Ancient, Byzantine, and Islamic Art

The arts of the ancient world have loomed largely in the Museum’s collection since its founding. The first major collection to enter the Museum included numerous Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Etruscan vases. Today, the collection of ancient art numbers more than five thousand objects. The early civilizations of Mesopotamia, Iran, Asia Minor, and the Levant are documented by a wealth of diverse artifacts, and the long history of ancient Egypt is illustrated by outstanding examples of stone and pottery vessels, carved stone reliefs, bronze statuettes, wall paintings, amulets, and mummies. The collection of Greek art includes major works of Attic black-figure and red-figure vase painting, Archaic bronze statuettes, Hellenistic jewelry and terracotta figurines, pottery from Cyprus, Corinth, and Rhodes, and marble funerary and votive reliefs.

The heritage of ancient Italy is particularly well represented, beginning with a distinguished collection of Etruscan vases, sculptures, and metalwork and culminating in the arts of Rome and its empire. The Roman collection encompasses marble and bronze portraits, sculptures of gods, satyrs, and nymphs, sarcophagi and funerary monuments, glass vessels and carved bone reliefs, silver and gold coins, sealstones of agate and chalcedony, statuettes in bronze, amber, ivory, and clay, and a spectacular silver-gilt wine cup. Princeton’s distinguished record of archaeological research in Roman Syria is illustrated by unusual basalt sculptures from the Hauran region, funerary reliefs from the desert city of Palmyra, and a renowned collection of colorful mosaic pavements from the great metropolis of Antioch-on-the-Orontes.

The arts of Byzantium and the Islamic world receive equal attention, with painted icons, silver and gold jewelry, and delicate ivories from the Byzantine capital of Constantinople that share a gallery with painted pottery, intricately patterned metalwork, and glazed tiles from Syria, Egypt, Iran, and other centers of Muslim civilization.

In addition to the works on view, an ancient study gallery with hundreds of additional objects is open for the convenience of students and visitors. The collections of Greek and Roman sculpture are published in comprehensive scholarly catalogues, and many other works have been published in the Museum’s scholarly journal, the Record.

Antioch through the Ages

Antioch-on-the-Orontes (modern Antakya, Turkey) was one of the great cities of the Hellenistic and Roman worlds and remained an important center through the Byzantine, Seljuk, Crusader, and Ottoman periods. From 1932 to 1939, an archaeological expedition to Antioch by a consortium of institutions, including Princeton University, produced a remarkable wealth of excavated finds that opened novel vistas onto a city that played a fundamental role in the shaping of politics and cultures in the Greek and Roman East for more than a millennium. Princeton University was given possession of a portion of the finds from the excavations, including the many Roman mosaic pavements now displayed in the Art Museum, McCormick Hall, Firestone Library, and the School of Architecture.

Antioch mosaic restoration project

Roman Mosaic pavement: Earth, mid 2nd century A.D. Stone h. 140.0 cm., w. 140.0 cm. (55 1/8 x 55 1/8 in.) Gift of the Committee for the Excavation of Antioch to Princeton University y1965-207

Princeton's expeditions of the 1930s at the ancient city Antioch-on-the-Orontes, located near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey, unearthed archaeological treasures of one of the most important cultural and political centers of the Roman Empire.

New Acquisition: Bust of Isis

The sculpture of Isis adds a new dimension to the Art Museum’s small but important collection of Egyptian art at a time when the study of ancient Egypt is occupying an increasingly prominent place in the curriculum.

Roman Sculptures on Loan from Italy

Three very fine works of Roman sculpture, together with an exceptional Attic red-figure stamnos, are now on extended loan from the Republic of Italy. 

New Acquisition: Black-figure skyphos: symposium of Hermes and Herakles

The Art Museum recently added to its fine collection of ancient Greek pottery an Attic skyphos, a type of clay wine cup with a deep bowl, two handles, and a disk foot. The skyphos is decorated in the black-figure technique by an anonymous vase painter known as the Theseus Painter. 

J. Michael Padgett

Curator of Ancient Art

J. Michael Padgett has been Curator of Ancient Art at the Princeton University Art Museum since 1992. He has a B.A. from the University of Kentucky (1975), an M.A. from the University of Minnesota (1984), and a Ph.D. from Harvard University (1989). Before coming to Princeton, he was a curatorial assistant at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (1983–84) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1986–90), and was Curator of Classical Art at the Tampa Museum of Art (1990–92). His principal research interests are in Greek art and archaeology, especially Attic vase-painting. He has curated several exhibitions of ancient art and has written and edited many books and articles, including Vase-Painting in Italy: Red Figure and Related Works in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, 1993); Roman Sculpture in The Art Museum, Princeton University (Princeton, 2001); The Centaur’s Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art (Princeton 2003); and City of Gold: The Archaeology of Polis Chrysochous (Princeton 2012). He is a lecturer in the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University and an active participant in the Princeton University Archaeological Expedition to Polis Chrysochous, Cyprus, and the Molyvoti, Thrace, Archaeological Project, in Greece.