Animal-Shaped Vessels from the Ancient World: Feasting with Gods, Heroes, and Kings brings together nearly 60 elaborate vessels of animal shape from collections in the United States and Europe. While the songs, speeches, and prayers that enlivened ancient feasts are now largely lost to us, these vessels have survived, offering a glimpse into the rich symbolism and communal practices that found expression at these gatherings. Taking animal-shaped vessels as performative props in the multifaceted world of feasting, the exhibition not only introduces the social and ceremonial functions of these ritual occasions but also highlights the essential and universal role played by food and drink—and by the highly imaginative containers used to enjoy these refreshments.
The exhibition includes vessels in the shape of standing or reclining animals, animal-headed cups and beakers, drinking horns, and animated pitchers. Various creatures, real and imagined, give these objects their shapes: powerful bulls and rams, majestic lions and mythical griffins, wild boars and goats, deer and gazelles, graceful birds, and braying donkeys, among others. Assembling such a range of vessels for the first time, the exhibition presents a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary examination of how they spanned geography and time, across three continents and over three millennia. The international menagerie of drinking and pouring vessels vividly illustrates not just how shapes and artistic forms crossed borders, but how ideas as well were exchanged among cultures—tangible evidence of close contact and the intermingling of traditions.
Admission: $15 adults, $13 seniors (65+). Free for members; youth under 18; Cambridge residents (proof of residency required); all students; and Harvard ID holders (plus one guest). On Saturdays, from 10am–noon, Massachusetts residents receive free admission (proof of residency required). For further information about visiting, see harvardartmuseums.org/plan-your-visit.
Hours: Daily, 10am–5pm. Closed major holidays.
Additional time info:
Thanks to a generous grant from the National Endowment from the Humanities, the museums are offering free admission to all visitors on Wednesday afternoons, 1–5pm, and on the first Saturday of each month, 10am–5pm, throughout the run of the Animal-Shaped Vessels exhibition. Information about these and other events, including the opening celebration on September 6, hands-on workshops, a symposium, gallery tours, and more, can be found on the museums’ calendar.