"The Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii: Ancient Ritual, Modern Muse" is one of many year 2000 events that celebrate the role of women in their 130-year history at the University of Michigan. Two University of Michigan alumnae who have contributed significantly to the production of the present exhibition are Esther B. Van Deman and Ruth Weisberg.
A notably independent woman for her time, University of Michigan graduate Esther B. Van Deman worked in Italy as an archaeologist early in the 20th century. She traveled extensively in Italy to conduct her research on ancient Roman construction, work that is now considered fundamental in the field of Roman archaeology. Van Deman also did an extensive study on the House of the Vestal Virgins in the Roman Forum, or city center of ancient Rome. While working in the Roman Forum, she made the acquaintance of Maria Barosso, the Italian artist and archaeologist who would ultimately paint the University of Michigan's watercolor copies of the Villa of the Mysteries frescoes. Indeed, it was Van Deman who recognized that Barosso would be the perfect artist to carry out University of Michigan Professor Francis W. Kelsey's wish for a faithful copy of the ancient paintings. Van Deman put Professor Kelsey in contact with Barosso, and facilitated their correspondence through the years in which Barosso was working for the University of Michigan. In the course of her travels around Italy, Esther Van Deman managed to obtain possession of a number of ancient archaeological objects, while also taking many now priceless photographs of ancient sites and monuments as they stood in the early 20th century. Upon her death in 1938, Van Deman bequeathed much of her archaeological collection to the University of Michigan, and a number of these objects now appear in the exhibition "The Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii: Ancient Ritual, Modern Muse."
Ruth Weisberg of the University of Southern California is an alumna of the MFA program at the University of Michigan. Her cycle, "Initiation," is featured in the present exhibit. "Initiation," made with watercolors and Prismacolor on paper, features depictions of Weisberg herself, her children, and their friends arranged in groups and poses that recall those of the monumental frieze from the Villa of the Mysteries. The figures are presented in brown and gray tones set against a backdrop of watercolor patterns, creating a dreamlike effect that translates the ancient imagery into modern experience. Weisberg will present and discuss her work publicly on Thursday, October 26 at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, in an Artist's Talk sponsored by the exhibition.