It’s hard to believe the Thanksgiving holiday is here already and our exhibition The Horse in Ancient Greek Art will be with us for just 2 more months. This hit show has brought in lots of visitation, field trips of all ages, and group tours from all over. We are thrilled with the great response! If you haven’t seen it yet, you have until January 14th! If you have seen it, and you can’t get enough of ancient horses and fantastic Greek art, here are some fun facts. With so many tours coming through, we get a lot of great questions and get to share some fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbits.
Here are just a few of the top FAQs.
Are these things really that old? Some look brand new!
Yes! The objects on view in this show really are 2,800 – 2,300 years old. It’s hard to imagine an object (especially a ceramic vase) lasting that long, but it’s true. All have undergone some sort of conservation treatment during their lifetime. Some feature a burnished, shiny surface, which gives the illusion of looking “new” (especially when under museum display lights).
How in the world do they survive that long?
Fired pottery is surprisingly durable. Sometimes vessels are discovered by archaeologists in one piece, for example if they are found in tombs. But usually they are found in fragments and are carefully reassembled by restorers. In Black-figure and Red-figure vase-painting, the artwork is actually created with thin layers of watered down clay called “slip” that was baked in during the firing process. Some areas turn black in the kiln, while other areas keep the rich red and orange colors of the terracotta clay. Pigment was sometimes added afterwards, but it often doesn’t survive as well as the fired clay decoration.
Some vessels show their history more than others. The base of this Siana Cup has holes from repairs that were made during ancient times. The Greeks used metal staples to hold together broken pieces of valuable pottery. Modern restorations use special glues.
Why are there Satyrs here? I thought they were goats?
Many people are familiar with the Roman form of Satyrs, which were part human and part goat. But for the Greeks, whose culture and mythology came earlier, Satyrs were human-horse hybrids. They had a horse tail, horse ears, and sometimes hooves. Both versions were companions of Dionysos, the God of Wine, and were generally crude, lewd, and trouble-making.
Where are the saddles?
The Greeks rode bareback or sometimes with saddle cloths. Saddles with a solid frame, called a tree, did not appear until the 2nd or 1st century BCE. Solid stirrups, made of bronze or iron, were developed later in China around the 3rd century CE. Until then, various types of saddle pads or tree-less saddles were used, sometimes with cloth or leather toe loops.
So, how did the Greeks mount their horses with no saddles or stirrups? The author Xenophon suggested getting a leg up or using a spear to vault on.
Does the NSLM own any of these ancient objects?
Sometimes people are surprised to learn that the answer to this question is actually no. This exhibition is made up of loans from other museums (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Tampa Museum of Art, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, and Indiana University) and private collections. Ancient art is a new and exciting topic for us here! Exhibiting these objects gives us an opportunity to expand the context of our mission and look at a much bigger timeline for the history of horses in art and culture.
All art is informed by the art that has come before it. Part of what we do with our programming is help make connections between early works and modern examples. For instance, did you know that Nic Fiddian-Green, the creator of Still Water, was inspired by the classical sculptures of horses on the Parthenon Frieze?
After it closes here in Middleburg, The Horse in Ancient Greek Art will travel on to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, our co-organizers of the exhibition, where it will be on view February 17 – July 8, 2018.