The Good Life: Collecting Late Antique Art at The Met
May 24, 2021 - May 7, 2023
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The Good Life: Collecting Late Antique Art at The Met showcases the Museum’s important and rare collection of third- to eighth-century art from Egypt and reevaluates it through the lens of late antique ideas about abundance, virtue, and shared classical taste. Writers and craftspeople translated these ideas into a concept celebrated as the “the good life.” Anchored by crucial gifts to The Met of late antique art, the exhibition explores themes connected to social status, wealth, and living well in Late Antiquity.

The core of The Met’s collection from late antique Egypt was formed through public subscriptions and generous gifts in the 1890s. The first decades after the Museum’s founding was a time when profound interest in the earliest Christian art inspired scholars, collectors, and the public alike. Today, The Met continues to collect late antique art that reveals the burgeoning of literary and visual representations of a life well lived. This exhibition highlights The Met’s holdings of late antique textiles, decorative arts, jewelry, and sculpture—all highly prized by elite patrons of the Byzantine Empire’s southern provinces in Africa.

The works of art featured in the exhibition reflect the extraordinary wealth of Mediterranean Africa. In addition to marking status, these objects responded to such fundamental questions as, What does it mean to “live well”? During the period, ideas about “the good life” intersected with issues of religion, identity, and relationships with the past. As a result, these objects not only testify to The Met’s long-standing interest in late antique art of the region but also shed light on some of the aspirations, values, and lifestyles of its upper classes.
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