Five hundred ancient Greek and Roman coins from the Boston Museum
of Fine Arts’s holdings will be showcased in the inaugural exhibition
of the museum’s new Michael C. Ruettgers Coin Gallery, beginning in September.
The collection will be a permanent exhibit in the museum’s
Behrakis Wing for Art of the Ancient World, according to Richard
Grossmann, consulting curator for numismatics.
The exhibit is named in recognition of Michael C. Ruettgers, who
donated 14 Roman gold coins to the museum, including gold aureus coins
featuring such Roman notables as Aelius Verus, Septimus Severus,
Trajan, Antoninus Pius, Caligula, Domitian, Quintillus and others.
Grossman says: “The Ruettgers Coin Gallery will be the focal point
for numismatics at the MFA, but smaller groupings of ancient coins
will continue to be integrated into other permanent ancient art
galleries at the MFA, as they have long been. Post-antique coins and
medals are also on display in several European galleries and
throughout the American Wing. In addition, coins are sometimes
incorporated into temporary exhibitions — for example, ‘Aphrodite and
the Gods of Love,’ currently on view in the Torf Gallery, includes a
selection of Greek and Roman coins related to the exhibition’s themes.”
The 500-piece exhibition draws from the museum’s collection of
approximately 7,500 coins. In addition to the coins provided by
Ruettgers and coins gathered by the museum’s participation in
excavations, Grossman states the museum’s collection was compiled
primarily through donations and purchases.
Grossman says: “The vast majority [of coins] were either given to
the Museum by donors or purchased by the Museum on the market. The
core of the MFA’s Greek coin collection — like its Classical art
collection generally — was built by Edward Perry Warren, who in the
final decade of the 19th and first two decades of the 20th century
purchased large numbers of coins on the European market on the
museum’s behalf and donated others.
“The other central figure is Theodora Wilbour, who gave the MFA
many important Roman (and some Greek) coins from her collection —
mostly anonymously in memory of her sister, Zoë — in the mid-1930s; at
least as significantly, upon her death, she endowed the Theodora
Wilbour Fund in memory of Zoë Wilbour, an acquisition fund that to
this day enables the MFA to collect coins at the very highest level.
“Finally, I would add that Cornelius Vermeule, in addition to
steering the collection in his role as longtime curator of Greek and
Roman art, also donated several hundred coins to the MFA. As for Mr.
Ruettgers, the 14 coins he has given to the Museum in the past three
years — all Roman gold coins of the very highest caliber — have had a
dramatic impact on the quality of the Museum’s holdings in that area.”
Though other institutions, such as museums and universities,
display coins, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts believes its Ruettgers
Coin Gallery will be unique, with Grossman pointing out the gallery’s
“primary emphasis on Greek and Roman coins as works of art (though
their roles as economic instruments and historical documents will also
For those unable to see the exhibit in person, Grossman says: “The
MFA’s entire collection of Greek, Roman, and Roman Provincial coins
are accessible through the MFA’s website (www.mfa.org/collections), as
are substantial numbers of coins of other cultures; additional images
are being uploaded to the web all the time. For a given coin, the
listing on the website indicates whether it is currently on public
display at the Museum and, if so, in which gallery.” ■