Roman art in the age of Augustus reached an extraordinary level of sophistication—both in the public sphere, as a new imperial iconography was developed and Rome itself was embellished with new buildings, and in the private realm, as wealth was poured into lavish private villas and opulent lifestyles. Portrait busts, bronze statues, elegant architectural decorations, and a selection of coins in the exhibition evoke official art. Panels from the imperial villa at Boscotrecase, examples of garden sculpture, silver, glass, and jewelry illustrate the refinements achieved for private patrons.
During this period the Celtic tribes dwelling in what is modern France as well as eastward to the Rhine were organized as Roman provinces, and Egypt fell to Rome with the suicide of Cleopatra in 30 B.C. Two recently acquired masterpieces of Celtic metalwork—a bronze sword and a silver and gold brooch set with carnelians—are among the highlights of the exhibition. Intriguing mixtures of traditional Egyptian iconography with Hellenistic and Roman styles mark the art of Roman Egypt, as is seen in the selection of statuettes, vessels, funerary masks, and jewelry on view. A magnificent black stone statue carved in the traditional Egyptian manner and likely representing Caesarion, eldest son of Cleopatra, is also featured.
At the same time, the Parthian Empire was an important bordering power to the Roman Empire and controlled much of the trade passing between the East and West. It stretched from the Euphrates River almost to the Indus, occupying modern Iran and Iraq, as well as portions of Syria and Turkey.