Exhibition explores Roman luxury and society

7 Jun 2016

The extravagant lifestyle of the Roman Empire is on show at The University of Queensland  in a new exhibition at the RD Milns Antiquities Museum.

Useless Beauty: Luxury and Rome showcases more than 50 Roman artefacts, including stunning jewellery, perfume vases and tableware.

UQ Museum Director and Curator Dr Janette McWilliam said the event highlighted the Roman concept ofluxuria – extravagance, luxury, excess.

“According to tradition, true Roman morals were shaped only by frugal practices However, during the Republican period Rome began to develop a taste for foreign imports and extravagant lifestyles,” Dr McWilliam said.

“The exhibition explores the tension between Roman moralists, who believed luxuria undermined this traditional social and political order, and a developing culture of consumption enjoyed by both men and women of different social classes.”

Many objects on display will be recognisable to modern audiences.

“Roman hairstyles followed various trends, as happens today,” Dr McWilliam said.

“Elaborate wigs, hair extensions and various methods of creating volume and height were all used at different times in the Roman period.  

“Perfumes were also popular. Some were extremely expensive, made from exotic imported ingredients.”

Co-curator and lecturer in Classics and Ancient History Dr Shushma Malik said her favourite object in Useless Beautywas a Roman bronze bath-scoop.

“The shell-shaped bath scoop shows us the sort of implements the Romans used when bathing. It’s a beautifully ornate and luxurious object,” Dr Malik said.

The exhibition brings together artefacts from the museum's own collection along with important works from the Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology at Caboolture and the John Elliott Classics Museum at the University of Tasmania.

A special exhibition viewing, accompanied by the curators, is scheduled for Saturday 11 June.

Useless Beauty will continue into 2017 at the RD Milns Antiquities Museum, Level 2, Building 9 (Michie), at UQ’s St Lucia campus.

The RD Milns Antiquities Museum is open 9.30am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday.

Image top left: Shell-shaped bath scoop, Bronze, Roman, 100 BC – AD 100. On loan from the John Elliott Classics Museum, University of Tasmania. Image Courtesy of John Elliott Classics Museum. Below left: Ring with Aphrodite holding an apple, Cornelian and Iron, Roman, AD 1 – 200. On loan from Mr G Slater, Brisbane, 2001. Right: Figure of Woman with ‘bee-hive’ hairstyle, Terracotta, Roman, from Alexandria, Egypt, AD 1 – 200. Purchased from Charles Ede Ltd, London, 1973.

Media: Dr Janette McWilliam, j.mcwilliam@uq.edu.au+61 7 3365 2650; Senior Museum Officer James Donaldson, antiquitiesmuseum@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3365 7490.