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When the Romans Came to Louisville: The Formation of the Speed Museum’s Roman Collection

October 4, 2018 @ 6:00 pm EDT

Chao Auditorium, Ekstrom Library, University of Louisville
2215 S 3rd St
Louisville, KY 40208 United States

AIA Society: Kentucky

In November 1911 prominent Louisvillian Rogers Clark Ballard Thruston embarked on a motor trip through Europe with his brother, sister-in-law and family friend. When they reached Rome, he solicited the services of an Italian travel agent who escorted him to the Church of Santa Teresa d’Avila where antiquities had been unearthed some years before.  When the Church was under construction in the late 1890s Roman tombs had been discovered and hundreds of grave-goods were removed. Intrigued by the antiquities that he was shown by the Church’s clerics,  (ceramic and marble ash urns, two small marble sarcophagi, ceramic vessels and lamps, and inscribed epitaphs), Ballard Thruston contracted the agent to make the necessary arrangements for purchasing and shipping them to Louisville.  In 1912 twenty-eight crates containing the Roman artifacts arrived in New York City aboard the SS Princess Irene and were then transported by rail to Louisville. In 1929 when his plans to install the antiquities in a permanent venue did not materialize, Ballard Thruston made a gift of them to his friend, Hattie Bishop Speed, who had founded the Speed Museum two years earlier. He also donated to the Speed all the correspondence and documents pertaining to the purchase and export of the antiquities. Research has revealed that the Roman artifacts in the Speed Museum comprise the largest collection of its kind in North America and, given the international export laws, could never be duplicated by any American institution today. What also makes this collection valuable, and unique, is that the precise provenance of the antiquities can be documented; we know the location of the tombs from which they were removed at the turn of the 20th century.

The purpose of this talk is to tell the story of Ballard Thruston’s purchase of the Roman grave-goods, their journey to Louisville, and their rediscovery in the Speed Museum.  Illustrated with photographs taken by Ballard Thruston, archival records, and archaeological evidence, this talk will include information about the cultural context of the artifacts and highlight their value, both to the Louisville community and to scholars around the world.  


Linda Gigante is Professor Emerita of Ancient Art & Cultures at the University of Louisville and Vice-President of the Kentucky Society of the AIA.

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October 4, 2018
6:00 pm EDT
Event Categories:


AIA-Kentucky Society


Chao Auditorium, Ekstrom Library, University of Louisville
2215 S 3rd St
Louisville, KY 40208 United States
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