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ISAW’s Inaugural Exhibition Features Ancient Treasures From the Republic of Georgia

March 7, 2008

ISAW’s Inaugural Exhibition features Ancient Treasures from the Republic of Georgia

By Richard Pierce

The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW) at New York University will present as its inaugural exhibition an unprecedented display of ancient treasures on loan from the Republic of Georgia. The 130 works, comprising spectacular gold jewelry, sculpture, and grave goods from the legendary “land of the Golden Fleece,” have never been seen before in New York. Founded by the Leon Levy Foundation in 2006, ISAW is a center for advanced research and doctoral education in the study of the ancient world.

Wine, Worship, and Sacrifice: The Golden Graves of Ancient Vani features finds from four graves excavated at Vani, a major religious center of ancient Colchis, a region on the eastern shore of the Black Sea in the present day Republic of Georgia. In antiquity, Colchis was populated by tribal groups and is the setting for the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece. The graves date from the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. and include an array of locally produced gold and silver jewelry, as well as a great variety of imported goods from lands to the east and west of the city.

Image Captions:

  • TOP Detail of Gold Necklace with Turtle Pendants; Vani, mid-5th century B.C. MIDDLE Gold Diadem with Animal Combat Scenes and Temple Ornaments; Vani, first half of the 4th century B.C.
  • BOTTOM Detail of ornamentation and objects found on principal deceased in Grave 24. Second half of the 4th century B.C.

The exhibition opens to the public March 12 and will remain on view through June 1, 2008. Admission is free. ISAW is located at 15 East 84th Street. Exhibition hours are Tuesday - Sunay, 11 am - 6 pm; Friday, 11am - 8 pm. Telephone: 212.992.7800. For more information, visit

Roger Bagnall, director of ISAW, writes in the exhibition catalogue, “This exhibition and others to come will reflect ISAW’s commitment to studying cross-cultural connections and significant areas of the ancient world often neglected in research, teaching, and public presentations. The Caucasus and the entire region of the Black Sea are among the most interesting areas for such investigation, with their rich linkages in many directions, and we are delighted to have the opportunity for the Institute’s first public exhibition to focus on Georgia.”

The exhibition and accompanying catalogue (Princeton University Press) present Vani as a crossroad city. The objects on view illustrate the complex interrelations that occurred in the region during this period. Highlights from the exhibition include: an elaborate polychrome enamel-and-gold pectoral (4th century BC), which is notable for its Egyptian, Persian, and Colchian decorative motifs; a silver belt (4th century B.C.) with scenes of banqueting and animal processions reflecting Persian and nomadic iconographic preferences; and a gold diadem (4th century B.C.) that is compositionally unique to Colchis yet incorporates Near Eastern iconography. Also included in the installation are excavation photographs showing many of the objects in situ, a rare visual aid for exhibitions of ancient art.

“This exhibition is a defining moment for ISAW,” said Jennifer Chi, associate director of exhibitions and public programs at ISAW. “As our inaugural exhibition, it illustrates a key theme in ISAW’s mission-to explore the impact of cultural connectivity and exchange. Vani had a thriving local culture, but one that was aware of and open to direct contact with many of its neighbors. This is clearly reflected in the material excavated from its ‘golden graves’ where Attic, Black Sea, Persian, and local objects could all be offered as grave goods.”

Wine, Worship, and Sacrifice has been organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, and ISAW. It is drawn almost entirely from objects excavated at Vani, Republic of Georgia, andnow housed at the Georgia National Museum either at Tbilisi or Vani. The exhibition has been made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation, the Georgian National Museum, the Georgian Ministry of Culture, Monuments Protection and Sports.

Type: Press Release

Press Contact: Richard Pierce | (212) 998-6796

Image Credits:  Georgian National Museum

Image Credits: Georgian National Museum

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