Heads and Tales

Heads and Tales: Portraits and Propaganda on Classical Coins
11 February—9 July 2006

Coins and medals in the ancient world functioned in part as miniature works of art with great reach and power. Today they provide historical information that can be read and interpreted. This focus exhibition, the result of Professor Bettina Bergmann’s Art 310 seminar on classical coins, celebrates the recent acquisition of more than 900 ancient coins from two important numismatic collectors. Mark Salton’s gift of coins that depict Faustina and other female images in the ancient world was inspired by an earlier exhibition, The Moon and the Stars: Afterlife of a Roman Empress, which was also based on a Bergmann seminar. Nathan Whitman, a renowned professor of art history at the University of Michigan and Roman baroque specialist, described himself as having “imperial fantasies” and passionately accumulated his collection over many years.

Since the coins arrived at the museum, staff and students have been working on further cataloging. A large portion of the research and preparation for the exhibition was undertaken throughout the fall of 2005 by students in Professor Bergmann’s class. The seminar introduced students to the aesthetic, political, and historical roles of coinage from Classical Greece to the fall of the Roman Empire. Students had the rare opportunity to conduct primary research on original coins which will be shared in the exhibition, and they spent considerable time thinking about putting coins and other objects together in meaningful ways.

Image Captions:

Roman coin
Denarius of Faustina
silver, 138-139 CE
Gift of Mark Salton