Rich in Blessings: Women, Wealth, and the Late Antique Household, Dumbarton Oaks Museum, November 14, 2023–June 9, 2024
At home and in public, luxury art broadcast late antique elites’ status in a society characterized by deep economic inequalities. Whereas household artifacts like textiles, plate, ivory, and jewelry undeniably served to embellish bodies and interiors, from another perspective such works might be seen as exclusive symbols of individual and family affluence. In their imagery and materials, artworks associated with dress and decor conveyed charged messages about late antique attitudes toward prosperity, ownership, and display, particularly as concerned women’s property and the legacies of intergenerational wealth. Paradoxically, the opulence admired in late antique artworks stood in contrast to the period’s emerging Christian and Jewish ideals urging the renunciation and sharing of riches, rhetoric foundational to how communities understood individuals’ philanthropic obligations to society. Rich in Blessings: Women, Wealth, and the Late Antique Household thus explores the multilayered associations of art, wealth, and inequality in late antiquity, prompting consideration of the enduring meaningfulness of these themes in our own world and in museum collections today.