Mythology

Museums are full of objects with stories to tell. But what follows are Museum objects featuring characters that literally come from myths, or sacred stories, about how certain things came to be. As sacred stories, myths were closely linked to ancient religions.

As you follow this tour, you’ll catch a glimpse of famous characters like Isis, Venus, Cupid, and Pegasus along the way. 

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    Thoth was the Egyptian god of wisdom, the inventor of writing, patron of scribes and the divine mediator. He is most often represented as a man with the head of an ibis, holding a scribal palette and reed pen. Thoth was present at the judgment of the dead. He would question the deceased before recording the result of the weighing of the deceased's heart. If the result was favorable, Thoth would declare the deceased as a righteous individual who was worthy of a blessed afterlife. This statue of Thoth is not made of glass, but of faience, a silica-based cast material which is most often coated with a blue glaze. There are small vertical loops on either side of the figure’s wig, which have holes for suspension or for the attachment of decoration.
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    The eight-pointed star motif is the symbol of the goddess Ishtar in Western Asiatic mythology. Ishtar is often associated with Astarte, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of love and war, who had a star within a circle as her symbol. Ishtar plays major roles in literary texts, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and Ishtar’s Descent to the Underworld. The presence of a thread hole in this pendant suggests that it was probably worn about the neck as an amulet.
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    This mosaic glass inlay features the face of a satyr. Satyrs were imaginary male inhabitants of the Greek and Roman wild, having some animal features, no restraint in their desire for sex and wine, and were generally represented naked. This piece may very well represent the father of the satyrs, Silenus, who is often represented as bald. Silenus was the educator of the god Dionysus.

    See this piece of mosaic glass inlay, along with others, which were featured in the Museum’s past exhibition, Reflecting Antiquity: Modern Glass Inspired by Ancient Rome. explore: Reflecting Antiquity

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    From the 3rd century B.C., Venus was the patron of all persuasive seductions, between gods and mortals, and between men and women.

    This statuette is a version of the Aphrodite of Knidos, a Greek life-size marble sculpture of the third century B.C., which was frequently copied by Roman artists. The flesh-like color of the surface is a happy accident - the result of weathering. When it was new, the object was yellowish green.

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    The figures represented on this beaker have been potentially identified as the goddess Winter, the hero Hercules, the god of marriage Hymen, and the messenger god Mercury. These figures are derived from representations of the wedding procession of Peleus and the sea-nymph Thetis. The same figures appear in varied combinations on many historic reliefs.

    How do all of the details of this beaker squeeze onto the surface? Many features can adorn the walls of a vessel when employing the use of a decorated mold. watch: Mold Blowing, which illustrates blowing glass in a mold, as well as the cracking off process.

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    The scene on this beaker illustrates a well-known story from Greek mythology. Atalanta, the swiftest mortal, had been warned by the Delphic oracle never to marry. When her father told Atalanta to take a husband, she agreed to do so on the condition that she be allowed to race against her suitors. She would accept any suitor who could beat her, but would kill all of those whom she defeated. One of her suitors, Hippomenes, sought help from the goddess Aphrodite, who gave him three golden apples and told him to drop them one by one during the race.

    On the beaker, Hippomenes (identified by a Greek inscription) is in the lead. Atalanta (identified) is about to catch up with him. Expecting to overtake Hippomenes and win the race, she is ready to kill him with her sword. Hippomenes, however, has no intention of losing the race and he drops an apple to distract Atalanta. In the story, Atalanta stopped three times to pick up the apples, and lost the race.

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    In Greek mythology, the nymph Daphne, daughter of the river god Ladon, resisted her father’s entreaties to take a husband. The god Apollo, wounded by an arrow of Desire, saw Daphne and fell in love with her. She fled from him and, almost exhausted by the chase, called out for rescue. As Apollo reached out to embrace her, she was transformed into a laurel tree.

    read: The Daphne Ewer to discover more about the modern background of the Daphne %%Ewer%%. It once belonged to J. Pierpont Morgan, and almost became victim to a famous plane crash.

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    According to Greek myth, King Iobates of Lycia asked the hero Bellerophon to kill the Chimaera, a fire-breathing monster with three heads: a lion’s, a goat’s, and, on the end of her tail, a serpent’s. Bellerophon mounted the winged horse Pegasus and killed the Chimaera by flying above her, shooting her with arrows, and thrusting a lump of lead attached to the point of his spear into her mouth. Her breath melted the lead, which ran down her throat and burned her. In this fragment, Bellerophon thrusts downward at the Chimaera, whose goat's head is visible, as is a looped motif above its back, which may be its serpentine tail.
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    This unique diorama portraying the myth of Diana and Actaeon was probably made by a Venetian lampworker in the early 17th century. The scene shows the hunter Actaeon, who chances on the goddess Diana and her nymphs bathing in a spring. Unable to cover her nudity in time, Diana angrily splashes water at Actaeon - water carrying a spell that turns him into a stag.

    In the diorama, the hunter already has antlers protruding from his head. The group of dogs in the foreground alludes to Actaeon’s imminent tragic death: not recognizing their transformed master, the dogs will give chase and tear him apart. This diorama was probably made for an educated and wealthy patron who delighted in curiosities.

    watch: Flameworking Glass Sculptures
    In this video, you will witness a glass figure being made from glass at the modern flameworker’s torch. Imagine making all of the figures in the scene of Diana and Actaeon via this method...

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    This ring depicts an allegory of true love. Cupid, the son of Venus, is tending the fire of love, while a butterfly flutters in front of him. The butterfly represents Psyche (the Greek name can be translated as "life," "spirit," and "soul," as well as "butterfly" or "moth"), a girl who was loved by Cupid and so beautiful that Venus became jealous of her.
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    The figures depicted on this late 19th century English cameo glass vase are five of the nine Muses: Euterpe (the Muse of the flute and lyric poetry), Erato (the Muse of love poetry), Terpsichore (the Muse of dancing and choral song), Clio (the Muse of history), and Thalia (the Muse of comedy and idyllic poetry). The designer (perhaps George Woodall from the English company, Thomas Webb and Sons) jumbled the implements belonging to each respective deity. Euterpe is shown with a lyre instead of flutes, Thalia has flutes instead of a comic mask, and Clio holds a lyre instead of a scroll.
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    In Egyptian myth, Isis was married to the god Osiris. He was murdered, but Isis resurrected him from the dead. Impregnated by Osiris after his resurrection, Isis gives birth to Horus, who ascends his throne.

    Isis was a protector of women and marriage, goddess of maternity and the new-born, and guarantor of the fertility of fields and the abundance of harvests.

    Georges Despret made this sculpture between 1900 and 1910 in his studio located inside his factory. Despret was an engineer and an expert in industrial glassmaking.

    watch: Pâte de Verre
    The Isis figure was made via the pâte de verre casting technique. Watch as Japanese artists Shin-ichi and Kimiake Higuchi use this method.

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    Jean Cocteau (1889–1963) was a celebrated French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, and filmmaker. Cristallerie Daum, one of the leading glass manufacturers in France, invited Cocteau in 1957 to design a limited edition series of objects in pâte de verre. This pitcher is one of a group of three created by Cocteau that depict the ancient Greek King Athamas, his wife Ino, and their son Melicertes. As related in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, at the end of their lives, King Athamas and Ino were driven insane, Athamas murdered their son Learchus, and Ino and Melicertes fled to the sea, where they jumped into the water and were transformed into sea deities. Subjects drawn from the Metamorphoses and other well-known classical sources have been longstanding themes for artists and designers since the Renaissance. Cocteau’s characteristically simple, almost childlike, design for the pitcher shows King Athamas with a calm, sweet, and slightly smiling expression, somewhat like that of an ancient Greek kouros (youth) sculpture.