Light From the Age of Augustine Exhibit on Display in Museum Lobby

May 23, 2003

This unique exhibit features over 100 vessels of ancient Roman decorated pottery from North Africa donated for display from private collections and Harvard University Museums.

These vessels are examples of the very fine wares that were produced in North Africa and exported throughout the Mediterranean world during the Age of Augustine, the last decades of the fourth century AD. Because of their rich color, these decorated wares from the ancient harbor of Carthage (modern Tunisia), have been called "African Red Slip Ware" or "terra sigillata chiara."

They represent a local manufacture of the popular Arretine pottery from first-century Italy, the "Wedgewood" of the Roman world. Characterized by a red-orange to red-brown clay and a slip of a more refined version of the same clay, these glossy household vessels were decorated by relief figures and stamped designs.

During the time of Saint Augustine (354-430) the most characteristic shapes for wheel-made vessels were elongated pitchers, flat-bottomed dishes, and bowls with wide rims and tiny feet. Separately applied ceramic figures that were cast in molds were added to bowls and dishes.

The decorated lamps, which constitute a large portion of this exhibit, were formed in molds and reflect the emergence of a new and distinctive shape, a canal running from the central disk to the wick. The mid-fourth century lamps took on important figural decoration emphasizing aspects of the cultural landscape by mimicking the upper class traditions found on more expensive materials such as silverware, ivory, and mosaics. Ranging from figural designs to mythic scenes and biblical stories, the decorations reflect the mix of peoples and cultures from the time.

The most remarkable new subjects are those concerned with Christianity, the newly empowered religion of the Empire. Favorite depictions include stories from the 'Old Testament' such as Abraham and Isaac, Daniel, and Jonah. Rarer are subjects from the New Testament, which tend to employ complex allegorical symbols, such as the Good Shepherd or Lamb of God.

Several images on the vessels in this collection represent the on-going struggle between Christianity and paganism with scenes of martyrs and saints. Others, however, represent the popular diversions of the age such as chariot races and hunt scenes.

Many of the images on African Red Slip ware of this period remain mysterious or controversial, like overhearing partial conversations from another age. This exhibit will give a sense of the rich iconographic images of daily life in Late Antiquity, many still open to interpretation.

The exhibit will run from May 31-December 31, 2003 at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum on the University of Texas at Austin campus. A color catalogue of the ceramics by John J. Herrmann, Jr., Curator of Classical Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Annewies van den Hoek, Lecturer in Greek and Latin at the Harvard Divinity School, will be available for purchase at the LBJ Library gift shop.

Inquiries about the exhibit should be directed to Guest Curator for the Exhibition, Dr. L. Michael White, Ronald Nelson Smith Professor of Classics at UT's Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins by calling 232-1438.