Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 44 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The Fordham Museum’s ancient coin collection came from a literal buried treasure. While serving in Italy during World War II, Thomas Marrone stumbled on a trove of ancient Roman coins in a shell-hole. After the war, rather than keeping them or selling them off he gave them to Fordham.

Fordham Museum's Coin CollectionThe wall text observes that since the 1954 Hague Convention, walking off the battlefield with lost coin collections is no longer Kosher. So it’s lucky Fordham acquired its when it did.

Fordham Museum of Greek Etruscan and Roman ArtTucked away in the main library at Fordham University’s Bronx campus is an  unexpected little museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art, which opened in 2007.  William and Jane Walsh donated their collection of about 270 objects to the school, the thought being that having a small museum of classical antiquity close at hand might inspire students pursuing a liberal arts education.

Walsh Library, Fordham UniversityAs a Columbia alum, I’m slightly jealous. I can imagine the resonance of reading  Sophocles, Thucydides, or Cicero in the presence of objects from the cultures that shaped those works.  Then again, our library is a neoclassical masterpiece by McKim, Mead, and White, whereas Fordham kids get a thoroughly style-less late 1990s building.  Just sayin’.

Library architecture notwithstanding, Fordham did a fine job crafting its museum space.  From the design and library layout, I suspect that it took over one of the reading rooms to do so.  If so, then undergrads’ loss during finals prep is art’s gain. The Fordham Museum has ample windows opening onto the campus, which I like a lot. It makes you constantly aware of the academic environment, providing a distinctive context for the art.

Fordham Museum, Bronx, New York

The Collection

The Fordham Museum’s collection is diverse and well curated. It includes a lovely Venus (Roman copy of Greek original, from the third century AD), bits and pieces of other statuary, and a wide array of pottery.  The ceramics span a wide variety of styles, not just the typical red-black-and-white painted Greek wine jars. And it includes some impressively large and distinctive pieces.

Fordham Museum, Bronx, New York
Child-Sized Sarcophagus

It also has a poignant child’s casket, whose former occupant was the two-year old son of an early Roman policeman.

And a single small but nice vitrine full of Roman glass.


Roman Glass at the Fordham Museum

As seems to be the case whenever I see ancient Greek art, I learned some new words, among them:

  • thymiaterion: incense burner
  • strigilated: decorated with curves in the shape of a strigil, and
  • Gnathian: of or originating from…Gnathia?

The museum sets aside an alcove for special interpretations. This offers a way for the curators to take parts of the collection and temporarily do a deeper dive, or look at them differently. When I visited it examined Etruscan terra cotta votive heads and a couple of feet.  Interesting and well described. People purchased these votive sculptures to invoke the gods’ aid in the case of injury or illness.  Perhaps an idea whose time has come again given the state of U.S. healthcare regulation.

Votive Heads, Fordham Museum, Bronx New York
Votive Heads (and Feet)

Two Criticisms

I admire the Walshes for picking an unconventional place to gift their collection, and the museum for organizing the collection a logical and educational way. At the same time, it misses an opportunity to discuss the Walshes as collectors and connoisseurs.  It left me curious why they acquired what they did — what caught their eye, what they liked and didn’t. 

Also, considering the times, the Fordham Museum should discuss  provenance.  The coin collection origin story touches on the subject, but the museum says nothing else.  I hope the Walshes got all their stuff on the up-and-up. But if so, the wall texts should say something about that.

Venus, Fordham Museum, Bronx, New York
Venus was her name…but where did she come from?

Who Should Visit?

Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art, Bronx New YorkThe Fordham Museum offers a quiet, competent display of an interesting collection in a beautiful academic setting.  It’s great if you like communing with art solo: a kid studying was the only other person when I went.  And a guard popped in briefly to make sure I wasn’t pilfering votive objects.

Who should visit? Students of antiquity, or even just fans, will find it worth their time. If you live closer to Fordham than to the Met or the Onassis Center, you should definitely consider visiting for a Greco-Etrusco-Roman art fix.  And Fordham students have no excuses about going.

More general audiences may wisely hesitate about making the journey just to see the Fordham Museum.  But you could combine it with something else.

  • The Fordham campus happens to be conveniently close to the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage — he walked over to visit the Jesuits when St. John’s College was new. Following in Poe’s footsteps after visiting his humble abode would offer a nice double bill. 
  • It would also pair well with the nearby New-York Botanical Garden.
  • Finally, Fordham is close to the Bronx’s Belmont neighborhood, also known as Arthur Avenue.  Combining Classical art at the Fordham Museum with shopping and a meal there creates a mini Italian vacation.

For Reference:

Address Walsh Library, Fordham Rose Hill Campus, 441 East Fordham Road, The Bronx
Cost Free
Other Relevant Links