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Glory Rome on display
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-06-18 08:39

Summer is the best season in the eyes of curators of Beijing's major art venues, who usually choose to open their most important exhibitions of the year in June or July.

This summer, among the many shows being or to be held in the capital, about 10 large-scale ones look to be the most promising.

They include the "Ancient Roman Civilization" exhibition currently on at the National Museum of China, the "Genghis Khan" exhibition of 13th-century cultural relics, at the Millennium Art Museum, and a photo exhibition entitled "Humanism in China" now on at the National Art Museum of China.

"Ancient Roman Civilization," which runs until November 3, is perhaps the most impressive of the three.

Featuring 173 cultural relics of the ancient Roman empire brought here from Italy, it is one of the two most important exhibitions being given by the national museum before its temporary close for renovation next spring.

The other, entitled "Ancient Greece: Mortals and Immortals," is expected to open on July 20.

The two mark the start of the museum's ambitious "World's Ancient Civilizations" exhibition series, which are to include shows from Africa, South America and the Middle East, said Dong Qi, vice-director of the National Museum.

The Millennium Art Museum, also a major art venue in Beijing, launched a similar series two years ago. It gave an exhibition of relics of the Maya Kingdom in 2002 and of the Pre-Roman Etruscans last year.

"Exhibitions of ancient foreign civilizations usually attract more visitors than those featuring relics from a Chinese province or a dynasty," said Dong.

"People are curious about foreign cultures, and it is difficult for them to travel to such places as Greece or Africa. So exhibitions about such places are generally popular," he explained.

Dong said his museum chose the ongoing exhibition to be the first of its series because the Chinese are more familiar with the Roman than with any other ancient civilization.

The Roman Empire, which reached its peak in the 300 years from the 1st century BC to the 2nd century AD, has been known as "Da Qin" in China since those very times.

The Chinese name was given to the empire because the Roman people "look tall, big, honest and somewhat like the Chinese," according to historical records from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220).

Documents record a Chinese delegation arriving in Rome in AD 97, and a Roman delegation sent by Antoninus Pius, the Roman emperor (reigned AD 138-161), arrived in Chang'an (today's Xi'an), capital of the Han Dynasty, in AD 166.

Some of the glories of the Roman Empire documented in these ancient records, are on display at the exhibition as well as items revealing the lives of Roman citizens.

The exhibition is divided into two parts, and 80 per cent of the relics are displayed in the second part.

The first part introduces the evolution of ancient Rome from the period of Monarchy, to its age as a Republic and finally its ascendance as an Empire.

A bas-relief sculpture included in the part, which depicts a she-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus, is tied to the legend of the founding of Rome.

A terracotta statuette of an elephant bearing a tower on its back and a marble statue of a kneeling Persian recall major events that happened during the expansion of the Republic.

Marble busts of Augustus (reigned 27 BC-AD 14), Claudius (AD 41-54) and Antoninus Pius pay tribute to the Empire's achievements.

The second part of the exhibition covers the economy, culture and society from the late Republic to the early stage of the Empire; that is, from the 1st century BC to the 2nd century AD.

Among the displayed relics, frescoes depicting Roman forums and scenes in the palaestra, bronze helmets of gladiators and bronze utensils used in public bath houses reveal the importance of public activities in social life.

The frescoes depicting scenes in harbours, terracotta cups from southern Gaul and ivory statuettes of Laksmi, the Indian goddess showed the prosperity of the Roman economy, while a terracotta statuette of a slave carrying weights demonstrates the role slaves played in the economy.

Fantastic frescoes and luxurious artifacts, which were used to decorate gardens, give an idea of the evening entertainments of upper class families, while strange-looking kitchen utensils, tableware, lamps and cosmetics provided clues to their daily life.

The fine bronze statuettes of various gods, including Fortuna, Jupiter and Minerva, reflect the polytheistic beliefs prevalent in the ancient Rome.

A number of the relics included were unearthed in the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were buried beneath the Vesuvius Volcano, said Chen Chengjun, curator of the exhibition.

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