In 1996, Cedar Rapids art collectors Tom and Nan Riley generously donated 21 important Roman portrait busts to the Museum. These stone sculptures include emperors and commoners, men and women, mortals and deities, Romans and individuals from the provinces. Spanning 250 years, from the Julio-Claudian emperors of the 1st century B.C. to the height of Imperial Rome in the 3rd century A.D., the collection reflects both the Greek and Roman stylistic traditions.
Around this collection, a larger permanent installation, titled Art in Roman Life, has been created, augmenting the busts with loans of metal work, glass, and ceramics. The ongoing permanent collections exhibition explores the intersection of art and daily life in ancient Rome through this installation of more than 50 ancient objects. Sculpture, coins, lamps, musical instruments, glass, weights and scales, and other ancient household items are on display in the gallery to evoke everyday life of Romans living 2,000 years ago. To complement the Museum's superb Riley Collection of Roman busts, both the University of Iowa’s Classics Department and the Toledo Museum of Art have generously lent objects from their collections. In addition, a selection of extraordinary Roman coins has been lent from a private Iowa collector.