Animals in Greek and Roman Art

This Gallery is an experimental sample gallery. This exhibit explores animal sculptures from the Greek and Roman periods. What types of animals are represented? How are they represented and on what types of monument do they appear? What symbolic meaning, if any, did they have? Can these pieces tell us anything about human attitudes towards animals?

According to the Database of the Cincinnati Art Museum, this particular sculpture was part of the decoration of an altar. Since they were important public structures, Roman altars could often be elaborate, the Ara Pacis built by Augustus in Rome is a prime example (reference). The cow is damaged, but still displays a remarkably life-like stance and demeanor, just like human representations of the period the young cow is shown in a highly naturalistic and idealized style. Cows, especially heifers, were popular sacrificial animals, which makes this image particularly suitable for the decoration of an altar or altar enclosure (reference). In comparison, the Ara Pacis in Rome is decorated with carved representations of cattle skulls, or bucrania (reference). This representation is of a domestic animal and although the cow is a sacrificial victim and therefore both subordinate to humans and doomed to die, the sculpture represents the animal with great dignity and tranquility, underlining its importance in both a religious and economic context.
Representation of a small lap dog. Is this Helena's beloved pet or even a grave marker for the animal itself? Unlike the other examples in this gallery this little dog clearly represents a pet and gives us some idea of its place within a human family. The choice of the little animal suggests that it was very important to Helena and may have been a family pet not unlike animals in present day Western Society.
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