The McMaster Museum of Art has received a gift of twenty-two coins, dating back to Alexander the Great—significant for both their value to McMaster’s teaching collection and their provenance. The Vishniac coin collection has been gifted to McMaster University by McMaster astronomy professor Ethan Vishniac and his wife, McMaster Provost, Ilene Busch-Vishniac. Ethan Vishniac inherited the collection from his grandfather, renowned photographer Roman Vishniac.
“We are honoured to be the custodians of this significant material heritage,” says McMaster Museum of Art Director and Chief Curator Carol Podedworny.
McMaster Classics Professor Spencer Pope, the Honorary Curator of McMaster’s coin collection, has mounted an exhibition of the Vishniac collection this summer.
While most of the Vishniac coins date from the Roman Republic, the breadth of the collection from the 4th century BC to an 1857 Bank of Upper Canada penny allows a keen look into the traditions developed in classical antiquity that continue today. As Pope observes,”Coinage is a fundamentally conservative medium which seldom deviates from longstanding traditions and established iconography that imbues them with the authority of the past and makes them instantly recognizable as objects that will not lose their value.”
This collection was gathered by Russian-born photographer and biologist Roman Vishniac (1897-1990). Roman Vishniac: A Vanished World, the powerful exhibition of his photographs chronicling life in the Jewish villages and ghettos of Central and Eastern Europe between 1935 and 1939, was shown at McMaster in 2008.