Inheriting Rome: the imperial legacy in coinage and culture

Jonathan Jarrett

Inheriting Rome: the imperial legacy in coinage and culture Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 27 February 2015 – 24 January 2016 coins-300 Coin Gallery As Interim Curator of Coins at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, my position in CESMA is a bit unusual. Unlike most academics, I have a regular working day and my research on things outside the job, about which I hope to blog in future, has to happen in my free time. On the other hand, I get the run of a collection of 16,000 ancient and medieval coins and seals and a gallery and budget in and with which to mount exhibitions! And the latest one of these has very recently opened, curated by yours truly. It’s entitled Inheriting Rome: the imperial legacy in coinage and culture and I’m really very pleased with it. The designer has taken my ideas and content and made it into a feast for the eyes as well as the brain, but people have also been telling me that it is clear and interesting and makes them think and all those things that one wants to hear when one has done this much work to put objects, text and images together for the delectation of the general public. The Barber’s current What’s On leaflet has this to encourage you to come and see: “Look at one of the coins you’re carrying today: you’ll see the Queen’s portrait facing right and Latin script around the royal head. It seems our coins have looked this way forever, and that’s nearly true. But why? This exhibition uses money to explore and question our deep-seated familiarity with the Roman Empire’s imagery. Britain is not the only nation, empire or state to channel ancient Rome in this way: the Barber’s excellent collection of coins from the Byzantine Empire – as well examples from Hungary, Georgia and Armenia – illustrate both the problems and possibilities of being genuine heirs of Rome. Attempting to uncover the political uses of Rome’s legacy, this exhibition encourages the visitor to ponder why we are so often told of the empire’s importance – and whose interests such imagery serves.” You can see that I was and am out to make a point, which means that this too is a sort of academic publication, and in some ways a very effective one; more people will read my captions than will read my articles… It’s a challenge, though, because the audience is not just academics and indeed not just adults. In working it out my hope was always that ultimately the clear and lively designs of the coins would carry their message alone if necessary, as they did when new, but I hope that almost everyone looking at the displays will also get something from the textual information. Really, though, come for how great it all looks and stay for the interpretation if you like! It’s open until the 24th January 2016, and there are gallery tours on the third Sunday of most months as well as a number of gallery talks by myself, of which you can find details on the Barber’s website at those links. irentrance Entrance to the gallery Meanwhile, I have to thank Robert Wenley, Chezzy Brownen and John van Boolen for making it clearer and better in various ways or in John’s case actually helping install it, as well as crawling in roof-spaces to try and fix broken lights, and most of all Selina Goodfellow of Blind Mice Design for making it into something everyone wants to look at. I’ll have as much credit as is going, you know, but these people deserve theirs too. Thanks to all and you, readers, come and see what we did! irdrops Backdrops at the end of the gallery (Right. So that just leaves a website rewrite, children’s activities, auditing the collection, checking the library and uploading the entire set of catalogues onto the University of Birmingham’s website, as well as zapping things with X-rays for purposes of Science! What’ll I do tomorrow?) ircase6 The English and Hungarian coins in the exhibition, in full splendour


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