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June 21, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
With an extensive collection of ancient coins in house and some on loan from local collectors, the MU Museum of Art and Archaeology is creating a new exhibition to show the substantial meaning of the tiny images.
Portraits on coins have played an important role in societies for centuries. This exhibition will give visitors the opportunity to learn why ancient Byzantine, Greek and Roman coins had portraits on them, as well as how the coins evolved over the years.
WHERE: McLorn Gallery, Pickard Hall, MU Museum of Art and Archaeology
WHEN: June 12 through Oct. 21
The portraits often tell a story of historical figures’ lives and the times they lived in. They can often reflect a figure’s transformation from childhood to adulthood. Other times, portraits can show fashion details, such as the hairstyles of the time, or even give insight into the subject’s health conditions.
One coin on display is a portrait of a Roman ruler who, because of his pronounced jaw and historical knowledge of his height, is thought to have had gigantism, a condition that causes abnormal growth.
Differences in portraits can also reflect public sentiment. In some cases, coins were dedications to rulers; in others, coins showed a yearning to forget previous rulers by commemorating the end of their rule.
Kenyon Reed, collections specialist at the museum, encourages people to see the coin collection not only for its beauty but also for its deeper meaning. The coins might be small, but what they can tell us about history certainly isn’t.