National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Susanne Ebbinghaus

Affiliation: Harvard University

Susanne Ebbinghaus is the George M.A. Hanfmann Curator of Ancient Art, the Head of the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art, and Lecturer in Classics with the Harvard Art Museums.  She holds her degrees from Oxford University (D.Phil.) and the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität in Freiburg, and her areas of specialization include the art and archaeology of Greece and the Near East in the first millennium BCE, especially the material culture of feasting, cross-cultural exchanges between east and west, sculptural polychromy, and metalworking.  Dr. Ebbinghaus is an Associate Director (advisory) with the Archaeological Exploration of Sardis, Turkey project, and her publications include Animal-Shaped Vessels from the Ancient World: Feasting with Gods, Heroes, and Kings (editor, Harvard Art Museums, 2018).  She is the AIA Hanfmann Lecturer and Kershaw Lecturer for 2020/2021.


A lesser-known aspect of George M.A. Hanfmann’s work is his careful study of numerous objects in the collection of the Harvard Art Museums. Among these is the fragmentary silver forepart of a deer, perhaps from a drinking vessel, which appears to have been made in the western regions of the Persian Empire in the fourth century BCE, and has been re-examined recently. Taking the silver deer fragment as a starting point, this lecture explores the history of animal-shaped drinking vessels in ancient Iran and neighboring regions as it may be reconstructed from archaeological finds. It looks more broadly at feasting and the royal banquet in the Persian Empire and on its western fringes, and in particular at the role of silver vessels as assets in both banqueting and gift exchange. What qualities—tangible and intangible—made silver a highly sought-after material for vessels? And how did ancient silversmiths produce such elaborate vessels in the shape of animals and mythical creatures?

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Susanne Ebbinghaus (ed.), Animal-Shaped Vessels from the Ancient World: Feasting with Gods, Heroes, and Kings(Cambridge, MA: Harvard Art Museums, 2018)

And for a quick introduction:

Archaeologists attempt to reconstruct human experience from excavated fragments of material culture. This challenge plays out in a microcosm as we try to reconstruct the original appearance of ancient sculptures whose painted surfaces have long faded. How do we keep our own worldview and tastes from interfering? A relief fragment from the ancient Persian capital city Persepolis in Iran, now in the collection of the Harvard Art Museums, presents a case in point. Depicting the figure in the winged disk often interpreted as the Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda, it preserves significant traces of its ancient coloration. By way of a tour of Persepolis, this lecture places the relief in its original context. It discusses the relief’s scientific examination in the museums’ lab as well as the resulting reconstruction efforts. It also probes the history of modern, often ambivalent attitudes toward colorfulness, partly tracing them back to changes in the ancient Greek view and use of color in the wake of the Greco-Persian Wars.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

Alexander Nagel, “Color and Gilding in Achaemenid Architecture and Sculpture,” in: D. Potts (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Iran (Oxford 2013), 596-621:

For painted sculpture more generally, see the recent exhibition catalogue by Vinzenz Brinkmann, Renee Dreyfus, and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann (eds.), Gods in Color: Polychromy in the Ancient World (San Francisco 2017).

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