September 19, 2015

At the Met: The Charm of Ancient Animals

A few years ago I stumbled upon the Greek and Roman Study Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On a mezzanine floor above the Greek and Roman galleries, are cases and cases full of objects, too small or broken or not significant enough to be included in the main galleries, but wonderful to see. Every once in a while I take a wander through the long gallery to see what my eye will alight upon. This week the images of animals engaged my attention: so many were fanciful, while being attentive to the animal's characteristics. In his essay, "Why Look at Animals?", John Berger notes that before the 19th century,  "animals constituted the first circle of what surrounded man.....they were at the center of his world". While looking at all the animals pictured, I felt that there was a true relationship in those ancient times. And what a delightful creature pictured above!

The objects show affection and humor and respect.
I'm sorry not to have exact information on the pieces, but there are 3500 objects in these cases and their details have to be found on wall monitors; there are no labels. There are 116 pages full of objects on the Met's website, 30 objects per page.

There were many birds depicted: on the flasks above, and sculpted as various vessels. This bird bulbous....

....and this long and narrow, painted with geometric designs (or is it a bird?).

To me these look like a pair of small owls, with simply rendered form.

And here a duck, whose graceful head tops a large rounded body, probably enlarged so as to contain more liquid.

Then there were domestic animals, like these perky bulls.

These small sculptures were in the Hellenistic case, a later period, evident because of their increased naturalism.

There were also non-domesticated species, such as this marvelous elongated and spotted rabbit.

Then these marvelous little creatures: are they hedgehogs?

Finally, the fiercest of wild animals: a lion and behind him a bird of prey. The lion in this incarnation doesn't look too frightening, though both falcon(?) and lion are strong presences. We are lucky to have all these objects on display rather than hidden away in storage.


  1. Interesting that they all have numbers on them. I guess to keep track of them. Animals dominate my collections. I can relate to most of these.

    1. Every object at the Met has an acquisition number, but the numbers you see on the work above are too short to be those. I'm not sure what those numbers are.....perhaps from excavations?
      Small animal sculpture is wonderful to have around to look at; I have a couple of things myself: a chicken paperweight, kookaburra salt shakers.

  2. Replies
    1. You're very welcome; it was my pleasure to do this post.