World Coins

ANS loans ancient coins to big-market museums

Ancient coins from the collection of the American Numismatic Society feature prominently in two recent museum shows.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World is enhanced with loans from the ANS. Included in the exhibit is a Poros silver decadrachm struck in Babylon in relation to Alexander the Great’s Indian campaign. The large silver coin, dating from 323 to 322 B.C., depicts Alexander on horseback, attacking Porus and mahout (riders) on elephant while the reverse shows Alexander holding fulmen (lightning) and spear and about to be crowned by Nike. 

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Also included is a silver tetradrachm of Alexander III, struck in Babylon around the same time, depicting an archer standing with his bow drawn, while the reverse has an expressive depiction of an elephant. 

The ANS coins are exhibited in the first gallery, in a case with other small objects from the Louvre and the Harvard University Museum that speak to Alexander’s prominence as a military leader and royal patron of the arts. 

The exhibition opened on April 11 and will continue through July 17. It represents a historic collaboration between the Metropolitan and the Pergamon Museum in Berlin and brings together 264 artworks that were created through the patronage of the royal courts of the Hellenistic kingdoms, with an emphasis on the ancient city of Pergamon. 

Other museums contributed coins to the exhibit, including the Epigraphic and Numismatic Museum in Athens, Greece, which lent a gold stater of Mithridates VI Eupator Dionysus, dating from the late Hellenistic period, 86 to 85 B.C. 

The Pergamon Museum houses one of the world’s greatest collection of antiquities and the museum is currently undergoing renovations. It is set to reopen in 2019, and Carlos A. Picón, the curator in charge of the Greek and Roman Art department at the Metropolitan told the Wall Street Journal, “This [exhibit] won’t happen again,” adding, “Once the museum reopens, they won’t send one-third of its collection here.”

As the Metropolitan notes: “The conquests of Alexander the Great transformed the ancient world, making trade and cultural exchange possible across great distances. Alexander’s retinue of court artists and extensive artistic patronage provided a model for his successors, the Hellenistic kings, who came to rule over much of his empire. For the first time in the United States, a major international loan exhibition will focus on the astonishing wealth, outstanding artistry, and technical achievements of the Hellenistic period — the three centuries between Alexander’s death, in 323 B.C., and the establishment of the Roman Empire, in the first century B.C.”

Ancients in Chicago

ANS coins also feature in the Art Institute of Chicago’s new exhibit A Portrait of Antinous, in Two Parts, which includes four bronze coins from the ANS. 

As the Chicago museum explains: “An exceptionally beautiful Greek youth, Antinous was a favorite of Roman Emperor Hadrian. Following the young man’s mysterious death by drowning in the Nile River, Antinous was proclaimed a god, and portraits of him appeared across the Roman Empire.”

The exhibit reunites two pieces of marble sculpture depicting Antinous, that were long thought to have been from different artworks but that were recently identified as being from the same work. The Art Institute of Chicago’s fragment was originally identified as the face of another bust, one in the collection of the Palazzo Altemps Museum in Rome. 

The ANS contributions include two drachms, both minted in Alexandria, a coin minted in Mantineia, and a coin from a mint in Ancyra as well as a book from the Society’s Rare Book Collection. The exhibit continues through August 28.  

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