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Between Art and Asset: Silver Vessels from Antiquity to Today

Deer head rhyton depicting griffins attacking a bull, probably Black Sea area, c. 350 BCE. Silver, partially gilded. From the Golyamata Mogila, Zlatinitsa (Bulgaria). National Archaeological Institute with Museum, Sofia, Bulgaria, 8620. Photo: Krasimir Georgiev. © National Archaeological Institute with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia.


Harvard Art Museums
32 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA

Silver vessels have been prized possessions in many cultures, both ancient and modern. Some of the most elaborate vessels in the Animal-Shaped Vessels from the Ancient World: Feasting with Gods, Heroes, and Kings exhibition are fashioned from silver. What makes this material attractive for artists, and what makes drinking from silver vessels pleasant to the palate? Which intangible qualities have promoted the material’s use? How has appreciation of the vessels been influenced by the fact that silver often served as bullion and coins—and hence could be “cashed in”? This symposium will bring together art historians, a conservator, a numismatist, and a silversmith to explore these and related questions, including the function and uses of precious metal vessels, the role of craftsmanship, the symbolic qualities of silver, and silver’s relationship to other luxury materials. The presentations will focus on the ancient Mediterranean and Near East, the Byzantine world, China, and the Americas.

Angela Chang, Conservator of Objects and Sculpture, Head of the Objects Lab, and Assistant Director of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at the Harvard Art Museums

Henry Colburn, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in Ancient Near Eastern Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Eurydice Georganteli, Lecturer on History of Art and Architecture and Medieval Studies in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University

Kenneth Lapatin, Curator of Antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum

Ethan Lasser, Theodore Stebbins Jr. Curator of American Art and Head of the Division of European and American Art at the Harvard Art Museums

François Louis, Associate Professor and Director of Doctoral Studies at the Bard Graduate Center

Joanne Pillsbury, Andrall E. Pearson Curator of Ancient American Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Adam Whitney, Silversmith

Read the symposium program here.

The symposium will take place in Menschel Hall, Lower Level. Please enter the museums via the entrance on Broadway. Doors will open at 9:30am.
Free admission, but seating is limited.

Complimentary parking available in the Broadway Garage, 7 Felton Street, Cambridge.
Support for the symposium 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. In addition, modern and contemporary art programs at the Harvard Art Museums are made possible in part by generous support from the Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art.
Crucial support for the Animal-Shaped Vessels exhibition came in the form of 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 David M. Robinson Fund and the Andrew W. Mellon Publication Funds, including the Henry P. McIlhenny Fund.

Share your experience of the Animal-Shaped Vessels exhibition via social media with the hashtag #partyanimals, and tag us with #HarvardArtMuseums.