The exhibition Animal-Shaped Vessels from the Ancient World: Feasting with Gods, Heroes, and Kings opens tonight at the Harvard Art Museums, with a keynote lecture by Michael Dietler of the University of Chicago.
To my mind the real intellectual value of this exhibition is the way it explores the transmission of forms and ideas across time and space. The form of the rhyton, or drinking horn, is easily adopted by one group from another, but the ideas underlying that form — its meaning, or ritual significance, for example — are not necessarily adopted along with it. And the rhyton form itself also changes, depending on how different groups understand it, or based on aesthetic sensibilities or technological preferences. This exhibition brings together an essential body of evidence for examining this fascinating topic.
I worked on this exhibition as a curatorial fellow at Harvard in 2014-15. Mostly I did object research on Hellenistic, Parthian, Sasanian, Gandharan and Sogdian vessels, on which I wrote the relevant chapter of the companion book, but I also helped with some preliminary design aspects, and even identified some potential loans. When I left Harvard in 2015 many aspects of the show were still in flux, so I am very much looking forward to seeing the final product.