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Tuesday, November 14, 2000

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's exceptional collection of Byzantine art will return to public view this fall with the inauguration of the new Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries. The installation — in dramatic Beaux Arts spaces that have been restored and redesigned to evoke the original architectural plan of 1902 — will showcase outstanding works of art from the transfer of the capital of the Roman empire to Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) in 330 through the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Also included in the new Jaharis Galleries will be art of the Bronze and Iron Age in northern Europe, the provincial Roman world of the Latin West, and the new cultures that developed in Western Europe with the transfer of the capital of the Roman empire from Rome to Constantinople. A highlight of the new Jaharis Galleries will be the opening, for the first time, of gallery space beneath the Grand Staircase.

"The Museum is justifiably proud of its stellar holdings of Byzantine and Early Medieval art, which constitute the preeminent collection in the United States and one of the world's outstanding collections of this material," commented Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum. "Mary and Michael Jaharis have made possible the proper installation of a collection that inspired two of the Museum's greatest exhibitions — The Age of Spirituality in 1978 and The Glory of Byzantium in 1997. Their galleries are the first phase in an extensive project that ultimately will encompass every aspect of the holdings of the Department of Medieval Art."

Mr. de Montebello continued: "The Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries include the two great galleries running along the north and south sides of the Grand Staircase and an entirely new gallery linking the two that was created from a storage area under the Grand Staircase. The exposed underside of the Grand Staircase and the brick walls supporting it make the Museum's newest gallery a magical, crypt-like space."

The North Gallery — Secular Art of the Byzantine and Early Medieval World
The objects in the north gallery reflect the multiple cultural forces of the fourth through the eighth century, an era particularly well represented by the Museum's collections. Featured in the gallery will be the Museum's extensive holdings of secular art of the Early Byzantine Empire, produced from its capital Constantinople to its distant borders. Some of the earliest images developed by the Christian church will also be on display, as well as contemporary works from the surviving Greco-Roman tradition and examples of Judaica. Selections from the Museum's rich collection of provincial Roman and barbarian jewelry will demonstrate the accomplished artistry and ambitions of the diverse people beyond the western borders of the Byzantine state who helped shape early Europe.

Among the most significant works on display are those from the era of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, when the empire reached from Sinai in Egypt to the coast of Spain. Representing the art of his court will be spectacular consular ivories and portrait sculpture, gold jewelry, and a grand mosaic portrait bust of Ktisis, the personification of generous donation. This recently acquired, monumental portrait of a richly bejeweled lady, dating from the first half of the sixth century, is an exceptional example of early Byzantine floor mosaics.

The end of the first artistic flourishing of Byzantium will be represented by the Museum's splendid, newly conserved silver David plates, which depict — in rich detail — scenes from the life of the Old Testament King David. Made in Constantinople in the seventh century, these spectacular plates — each of which is crafted from a solid piece of silver — may be associated with the Emperor Heraclius's victory over the Persians in 628-629. Outstanding among the works of art from the western border of the empire during these centuries is the jewelry created by its inhabitants — the Langobards, Goths, and Franks among them — vying for power in the wake of the collapse of Rome.

The Staircase Gallery — Secular and Religious Art of the Byzantine Province, Egypt
The wealth of Egypt, during the fourth through the mid-seventh century when it was the southernmost province of the Byzantine Empire, will be explored in this new gallery. The display, focused on a splendid hoard of gold jewelry, also will include a rich variety of secular textiles, ivory objects, and architectural sculpture from such major Early Christian and Coptic monastic sites as Epiphanius, Bawit, and Saqqara.

The South Gallery — Liturgical Art of the Byzantine Church and Middle/Late Byzantine Secular Art
The South Gallery will display the art of the Early Byzantine church and the religious and secular arts of the Middle and Late Byzantine centuries through the Crusader period and the fall of the capital city Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Prominently displayed will be the Museum's distinguished collection of Early Byzantine liturgical arts from Syria. The resplendent Attarouthi Treasure, which is made of finely worked silver and silver gilt, comprises ten chalices, three censers, a wine strainer, and a dove representing the Holy Spirit. The Antioch Treasure includes most famously the newly conserved Antioch "chalice." At the beginning of the 20th century, this plain silver cup encased in an intricate openwork container of silver gilt was claimed to be the Holy Grail of legend and literature. Recent research has suggested, however, that the vessel — which may have been used as a standing lamp, rather than as a chalice — was part of a large group of sixth-century liturgical silver from Syria.

Among the works representing the Middle Byzantine era will be a great silver cross and ivory icons. Secular ivories, enamel jewelry, and ceramic bowls of the period will demonstrate the quality of the arts of the eastern capital of Constantinople and its artistic influence beyond the borders of the empire. Steatites, gems, and icons will display the continuing vitality of Orthodox art in the Late Byzantine era.

The Architecture
The Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries invoke part of the Museum's early history. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was founded in 1870, has been located at the edge of Central Park, near Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street, since it opened its first building in 1880. The original High Victorian Gothic structure, a fragment of a grand design by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould, had entrances at east and west. When two new wings were added, that to the south by Theodore Weston in 1888 and that to the north by Arthur Lyman Tuckerman in 1894, the entrance was relocated to the newly constructed south façade. In the third building project, which was begun by Richard Morris Hunt in 1894 and completed by his son Richard Howland Hunt in 1902, a formal Beaux Arts façade and entrance were oriented to the east, as they remain to this day. The Hunt and Hunt architectural program also included the imposing Great Hall, the Grand Staircase, and several other spaces.

Each day, thousands of Museum visitors traverse one of the north and south galleries that flank the Grand Staircase. These galleries link the Great Hall to the Vaux and Mould building and provide east-west access within the Museum. The outer walls of these areas — now located well inside the Museum — once served as exterior walls, and the architectural features that today appear as double-stepped niches topped with semicircular arches once framed windows to the outside.

Recent construction has opened the new gallery beneath the Grand Staircase — never before seen by the public — that will connect the north and south Jaharis Galleries. Visitors will see the unfinished underside of the granite steps of the Grand Staircase above them, along with original brickwork — including several low arches — from the Hunt and Hunt architectural program.

Also allowing the visitor to move freely between the north and south Jaharis Galleries will be the newly reopened grand space at the west of the stairs. Massive walls, installed in the 1950s, obscured the original Hunt and Hunt design. They have been removed to restore the space to its original apse-like configuration.

The Spring Bulletin of 2001, which will focus on the Museum's Byzantine collections, will be available in the Metropolitan's bookshops.

An audio tour, part of the Metropolitan's new Key to the Met Audio Guide, will be available for rental in the fall of 2000 ($5; $4.50 for members).

The Key to the Met Audio Guide program is sponsored by Bloomberg News.

A variety of educational programs and resources will be developed in conjunction with the reinstallation. These will include lectures, gallery talks, films, and events for teachers, students, and families.

The reinstallation is organized by Peter Barnet, the Michel David-Weill Curator in Charge, and Helen C. Evans, Curator for Byzantine art, with the assistance of Melanie Holcomb, Assistant Curator, all of the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. Conservation work was provided by the Museum's Objects Conservation Department. Installation design is by Daniel Bradley Kershaw, Exhibition Designer; graphic design is by Constance Norkin, Graphic Designer; and lighting is by Zack Zanolli, Lighting Designer, all of the Museum's Design Department.


May 8, 2000

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