Cultures the world over and throughout millennia have used marble and other natural stone for monumental building and the decorative arts. Stone embodies permanence and durability. In its colorful and variegated forms, the material can be used to create objects that signify power, wealth, and luxury.
Developed in conjunction with the Penn Humanities Forum's 2014–2015 theme, The Year of Color, this special exhibit draws upon more than 25 objects from the Penn Museum collection to explore the human phenomenon of valuing and "collecting color"—colored stone—through the ages. From the dark blue lapis lazuli and deep red carnelian stones quarried in far-flung regions and favored by ancient Mesopotamians, to the many-colored mosaics found in ancient Israel, to the finely chiseled marble sculptures of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and the smooth soap stone carvings of Native American peoples half a world away, human ingenuity with colored marble and stone is on display.
As the 17th century ushered in the era of the European "Grand Tour," wealthy young men traveled throughout that continent, often collecting ancient colored stone samples to be stored in "Cabinets of Curiosities" as a record of their journeys. Antiquarian collections gave way to scientific, and then commercial use collections, as modern quarries, design shops, and stone cutting mills kept pace with new technologies: a collection of such colored stone samples recently acquired by the University from the Vermont Marble Company (1880-1976), is an example of such enterprising collecting.
C. Brian Rose, Curator-in-Charge, Mediterranean Section, Penn Museum, and Frank Matero, Professor of Architecture, Historic Preservation, University of Pennsylvania, co-curated this exhibition, on view in the Special Exhibitions Gallery, 3rd floor.
Image caption: Dancing Bear, Museum Object Number: 2012-25-87