously illustrated exhibition catalog, The Berthouville Silver Treasure and Roman Luxury, presents the highlights of the treasure and other Roman luxury arts from the holdings of the Cabinet des médailles—including precious gems, jewelry, gold coins, and colored marbles—and contextualizes them in a series of elucidating essays.
In 1830 a farmer plowing a field near the village of Berthouville in Normandy, France, discovered a trove of ancient Roman silver objects weighing some 55 pounds (25 kilograms). The Berthouville treasure, as the find came to be known, includes two statuettes representing the Gallo-Roman god Mercury and approximately sixty vessels—bowls, cups, pitchers, and plates, many of which bear votive inscriptions—along with dozens of smaller components and fragments. Dedicated to Mercury by various individuals, the treasure, including some of the finest ancient Roman silver to survive, fortunately escaped being melted down. It was acquired by the Cabinet des médailles et antiques of the Bibliothèque Royale (now the Département des Monnaies, médailles et antiques of the Bibliothèque nationale de France), where it was displayed until late 2010, when it was brought in its entirety to the Getty Villa together with four large, late antique silver plates, each with its own colorful history, for comprehensive conservation treatment.