‘Adoration And Art’: JMU museum explores religion, ancient cultures

Statues of Isis and Horus sit on display during installation of the "Adoration and Art" exhibit at the Lisanby museum at James Madison University. Stephen Swofford/For The Northern Virginia Daily

The Lisanby Museum at James Madison University is inviting the public to explore the sacred art of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures with its latest exhibition, “Adoration and Art.”

The exhibit, which will be on display through April 26, is the honors capstone project of art history student Fiona Wirth, a culmination of three years of research and curating.

According to the Lisanby Museum, “Throughout time, religious spaces have been designed to set apart the sacred from the every day. This exhibition explores — through the eyes of Honor student Fiona Wirth — the artistic traditions of the ancient Mediterranean through early modern cultures that infused holy sites with the presence of the divine.”

The objects featured in “Adoration and Art” include copper and metal statues, coins, wood and ceramics.

“We’ve got around 15 objects; they range in date from 1365 BCE to 200 CE,” said Ginny Soenksen, the associate director of the Madison Art Collection and the Lisanby Museum. “Every object is focused on a different aspect of religion.”

The exhibit examines the polytheistic religions and cults that were practiced within ancient Mediterranean cultures. In the exhibit, visitors will find a small copper alloy statue of the mythological Egyptian deity Osiris, who lived in the ancient city of Abydos. Osiris was known as the god of the underworld, the dead and the afterlife.

Osiris was married to Isis, who was known as the goddess of motherhood, fertility and healing. Isis was believed to have resurrected her husband in the famous Egyptian mythological tale by magically putting his body back together after his jealous brother cut him into pieces.

“The cult of Isis was prolific in ancient Egypt,” Soenksen said, as was the cult of Osiris. The two are some of the most important figures in ancient Egyptian mythology.

The exhibit also features a statue of Amun-Re, a powerful Egyptian deity of the Theban Triad, connected to the temples of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt. Karnak is a complex of ancient temples and buildings that were constructed during the Middle Kingdom period between 2050 BCE and 1710 BCE until the Ptolemaic period, from 305 BCE to 30 BCE.

A silver coin in the exhibit was struck by the great Roman general, Julius Caesar. The silver, Soenksen said, was looted from the Temple of Saturn in Rome.

“There’s a lot of wonderful symbolism to his military triumph and family history,” she said. “The coin was struck to commemorate a victory he had over a military rival.”

Heading into ancient Greece, a small statue of the Greek goddess Aphrodite is included in the exhibit. Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty and was worshipped in ancient cultures.

The statue, Soenksen said, “would have been a more personal object. It would have likely been a small votive statue that a woman would have kept in her home and worshipped.”

Representing the Greco-Roman period from 332 BCE to 395 CE, a press mold oil lamp in the exhibit is one that would have been placed in a Greek Temple, Soenksen said.

Soenksen hopes visitors to “Adoration and Art” will learn about the roles that these objects played in these ancient Mediterranean cultures.

“I would say the message is to encourage people to consider the original context of the objects. It’s one thing to go in a museum and appreciate a work of art, but it’s another to consider how the object would have been placed [and] how it would have been used. [I hope visitors] see how the objects would be used in everyday life.”

Contact Shelby Mertens at 574-6274, @DNR_smertens or smertens@dnronline.com

If You Go

Where: The Lisanby Museum is located at 1301 Carrier Drive inside the Festival Conference and Student Center.

Fee: Free, open to the public.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.