Opening Celebration: Animal-Shaped Vessels from the Ancient World: Feasting with Gods, Heroes, and Kings


Thursday, September 6, 2018, 5:00pm to 9:00pm


Harvard Art Museums, 32 Quincy Street, Cambridge MA
silver drinking vessel with griffinJoin us to celebrate the opening of our latest special exhibition, Animal-Shaped Vessels from the Ancient World: Feasting with Gods, Heroes, and Kings, on view September 7, 2018–January 6, 2019.

Presented by the Harvard Art Museums.
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Michael Dietler, professor of anthropology, associated faculty in classics and social sciences, and affiliate of the Program on the Ancient Mediterranean World at the University of Chicago, will deliver the lecture “Liquid Material Culture: Anthropological Explorations of Alcohol and Drinking Vessels.”

Following an introduction to the exhibition by curator Susanne Ebbinghaus, Dietler’s lecture will focus on alcohol’s highly valued, central role in social life around the world for millennia. Though alcohol is an ephemeral object—designed to be immediately destroyed through ingestion into the human body—fortunately for archaeologists, its production and consumption have always required containers, which are far more durable. The lecture offers a comparative anthropological and archaeological exploration of the cultural significance of alcohol and drinking vessels through the ages.

Animal-Shaped Vessels from the Ancient World: Feasting with Gods, Heroes, and Kings brings 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 occasions, but also highlights the essential and universal role played by drink—and by the highly imaginative containers used to enjoy this “liquid material culture.”

The lecture will take place in Menschel Hall, Lower Level. Please enter the museums via the entrance on Broadway.

The opening celebration is free and open to the public, but tickets to the lecture are required. Tickets are available beginning at noon on Wednesday, August 29, at the Harvard Box Office, located in the new Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge. Tickets may be picked up in person or reserved online or by phone for a small processing fee. Limit of two tickets per person.

The lecture will take place at 6pm, in Menschel Hall, Lower Level. Before and after the lecture, guests are invited to view the exhibition on Level 3; there will also be a festive reception in the Calderwood Courtyard following the lecture. All museum galleries will remain open from 5 to 9pm.

Complimentary parking available in the Broadway Garage, 7 Felton Street, Cambridge.

Support for the lecture is provided by the M. Victor Leventritt Fund, which was established through the generosity of the wife, children, and friends of the late M. Victor Leventritt, Harvard Class of 1935. The purpose of the fund is to present outstanding scholars of the history and theory of art to the Harvard and Greater Boston communities.

Crucial support for the Animal-Shaped Vessels exhibition has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor. In addition, the Harvard Art Museums are deeply grateful to the anonymous donor of a gift in memory of Melvin R. Seiden and to Malcolm H. Wiener (Harvard A.B. ’57, J.D. ’63) and Michael and Helen Lehmann for enabling us to mount this exhibition and to pursue the related research. This work was also made possible in part by the following endowed funds: the David M. Robinson Fund and the Andrew W. Mellon Publication Funds, including the Henry P. McIlhenny Fund.