Up Close and Personal: Intimate Devotions and Everyday Objects from Late Antiquity

Coptic, circa 4th-5th century
Head of a Boy
Limestone with polychrome
5 1/4" x 5" x 5 1/4"
The Peabody College Collection, Vanderbilt University

(May 7 – September 4, 2015)

How was religion lived at the private level of the household or individual? Much of our perception of religion in late antiquity stems from the official and monumental art associated with Greco-Roman religions, Judaism, or Christianity. Temples, imposing statues, churches, catacombs, and cemeteries can give the impression of communal religion practiced on a grand, public scale. By contrast, small, personal objects that served a variety of devotional purposes provide insight into the private piety of a broad spectrum of late antique religious practices. Individuals of all levels of society made use of such items as jewelry and oil lamps bearing religious symbols, souvenirs from various shrines, statuettes of the gods for domestic shrines, items of clothing with mythological figures, and amulets meant to repel danger or the evil eye. Such objects allow an intimate look at the daily life and ordinary devotional practices of men and women from the past and give insight into the ways religion was lived.

This exhibition is the second in a partnership between the Department of History of Art and the Fine Arts Gallery resulting in a student-curated exhibition that grew out of a semester-long course, Exhibiting Historical Art, taught this year by Robin Jensen, Luce Chancellor’s Professor of the History of Christian Art and Worship. The class allowed students the rare opportunity to get “up close and personal” with art objects, through research and physical study, and to think through every aspect of their display and presentation to the public. As a group, the students have selected objects from the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery’s permanent collection and supplemented them with items lent by the Toledo Museum of Art and private collections.

Up Close and Personal: Intimate Devotions and Everyday Objects in Late Antiquity is organized by the Department of History of Art in conjunction with the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery with support from the Ewers Gift for Fine Art and the Department of History of Art. This exhibition is curated by students of the course Exhibiting Historical Art: Devotional Objects in Late Antiquity: Justin A. Arnwine, M.A. ’15; Haley T. Brown, B.A. ’17; Mark D. Ellison, Ph.D. candidate; Sara Grace Lee, B.A. ’17; Jacquelynn Morris, M.Div. ’16; Julia Nations-Quiroz, M.A. ’15; Zachary Virgin, M.T.S. ’15; and Gavin Warren, M.Div. ’15.