On the centenary of the birth of the great Italian art historian and critic Federico Zeri (1921-1998), the Vatican Museums could not fail to pay tribute to him. On 4 November, they will dedicate one of the events of the Thursdays in the Museums series to him.
The event will be introduced by Barbara Jatta, Director of the Vatican Museums, who will then give the floor to the Curator of the Department of Egyptian and Near Eastern Antiquities Alessia Amenta, and her Assistant Mario Cappozzo. The two talks, entitled “The Zeri Bequest to the Gregorian Egyptian Museum” and “Federico Zeri and Palmyra”, will explain how and why, in 1999, a Fayum Portrait of a young man (first quarter of the 4th century A.D.) and ten portraits from Palmyra in sculpted stone (2nd and 3rd centuries A.D.) from Zeri's personal collection came to the Vatican Museums through a bequest in his will.
Since 2000, the works have been exhibited to the public of the Pope’s Museums in a special layout in the Gregorian Egyptian Museum inspired by the niches of the family tombs in Palmyra. Since 2007, the Fayum Portrait has been housed in a new, modern case whose raking light emphasises and enhances the encaustic painting technique used to create the work.
For Zeri, Late Antiquity was a crucial age, a complex and rich one, which he had cultivated with passion thanks also to his profound knowledge and mastery of the sources.
The Palmyrene reliefs also had a personal significance for the scholar, linked to the history of his own family, whose origins he believed to be in Syria.
In February 2019 the Vatican Museums published a volume entirely dedicated to funerary sculptures from the ancient city of Palmyra: “The Collection of Palmyrene Funerary Portraits in the Vatican Museums”. The work is part of the important international Palmyra Portraits Project of the Danish Aarhus University, directed by the scholar Rubina Raja.
Today, as then, it is important to remember the dedication of this publication to Khaled al-Asaad, the Syrian archaeologist who directed the excavations in Palmyra from 1963 to 2003, and whose existence was brutally ended in 2015 by Taliban violence.