McMullen Museum of Art Boston College


BOSTON COLLEGE McMULLEN MUSEUM OF ART HOSTS Tree of Paradise: Jewish Mosaics from the Roman Empire February 17 – June 8, 2008; Exclusive New England Display

CHESTNUT HILL, MA (2-08) — The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College hosts Tree of Paradise: Jewish Mosaics from the Roman Empire, on view February 17 through June 8, 2008.

According to the Brooklyn Museum—which organized the exhibition and first displayed it in 2005-2006—it examines the role of Roman-period mosaics in the development of synagogue decoration in the late Roman Empire.

The exhibition presents the reconstruction of an ancient mosaic floor from a synagogue in Hammam Lif, Tunisia—the ancient town of Naro, later called Aquae Persianae by the Romans.

“ Superbly conceived by the Brooklyn Museum to pose larger questions about links among various faith communities in Late Antiquity, this exhibition and its public programs draw on strengths of the Boston College faculty’s research and curriculum and on the University’s commitment to exploring the relationship among Jews, Christians and Muslims from antiquity to the present,” according to McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer. “We look forward to welcoming at the McMullen visitors from all three faith groups.”

A Latin inscription in one of the surviving panels records that the mosaic floor was a gift to the synagogue from a certain Julia, a resident of Naro in about 500 C.E. Other mosaic panels in the exhibition, datable to the first or second century C.E., originated either in an earlier part of the same synagogue or in a nearby building.

The mosaics were discovered by chance in 1883 by a French army captain, Ernest de Prudhomme, while preparing ground for gardening. In 1905, the Brooklyn Museum acquired most of the panels Prudhomme had owned and transported back to his home in Lyon. According to Ruth Langer, associate professor of Jewish Studies in the Theology Department and academic director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College, “Today, these panels provide a fascinating contrast to the much richer archaeological evidence for synagogues of this period now known from the Land of Israel.”

Twenty-one mosaics—along with some 40 works from the Brooklyn Museum’s Roman art collection, including contemporary jewelry, coins, marble statues, ritual objects and textiles—shed light on the role of synagogues in the Diaspora during Late Antiquity, the development of Jewish art in the Roman period, the importance of female patrons in the ancient Jewish community, connections among early Christian, Jewish and Pagan symbolism in this period, and the relationship between ancient and modern understanding of the synagogue as an institution. The works of art included in the exhibition reveal a society where Jews were more integrated and accepted than ancient texts would suggest.

The exhibition will also feature nine Tiraz textiles from the Brooklyn Museum collection which illuminate the role of Islam in North Africa in the Middle Ages.

The McMullen Museum is the second venue in a three-city tour, which marks the first time the mosaics have left New York since their acquisition by the Brooklyn Museum, according to curator Edward Bleiberg, from that institution. The tour began in September in Ohio at the Dayton Art Institute; after the BC exhibition, it travels in fall 2009 to Miami’s Lowe Art Museum. [MEDIA NOTE: Jpg images available upon request from the Museum: email Naomi Blumberg at]

Public Opening Celebration: Monday, February 18 On Monday, February 18, the public is invited to join Boston College community members at an opening celebration, which is free of charge and will be held at the Museum from 7 to 9 p.m. The public event will be preceded, on February 16, by a black-tie celebration for invited guests, which will include an introduction to the exhibition by BC Art History professors from the Fine Arts Department, as well as faculty members from the University’s History, Classical Studies and Theology departments.

Exhibition Organizers and Accompanying Catalogue

Tree of Paradise: Jewish Mosaics from the Roman Empire is organized by the Brooklyn Museum and made possible by the Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Exhibition Fund. The presentation of this exhibition at the McMullen Museum is underwritten by Boston College with major support from the Lassor and Fanny Agoos Charity Fund. Additional funding was provided by the Patrons of the McMullen Museum.

A catalogue by the exhibition’s curator, Edward Bleiberg, associate curator of Egyptian, Classical and Ancient Middle Eastern Art at the Brooklyn Museum, accompanies the exhibition.

McMullen Museum of Art

The McMullen Museum is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that ask new questions and break new ground in the display and scholarship of the works on view. It serves as a dynamic educational resource for all of New England as well as the national and the

international community. The Museum displays its notable permanent collection and mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance from all periods and cultures of the history of art. In keeping with the University’s central teaching mission, the Museum’s exhibitions are accom-panied by scholarly catalogues and related public programs. The McMullen Museum of Art was named in 1996 by the late Boston College benefactor, trustee and art collector John J. McMullen.

McMullen Museum Hours and Tours Admission to the McMullen Museum is free; it is handicapped accessible and open to the public. The Museum is located in Devlin Hall on BC’s Chestnut Hill campus, at 140 Common-wealth Avenue. During this exhibition, hours are: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Closed on the following dates: March 21 and 23, April 21 and May 26, 2008.

Free group tours of the exhibition will be given every Sunday at 12:30 p.m. They also may be arranged upon request; call (617) 552-8587. For directions, parking and information on public programs, visit or call (617) 552-8100.