Many studies and papers have been written about how arts education helps students become more successful. In fact, The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities suggests that child arts education can result in better academic performance and social engagement over a long term period, perhaps with life-long benefits. As the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator, one of my main duties this fall is to make sure that all public, private, home school and post-secondary students have an opportunity to experience art, especially in our feature exhibition, The Horse in Ancient Greek Art.

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Attributed to the Sappho Painter [Cahn], Greek (Attic), Black-Figure White Ground Lekythos, ca. 510 BCE, Quadriga chariot horses being harnessed, terracotta, Private Collection.
It can be difficult for students to relate an ancient vase to their every day lives. Some of these objects spent hundreds of years underground, and the people who made them aren’t on SnapChat. But I have discovered some human connections between modern Americans and ancient Greeks that the students have really enjoyed.

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Attributed to the Workshop of Hermogenes [Heesen], Greek (Attic) Band Cup, ca. 540 BCE, Achilles, Troilus on horseback, and Polyxena, terracotta, Private Collection.
1. They drank out of bowls. The variety of vase shapes used in ancient times can be overwhelming at first. How could each be used differently? And why didn’t Ancient Greeks drink out of cups like normal people? They actually drank out of shallow bowls called kylikes. Drinking out of a kylix sounds strange at first, but just about every kid eats breakfast cereal and then slurps the leftover milk straight from the bowl.

2. They spruced up on the go. Ancient Greeks did not have silky bubble baths and showers like we think of today, instead they used oil to clean off a sweaty body after exercising at the gymnasium. Not many middle school students roam the halls with an arybollos of perfume or oil tied to their belt, but they understand needing deodorant or body spray after gym class. At least, we hope they do.

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Greek (Corinth), Stater, ca. 340 BCE, Obv: Pegasos, silver, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Fund (63.13.3)

3. They are inspired by impossible, magical things. Some of the most engaging pieces of art in the exhibition are those that show mythological creatures. There’s something inherently heroic about a gleaming silver pegasos, something curious and powerful about a centaur crouched, ready to leap across the lip of a bowl. Amid historic recounts of Greco-Prussian wars or horse races, the mythological figures hold a child’s gaze the longest. Children understand the draw of fantastic dishware. ‘I have Power Rangers spoons’ says one student, ‘I have a Minions cup’, ‘I have a whole Frozen tea-party set’, they can relate to these characters.

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Students practice making connections across history.

What is so special about their character dishes at home? On the last tour, one little girl recounted a story about how her favorite fictional character came to be. She paused, struggling to convey what it is about the supernatural, mythical, magical world that pulls her in so.

“I just love it”, she sighed. She was telling me about her favorite cup at home, but her eyes are still glued to the pegasos. 


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Anne Marie Barnes is the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM). Her passion for museum work began shortly after graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in History from James Madison University. Between her expeience working at the Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center and the Washington Heritage Museums, she has done everything from designing summer camps to formulating major fundraisers. Have a question? Contact Anne Marie by e-mail

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This Saturday, September 9, our newest exhibition opens at the Museum, and visitors will get to come face-to-face with 2,500-year-old horses.

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Attributed to the Workshop of Gorgon Painter, (Greek, Attic), Horse-head Amphora, ca. 580-570 BCE, terracotta, 10 3/8 inches high, Private Collection. Each side of this amphora features a portrait of a horse with halter and flowing mane.

The Horse in Ancient Greek Art is an exciting new show that features painted vases, small sculpture, and silver coins, all from the 8th thru 4th centuries BCE. These objects are beautiful treasures that, amazingly, have survived over two and a half millennia. Every art object has a story to tell and a history to share – but these objects have a particularly long history! In addition to being spectacular archaeological finds, these works of art tell us all about equestrian life of the ancient Greek world.

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Attributed to the Orestes Painter, Greek (Attic), Red-figure Column Krater, ca. 440 BCE, Side A: Jockeys racing around column, terracotta,16 1/4 inches high, 14 3/8 inches wide, Private Collection. Ancient jockeys, who rode nude, raced their horses on long oval tracks with a sharp turn at each end.

In ancient Greece, horses represented nobility, strength, and beauty. Horses appear throughout Greek art and literature, play important roles in mythology and legend (some of the most popular examples include the Trojan Horse and Pegasos – spelled Pegasus in Latin), and were a key part of ancient society and culture. The Greeks loved athletics and competition, and equestrian sports became some of the most prestigious events at the Olympics and other types of games.

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Euainetos of Syracuse, Sicily, Dekadrachum, ca. 405-400 BCE, silver, 1 3/8 inches diameter, Private Collection, Washington, DC. This coin (equaling 10 drachmas) features an impressive relief of a quadriga, or four-horse chariot, with Nike, Goddess of Victory, flying overhead.

The Greek historian, author, and cavalry officer named Xenophon (ca. 430-354 BCE), wrote treatises on horse care and training. The concepts shared in his manuals on horsemanship and riding basically formed the foundation for modern equitation, and his writings have been referenced and translated over many centuries.

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Villanovan or Early Etruscan (Italy), Horse bit, ca. 800-700 BCE, bronze,3 3/4 x 6 x 5 inches, Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University (Photo: Kevin Montague). This ancient bit is a simple snaffle (a single jointed, mild type of bit) with decorative cheek pieces in the shape of a mare and foal.

Many of the objects in the show are vases, or vessels, featuring beautifully detailed decoration and paintings. Most were originally meant to be functional – as drinking cups, pitchers, or storage containers for wine or oil. Now they are displayed so the artwork on all sides – top, bottom, inside, and outside – can be seen and enjoyed.

NSLM partnered with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond for this project. After the exhibition closes here in January, it will travel on to the second venue there. We are thrilled to be able to share so many works on loan from important collections for this show, including: the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Tampa Museum of Art, Princeton University Art Museum, the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and private collections. The Metropolitan Museum of Art,  Fordham University , and the American Numismatic Society are also lending works that will be shown at the VMFA venue.

We are also excited to present the catalog that goes with this exhibition. It features essays by major scholars of ancient art and archaeology and explores the significance of the horse in the ancient Greek world. To learn more about the exhibition, the catalog, or all the great programming we have lined up, visit here.

The Horse in Ancient Greek Art is organized by the National Sporting Library & Museum and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. It will be on view at NSLM, September 9, 2017 – January 14, 2018.

 

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