Animal-Shaped Vessels from the Ancient World: Feasting with Gods, Heroes, and Kingsbrings 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.