There will be free admission for all at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts on December 18 as the Museum celebrates the reopening of the Behrakis Wing, housing several Ancient Greek and Roman galleries.
The museum, which has important holdings from those eras as well as a notable collection of Egyptian antiquities, will open its doors at 10 AM on Saturday, December 18, with tickets available online or on a first-come, first-served basis in person.
The new galleries of art of ancient Greece, Rome, and the Byzantine empire feature some of the oldest works in the MFA’s collection, telling new stories and reflecting our time through the art of the past.
Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ Behrakis Wing houses treasures of ancient Greece
With freshly-imagined spaces that include natural light, innovative displays, interactive experiences, and immersive evocations of an ancient Greek temple and a Byzantine church, visitors of all ages can learn about the legacies of these ancient cultures and understand their relevance today.
The MFA underwent a major renovation and reinstallation of four galleries at the heart of the George D. and Margo Behrakis Wing for Art of the Ancient World, which will display nearly 500 objects ranging from the beginnings of Greek art (about 1100 B.C.) through the fall of Constantinople in the 15th century and into the present day.
This project will create a grand entry for visitors to the MFA’s renowned collection of Classical art — one of the finest and most comprehensive in the world. The galleries will showcase iconic highlights of the collection, including many objects that have not been on view, adding to a renovated suite of 11 Classical galleries completed since 2009—most recently “Daily Life in Ancient Greece.”
The renovations are made possible by a broad coalition of 24 donors, led by George D. and Margo Behrakis, The Krupp Family Foundation, Richard and Nancy Lubin and an anonymous donor.
“The MFA’s Greek, Roman and Byzantine collections are foundational to this Museum,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “These new galleries will bring to life the richness of Classical art, providing contemporary perspectives on the era’s profound legacy. Original interpretation will allow us to have conversations across time and geography, exploring themes that remain central to our society today, including democracy, religion, philosophy and literature.”
The new galleries will align with the Museum’s long-standing mission to bring art and people together, and to encourage inquiry, understanding and appreciation of visual language.
New narratives, immersive learning experiences
A popular destination for school groups, new interpretation will engage a wider range of students, many of whom have different learning styles, backgrounds and experiences—making the objects more accessible to the next generation of museumgoers.
Narratives throughout the galleries will examine contemporary issues through the lens of the past, asking questions about what it means to be an enlightened citizen, what role religion plays within society, and why the mythical world is an enduring source of fascination — then and now. Additionally, every object will be documented, cleaned and conserved before going on view.
Anchored by the Museum’s beloved 13-foot statue of Juno, or Hera, a highlight of the renovation is a new gallery, “Gods and Goddesses,” which will re-create the atmosphere of a temple.
Due to its enormous size, the sculpture was airlifted into the gallery through an opening made in the roof.
Conservators treated the sculpture in place over the course of several months, giving visitors the chance to observe their activities, which normally take place behind the scenes.
The colossal Roman sculpture, recognizable as Juno by her diadem, drapery, and facial features, was acquired for the Museum in 2011 by anonymous donors. Dating to the Trajanic or Hadrianic Period (early second century A.D.), it is the largest Classical marble statue in North America.
In pride of place alongside her, there will be other large-scale sculptures as well as more intimate objects ranging in date from the 5th century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D., the immersive space will introduce the personalities, feats and fates of the deities the Greeks and Romans worshipped, and explore ancient religious practices.
Behrakis family are noted philanthropists
A legend in the pharmaceuticals business, George D. Behrakis has given away tens of millions of dollars of his hard-earned money over the decades.
Greek Reporter sat down with him to ask about his philanthropy and what it takes for somebody to become so generous. Eventually we got into a discussion of Hellenism in America, the much-needed Greek-American legacy, and that “the Greeks need to give back more,” as the straightforward Behrakis noted.
“Greeks always go for the gold, not the silver or the bronze,” Behrakis had stated when he was honored by The Hellenic Initiative several years ago. A Greek-American born in Lowell, Massachusetts, Behrakis never compromised for anything else other than the gold, and he did it in his own way.
“If I had listened to what people used to tell me, I would have never been successful,” he says during our exclusive interview, which is part of the Greek Reporter documentary “USA: Made in Hellas.”
Initially he worked for Johnson and Johnson; after creating Tylenol, he started his own company, Dooner Laboratories, with startup funding he received from his relatives and friends. Dooner grew rapidly and after selling it nine years later, he opened Muro Pharmaceuticals; with Behrakis, as the head, Muro became highly successful, and he sold the company in 1996.
After retiring from the pharmaceutical business, Behrakis started a quest to give back to society in both the US and Greece. Through The Behrakis Foundation, the Greek-American philanthropist is positively changing people’s lives.
“Greek Americans need a legacy in the United States, I strongly believe that,” says Behrakis, who pointed out that, for him, the best reward of all is when young Greeks feel a sense of pride in tier heritage through his philanthropy.
New Byzantine gallery first of its kind in New England
A Byzantine gallery in the Behrakis Wing, the first of its kind in New England, will cover a geographically diverse collection of works ranging in origin from the era of Emperor Constantine the Great in the 4th century to the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
This includes the 15th-century Monopoli altar, which will be on view for the first time after undergoing major conservation. Evocative of an altar in an early Byzantine church, the space will feature a soundscape reflecting liturgical chants.
A gallery exploring Early Greek Art — a major strength of the MFA’s collection — from its beginnings in the wake of Mycenae (about 1100 B.C.) to the Persian Wars (480/479 B.C.) includes the Mantiklos Apollo, the most famous object in the MFA’s Greek collection.
“It is truly gratifying to activate our Greek and Roman collections through new scholarship and ideas,” said Christine Kondoleon, George D. and Margo Behrakis Chair, Art of Ancient Greece and Rome.
“Many of these works are among the oldest in the collection, yet they will create connections between cultures past and present — reminding us that we are a global museum. As the ‘Athens of America,’ Boston deserves the best presentation of these renowned works of art.”
In addition to showcasing iconic works of art, the renovations will include grand architectural enhancements — including greater ceiling height — as well as multimedia and digital technology interventions and environmental systems including air conditioning, and increased natural lighting.
Window into Ancient Greek and Roman life
The renovations to the Behrakis Wing will unify the collection and connect to previously renewed spaces, leading the visitor on a natural progression that provides a window into ancient life, including athletic pursuits and gender roles; coins as both works of art and tools of exchange; and jewelry as a symbol of portable wealth.
In 2020, the Museum’s 150th anniversary year, a new state-of-the-art Conservation Center, featuring 22,000 square feet of space and six laboratories, was opened.
One of the nation’s oldest art museums, the Museum of Fine Arts was founded on February 4, 1870. The Museum opened its doors to the public on July 4, 1876 — the nation’s centennial — at its original location in Copley Square.
Today, the MFA houses a global collection encompassing nearly 500,000 works of art, from ancient to contemporary, and welcomes approximately 1.2 million visitors each year to celebrate the human experience through art as well as innovative exhibitions and programs.
Open seven days a week, the MFA’s hours are Saturday through Tuesday, 10 am–5 pm. The Museum’s mobile MFA Guide is available at ticket desks and the Sharf Visitor Center for $5, members; $6, non-members; and $4, youths.