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Roman Ostia: Ancient Ruins, Modern Art

Doves (end of 1st century BC to start of 1st century AD). Mosaic, 45 x 44.3cm. Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma.

Exhibition preview

AN EXHIBITION entitled Roman Ostia: Ancient Ruins, Modern Art will be on display at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art from September 24 to December 21, 2014.

Roman Ostia: Ancient Ruins, Modern Art brings together marbles, mosaics and antiquities from the archaeological site of Ostia near Rome, many of which have never been seen in the UK, with the work of two modern Italian artists, Umberto Mastroianni and Ettore De Conciliis.

Spanning classical statuary, abstract sculpture, and painting, the show reflects on the enduring nature of human creativity, and its constantly changing character.

The ancient statuary of Ostia portrays gods, emperors and scenes such as chariot races at the Roman Circus. A full length marble statue from the 3rd century AD shows Hercules standing heroically with his club; intricate mosaics and wall paintings from nearby Isola Sacra, Ostia’s cemetery, are among the finest examples from the site.

These Roman antiquities reflect the taste and culture of Ostia’s inhabitants; objects that surrounded them in life and death.

Forming a backdrop to these works of classical statuary and mosaic are a number of specially commissioned paintings by Ettore De Conciliis (b. 1941). Monumental in scale, the paintings have been inspired by Ostia and depict the atmospheric play of light across the site’s ruins and along the river Tiber.

Accompanying these are paintings and sculptures by Umberto Mastroianni (1910-1998), one of the most important figures in 20th century Italian sculpture. Mastroianni is best known today for his monumental works commemorating the Resistance, in which he fought. In 1958 he was awarded the prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale.

With their abstract character and dynamic, even explosive qualities, Mastroianni’s three-dimensional compositions almost appear as archaeological fragments themselves, recalling great gears and mechanical components which, once active and powerful, now appear frozen and without function.

The ancient harbour city of Ostia was an essential link to the capital of the Roman Empire. At the mouth of the river Tiber, 25 km southwest of Rome, the city was a commercial hub and a melting pot of many cultures, equipped with a theatre, baths, bakeries, warehouses, bars and shops.

Cicero states that the settlement was founded in the 7th century BC by the legendary king Ancus Marcius. The earliest archaeological remains date to the 4th century BC, and include a military fort and city walls. By the 2nd century BC, Ostia had developed into a trade centre and after intense construction during the 1st century AD it was transformed into a city of fire-baked brick.

The exhibition is organised in collaboration with Soprintendenza Speciale per I Beni Archeologici di Roma and Il Cigno GG Edizioni.

Image: Doves (end of 1st century BC to start of 1st century AD). Mosaic, 45 × 44.3cm. Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma.

Admission: £5, £3.50 concessions (includes entry to exhibition and permanent collection).

Opening Hours: Wednesdays to Saturdays, 11am to 6pm; Sundays, 12 noon to 5pm; closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, 39a Canonbury Square, London, N1 2AN

Tel: +44 (0)20 7704 9522