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Major exhibition featuring international masterpieces

On view from October 2020 to the end of March 2021

God on earth

In October 2020 a major international exhibition will open in the museum on the subject of Domitian, emperor of the vast Roman Empire from AD 81 to 96. The show will feature art objects from numerous museums around the world. In this exhibition, visitors can follow the filmic life of the emperor, his empress, and his illustrious predecessors. Domitian became emperor at 29 years of age. His reign is seen as one of the Empire’s golden ages. Yet he was assassinated, posthumously mocked and reviled, and ultimately consigned to oblivion. But what was Domitian really like as emperor?

Masterpieces of the golden age of the Roman Empire

This exhibition features a fine selection of masterpieces from the first century AD, the heyday of the Roman Empire. You will see portraits and statues of Domitian and members of the imperial family, fragments of murals and mosaics from elegant villas and palaces, statues of gods and goddesses, jewellery made of gold and gemstones, luxury glassware and dinner services, and funerary monuments of the élite. The display-cases will also contain more everyday items, such as the shoes and writing pens of Domitian’s soldiers. Projections and 3D reconstructions give a picture of life of the city of Rome as it looked in the first century AD, with its spectacular new monuments.

Builder of the Colosseum

With his father Vespasian and brother Titus, Domitian formed the Flavian dynasty. Art and literature reached glorious heights under their rule. But it was also an era of transformational historic events, such as the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70) and the eruption of Vesuvius (AD 79), which petrified Pompeii and Herculaneum for eternity. Domitian built the Rome that you know today: his palace on the Palatine Hill, the Arch of Titus, the stadium that gave the present-day square Piazza Navona its shape. And above all, the edifice that formed the crowning glory of Domitian’s reign: the Colosseum.

Gold coin with portrait of Domitian, minted in Rome in AD 82 (National Numismatic Collection, De Nederlandsche Bank)

Funerary portrait of a young woman, late first century AD (collection of the Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam)

Partnerships

The exhibition is part of a major research project on the mechanisms underlying innovation in antiquity: ‘Anchoring Innovation’. It is driven by a large team of Dutch classicists, former historians, archaeologists and universities, collaborating in the research group OIKOS. This project is funded by the Dutch Research Council. The partnership with the archaeological museums in Rome opens the door to Rome’s most prestigious collections, including that of the Capitoline Museums. After Leiden, the exhibition will be on view in the Mercati di Traiano in Rome. Finally, the partnership with the University of Newcastle (UK) will expand the in-depth research on the emperor, most notably in the area of ancient literature.

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