The Hispanic Society’s antiquities collection, the largest outside of Spain, extensively illustrates the ancient history of the Iberian Peninsula. The earliest works among those are made in the second millennium BC by the people known as the Bell-Beaker, after the shape of the ceramic wares they produced. Later, Spain’s rich mineral deposits attracted people from outside the Iberian Peninsula such as the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, all of whom established colonies primarily in southern and coastal Spain. Evidence of the convergence of Phoenician and indigenous Iberian cultures appears in the Society’s collection of engraved ivories (ca. 700-600 BC) found in excavations along the Guadalquivir River. Migrating Celts also settled in central Spain and assimilated with native Iberians. The Celtiberian culture is represented at the Society with an impressive group of metalwork including silver bracelets, torques, and fibulae.
Beginning in the third century BC, the Romans slowly made inroads into Spain, eventually controlling the entire Iberian Peninsula from 19 BC until the 5th century AD. The Hispanic Society holds a large collection of Roman works including marble sculptures, small bronze sculptures and implements, mosaics, silver, ceramics, and glass. Marble sculptures in the collection include a portrait head of a Julio-Caludian princess, perhaps Julia Drusilla (30-50 AD), and a fragmentary statue of Diana (2nd century AD), but the finest is the Portrait Bust of a Roman Youth (130-150 AD), reputedly found in Itálica, near Seville. Among the dozens of pieces of Roman metalwork, the most significant are a bronze double-wick lamp with a mask of Pan (early 1st of century AD) ), and a pair of nesting silver ladles, or trullae (100-125 AD), that were found near Nuestra Señora de Tiermes (Soria). There are more than 150 complete pieces of Roman glass dating from and 2nd centuries AD in the collection, the majority found in Extremadura and Andalucía. Of similar date and provenance are the dozens of molded bowls and cups of the red clay pottery known as terra sigillata, as well as ceramics with clay slip decoration, or barbotine. Among the more striking Roman works is a dramatic mosaic medallion of Medusa (175-225 AD) from the Roman town of Canania, now Alcolea del Río, near Carmona (Seville).
As the Roman Empire crumbled, Sueves, Vandals, and Visigoths occupied the Iberian Peninsula, with the Visigoths ultimately dominating and establishing their capital in Toledo in the 5th century. The Visigoths remained a dominant force in Spain until their subjugation three centuries later by invading Arabs and Berbers from North Africa. The Christian character of Visigothic art is evident in an unglazed 7th-century terracotta relief plaque in the collection, while the achievements of Visigothic metallurgy can be seen in a 6th-century bronze and garnet belt buckle of exquisite workmanship.