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Animals in Art

Catch these charming creatures in the galleries on your next visit to the lower level 1916 Building galleries! 

 

Cat Coffin, 305-30 BC, Egypt, Ptolemaic Dynasty (305-30 BC)

The Internet might be full of cat videos and memes, but affection for friendly felines is nothing new. Thousands of years ago, the ancient Egyptians kept cats as pets, valued them for their hunting abilities, and even worshipped them. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote about the Egyptians’ love of cats, saying that when there was a fire people would be assigned to watch for cats so they wouldn’t be burned. This statue, on view in Gallery 107, has a hollow cavity inside intended to hold the mummified remains of a cat. 

Bird Standard, early to mid-1900s, Western Sudan, Ivory Coast, Senufo, 20th century

On view just next door in Gallery 108A is this carved bird, originally meant to be placed at the of a long staff. Though it’s too abstracted for the species to be specifically identified, the hooked beak and fanned tail tell us it’s a bird of prey like an eagle. The bird standard served as the prize for a hoeing contest held annually in the Senufo culture in west Africa. 


Paestan Fish-Plate, c. 340-330 BC, South Italy, Paestum, 4th Century BC

A few galleries over, this terracotta plate features a variety of sea creatures, from several types of fish to a large squid across the center. (Look between its tentacles to see tiny seashells!) Plates like these were made in southern Italy, where seafood was an important part of the diet. Some scholars think plates like these were used to serve fish, with some kind of sauce in the center for dipping, but other think these were used for decorative or ritual purposes rather than eating. 

Monkey Aryballos, c. 580 BC, Greece, Milesian, Eastern province, 6th Century BC

Pottery is a huge part of the archaeological record of ancient Greece. The first thing that comes to mind is probably painted red or black-figure vases, but lots of other types have also survived. This Monkey Aryballos, on view in Gallery 102B, is one such example. Little jars like this one were probably used for perfume or oil, and were made in many different shapes: animals, human heads, and even body parts like hands or feet! 

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