The classical collection at the North Carolina Museum of Art comprises works of art from ancient Greece (1000 B.C.E.–146 B.C.E.) and Rome (500 B.C.E.–393 C.E.), including art from earlier cultural phases of these two great civilizations: Greek Bronze Age cultures in the Aegean (Cycladic, circa 3000–2000 B.C.E.) as well as mainland Greece (Mycenaean, circa 1600–1000 B.C.E.); and the Villanovan (circa 900–700 B.C.E.) and Etruscan (circa 700–500 B.C.E.) cultures of northwest and central Italy. As a whole the collection provides visitors with a survey of art covering more than 3,000 years and much of the Mediterranean.
While not a strict chronological overview of the art of ancient Greece and Rome, the collection does represent major developments in sculpture and stylistic differences in ceramic decoration (mostly presented by area or culture in the galleries). Visitors may note how differently the human figure has been interpreted by comparing the Cycladic Female Figurine, the Mycenaean Figurine of a Woman Holding a Child, and the Greek Torso of Aphrodite, a form later adopted by the Romans (Aphrodite of Cyrene). In addition to regional differences, the influence of other Mediterranean civilizations—such as ancient Egypt—is often visible in Greek or Roman art, attesting not only to the cultural and commercial exchanges throughout the region, but also to the Greek colonization of North Africa and Western Asia during the Hellenistic period and the vastness of the Roman Empire. In this regard, compare the Greek Figure of a Youth from Cyprus with the Egyptian Figure of a Man, and note the Greek Hydria (probably from Egypt) as well as the Egypto-Roman statuette of Aphrodite-Isis.
Many works of classical art also bring to life ancient personalities, such as Marcus Aurelius (Portrait of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius) and the playwrights Aeschylus (Head of Aeschylus) and Sophocles (Relief), and illustrate the well-known myths of ancient gods (Krater), goddesses, and heroes (Herakles and Neck Amphora), still familiar to us thousands of years later.
Note: The North Carolina Museum of Art uses the designation B.C.E./C.E. (Before Common Era/Common Era) rather than B.C./A.D. (Before Christ/Anno Domini) when dating its ancient collections that are not rooted in the Christian tradition.