Visit guide for
teachers
Defining beauty
the body in
ancient Greek art
26 March – 5 July 2015
Marble statue of a naked Aphrodite
crouching at her bath, also known as Lely’s
Venus. Roman copy of a Greek original,
2nd century AD. Royal Collection Trust/Her
Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015.
Contents
About the exhibition
3
Using the exhibition
5
Planning your visit
6
Exhibition activity sheets
9
Briefing sheet for adult helpers
13
Background information
13
Exhibition image bank
16
Further resources
17
2
About the exhibition
This exhibition will explore the Greek experience and its experimentation with ways
of representing the human form. To the ancient Greeks the body was a thing of
beauty and a bearer of meaning. The remarkable works of art in the exhibition
range from the abstract simplicity of prehistoric figurines to the breath taking
realism in the age of Alexander the Great. Giving form to thought, these works
continued to inspire artists for hundreds of years and, over time, shaped the way
we think of ourselves.
The exhibition will feature around 150 objects, including some of the most beautiful
Greek sculpture to have survived from antiquity. In addition to iconic white marble
statues, the exhibition will include exquisite works in terracotta, beautiful bronzes
and fascinating vases that demonstrate the quality and inventiveness of ancient
Greek art. Outstanding objects from the British Museum will be shown alongside
extraordinary loans from other world-class collections.
3
The layout of the exhibition is as follows:
Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art: a series of encounters
introducing some important themes of the exhibition
Body colour: the use of colour in ancient Greek sculpture
God-like men: explaining why keeping fit was a social and political obligation for
men
Giving form to thought: traces the artistic evolution of the male and female figure
Rites of passage: explores the journey from cradle to grave marked with rites of
passage in particular birth, marriage and death
Love and desire: looking at erotic desire which was personified by Aphrodite and
her son Eros
Beauty and the beast: exploring mythical monsters and the place they held in
displaying contrasts with ancient Greeks civilized society and behaviour
Character and realism: showing the variety of human type and character, and
greater realism becoming a feature of Greek art
The Greek body goes East: following the influence of Greek art initiated by
Alexander’s ambitions to Hellenise a great area
The shock of the new: focusing on one of the figures from the Parthenon this
section looks at the effect of the arrival of the Parthenon Sculptures in Britain in the
nineteenth century
Content
Please be aware that the exhibition includes some material that you may wish to
discuss with your students beforehand to prepare them for encountering these
objects on the day of the visit. Further details are given below.
Nudity and scenes of a sexual nature
The exhibition contains sculptures and images of naked bodies, male and female.
Discuss this beforehand with your students. Explain that ancient Greeks believed
the athletic male nude form to be beautiful and a representation of a moral and
ideal citizen. Females are nearly always clothed with the exception of Aphrodite,
the goddess of love.
A small number of objects in the exhibition include scenes of sexual content. If you
see something that you feel is not appropriate for your group then we recommend
that you walk them past it or direct their attention elsewhere.
4
Using the exhibition
In advance
Decide on a focus for the visit and a follow-up activity and go through these with
the students. Some examples of possible ‘big question’ focuses are given on
page 6.
If you are using activity sheets, go through them with the students in advance.
Use the ideas in Pre-visit preparation below (see page 7) and the exhibition image
bank (see page 16) to provide general background and to familiarise students with
some of the content of the exhibition.
Light touch background information is included for your use on pages 14-15.
On the day
Divide the class into small groups, with an adult assigned to each group.
Give each adult a copy of any activity sheets the students are using and a briefing
sheet (see page 13). Explain what you want the students to do in the exhibition.
Encourage adults to allow students to linger at objects which interest them, to
discuss what they see and share things they find out as they go round.
Remind students to behave calmly and politely.
Photography is not allowed within the exhibition, but students may take photos of
relevant objects in the Museum’s permanent galleries.
Afterwards
Discuss the students’ thoughts and responses to the exhibition.
Use what the students have gathered in the exhibition for Post-visit activities (see
page 8).
Re-visit the exhibition image bank, if relevant.
5
Planning your visit
We recommend the following three guidelines in planning your students’
visit to the exhibition:
provide a focus that students should keep in mind as they explore the exhibition
and which you can follow up afterwards
do some preparatory work in school to develop the focus of the visit and familiarise
students with the content of the exhibition
allow students some scope to explore and find objects that interest them
Curriculum links
The exhibition offers opportunities in the following curriculum areas and for crosscurricular work:
History
ancient cultures and civilisations, finding out about the lives of men, women and
children in the past, similarities and differences, Greek life and achievements and
their influence on the western world
English
vocabulary development, spoken language and listening skills, reading of fiction,
composition
Art and design
sculpture, pottery, painting and use of colours, image and portrayal
Structuring the visit
It is often a good idea to have an overarching enquiry question for the
students to keep in mind during their visit. Here are some possible examples
of ‘big questions’:
What was the most interesting object in the exhibition? And why does it interest
you?
What did I learn about ancient Greece that I did not know before?
What does the exhibition tell me about daily life in ancient Greece?
What else would I put in the exhibition to make it interesting/informative?
How does art inform our views of a society?
This guide includes a number of activity sheets which you can use or adapt to help
focus the students as they go round the exhibition – see pages 9-13.
If you want students to do any drawing, we recommend that they draw one thing
carefully rather than doing lots of drawings.
Encourage the students to enjoy looking at objects they find interesting as well as
completing their focused work.
6
Pre-visit preparation
Here are a few suggestions of things to do before your visit to
prepare students.
Use some of the resources listed on pages 16-17 to help students begin to explore
ancient Greek objects and art.
Use maps to identify areas of ancient Greece and some of the well-known city
states such as Athens and Sparta.
Look through the exhibition image bank (see page 16) to introduce students to the
kinds of objects they will see and to familiarise them with some objects they will
subsequently see ‘for real’.
Choose one of the objects in the image bank and explore in detail what information
can be gained from examining an object closely.
Use the Athenian Family wine jar on the Teaching History with 100 Objects
website to explore how images on pots can be decoded and the wealth of
information they can reveal to us.
http://www.teachinghistory100.org/objects/an_athenian_family
Look at the Online tour about the Myth of the Trojan War in the Explore section of
the British museum website to uncover how myths can be told through art.
Look at ancient Greek objects in the Explore section of britishmuseum.org
Look at different cultures’ representations of the human body in sculpture. Discuss
Greek examples to reference what students will see in the exhibition. The Greek
statue of a woman on the Teaching History with 100 objects website is a useful
visual aid which is not included in the exhibition,
http://www.teachinghistory100.org/objects/about_the_object/greek_statue_of_a_w
oman
Show students excerpts from the video A Parthenon Metope: history and
reconstruction video to illustrate the original bright colours and added elements.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/channel/object_stories/video_parthenon_metope.as
px
Ask students to read or research stories about the hero Herakles. Explain that in
one section they will see statues and objects depicting Herakles.
7
Post-visit activities
Here are a few suggestions of things to do after your visit which follow-on
from the students’ time in the exhibition.
Revisit the exhibition image bank and ask the students what they found most
interesting in the exhibition.
There are many creative literacy activities that you can do with your students to
follow on from the exhibition. For example:
Create stories about memorable figures the students saw in the exhibition and use
the Greek theatre mask on the Teaching History with 100 Objects website to
prompt a script writing or theatre workshop,
http://www.teachinghistory100.org/objects/greek_theatre_mask
Revisit the Herakles legends, can students write a 13th Labour?
Students could write a blog about their day out and visit to the Museum and
exhibition.
Revisit the exhibition image bank and ask students to each choose a statue, or use
one they remember from their visit. Provide them with clay to reproduce their
chosen statue or to produce their own unique figure. Once dry these can be
painted to illustrate the bright colours used on the originals.
Use the Greek Goddess statue on the Teaching History with 100 Objects website
to examine more ways gods and goddesses were shown in ancient Greece,
http://www.teachinghistory100.org/objects/greek_goddess
Use the Challenge section of the Gods and Goddesses area of the Ancient Greece
website www.ancientgreece.co.uk to match symbols to the deities. You could then
take this further to looking at which heroes or monsters also have visual clues to
their identity and how Greek potters indicated which myth they were illustrating.
There were a number of mythical creatures displayed in the exhibition. Use them
as inspiration to create class or individual mythical creatures, ask students to think
about what animals form each creature, why those animals, what attributes the
creature has, it is a friend or foe, what is it called? Divide students into groups to
brainstorm stories that their creatures can take part in. Create storyboards to
illustrate these new myths as well as written descriptions and craft models of the
creatures.
Greek art shows images of both the everyday life and the mythical or religious
aspects. Ask students to pick a topic, or allocate these to them, and record
everything they remember from the exhibition that illustrated this. Then set them a
research task to find out more about specific aspects that you feel are relevant for
your classroom learning or that students are especially interested in. Students
could present their research in the form of a guide to the topic, information sheets
or a presentation.
Athletics in ancient Greece can be explored further using the Greek jumping
weights on the Teaching History in 100 Objects website
http://www.teachinghistory100.org/objects/greek_jumping_weights
8
Exhibition activity sheets
There is one set of activity sheets.
Each sheet focuses in on different topics and are for use across the exhibition.
Students can complete the sheets as they find an appropriate object. The group
leader can decide whether each sheet is completed in one area or whether
students add information to all the sheets as they move through the exhibition.
The activity sheets are designed to be printed/ photocopied as separate sheets
of A4.
Students can use the sheets to record their findings or simply as prompts for
exploring the exhibition.
Use these in combination with the briefing sheet for adult helpers on page 13.
9
Activity sheet: Statues
Read
 Choose a statue that interests you.
 Imagine that you are going to write a story about the person the
statue shows. Collect information about them below.
Write
Describe the statue. Is it a man
or a woman? Young or old?
Wearing clothes?
What pose are they in? (Are they
standing, sitting, moving? What
are their arms and legs doing?)
What emotions are they
showing? (happy? sad? angry?)
Is there any other information
you think would be useful? (What
other statues are near? Do you
know who the person is?)
Talk
Why do you find the statue you have chosen interesting? Do others
in your group agree?
10
Activity sheet: People and characters
Read
 The ancient Greeks loved listening to stories about gods,
goddesses, heroes, heroines and mythical creatures.
 Use the sheet below to collect the characters that you see in the
exhibition. When you find one add their name, a description or
picture into the boxes below. You can put more than one in each
box.
Find a:
god or goddess
hero or heroine
mythical creature
ordinary Greek person
Talk:
Do you know any ancient Greek myths? Can you tell a story to your
group?
11
Activity sheet: Everyday life
Read
 Greek art provides us with information about everyday life and
everyday activities.
 Look for statues, paintings or other images that show someone
doing a normal everyday activity. Pick one which interests you and
fill in the boxes below.
Write
What is the activity? What are
they doing?
Are they using any objects or
holding anything to help them
do the activity?
Who is doing it? (Are they male
or female? Can you tell anything
else about them?)
Draw a picture of the person
doing the activity.
.
Talk:
What activities has your group collected information about? Compare
your sheets and discuss what you saw.
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Briefing sheet for adult helpers
Your role:
help students find their way around the exhibition
encourage students to share ideas and observations
keep them focused on the work their teacher has set
use the object labels to explain things to students
draw students’ attention to things they may have missed
The exhibition is arranged into the following sections:
Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art: a series of
encounters introducing some important themes of the exhibition
Body colour: the use of colour in ancient Greek sculpture
God-like men: explaining why keeping fit was a social and political
obligation for men
Giving form to thought: traces the artistic evolution of the male and
female figure
Rites of passage: explores the journey from cradle to grave marked
with rites of passage in particular birth, marriage and death
Love and desire: looking at erotic desire which was personified by
Aphrodite and her son Eros
Beauty and the beast: exploring mythical monsters and the place
they hold in displaying contrasts with ancient Greeks civilized society
and behaviour
Character and realism: showing the variety of human type and
character, and greater realism becoming a feature of Greek art
The Greek body goes East: following the influence of Greek art
initiated by Alexander’s ambitions to Hellenise a great area
The shock of the new: focusing on one of the figures from the
Parthenon this section looks at the effect of the arrival of the
Parthenon Sculptures in the nineteenth century
Some objects in the exhibition include scenes of a sexual nature and
sexual acts. If you see something that you feel is not appropriate for
your group then we recommend that you walk them past it or direct
their attention elsewhere.
13
Background information
The Human Body
Greek depictions of the male body took inspiration from Egyptian examples in the
sixth century but gradually the human form became more realistic. Further through
time artists explored human diversity prompted in part by Alexander the Great’s
military expeditions (later fourth century BC) and following expansion of Greek
civilisation. The range of human subjects encouraged Greek artists to explore new
ways to represent people and their variety, emotions and activities. The ancient
Greeks excelled in representing the human form and shaped the way we think
about ourselves today.
Few life-size ancient Greek sculptures of the human body actually exist today as
many were broken up or melted down in antiquity. Most evidence is provided by
written descriptions and copies of lost Greek originals by the Romans, who
admired the Greek art that survived in their day.
Male and female depictions
Ancient Greek art reflected moral and religious values and an athletic naked male
body signaled an ideal citizen. Men were expected to be ready to fight for their citystate and as such undertook an atheletic training regime. This training was
performed naked to display their readiness and fitness to fight.
Training also prepared athletes for the various sporting games that took place
around Greece. These games were honouring specific gods and goddesses and
were important religious festivals as well as displays of skills. The games also
often included other competitive events such as musical competitions. Many
ancient sports contested at these events are easily recognisable in their modern
forms, such as the discus, javelin and long jump. Prizes were awarded to first
place winners who became celebrities in their local areas. Wreaths were one such
prize (for example victors at Olympia had olive wreaths, in Nemea it was parsley
and Corinth pine). Champions at the Panathenaic games in Athens, in honour of
Athena, were given large storage jars of olive oil, a highly prized resource.
Females were not depicted normally naked (with rare exceptions such as
Aphrodite) to reflect the female’s more private life and a Greek male view of her
inherent wildness. This did not deter sculptors from developing ways to suggest
and reveal the female form beneath drapery. Skilled sculpting techniques have
also left behind wonderful examples showing movement in the bodies and drapery.
As an aside it is worth noting that some women, especially Spartans, did take part
in atheletic training and events. The first recorded games for females took place at
Olympia in honour of Hera, the Heraia games. Female athletes wore chitons and
took part in a limited selection of sports.
Colourful art
We now know that Greek sculptures were highly colourful and could be adorned
with a variety of accessories. They were certainly not the traditional white marble
figures as previously believed. After carving the statues were painted with
patterned clothing, hair, eyes and suchlike to make them far more arresting and
conspicuous than when plain. Other materials could also be added to supplement
the paint and carving, for example earrings, metal locks of hair and weapons.
Myths and legends in art
The ancient Greeks surrounded themselves with representations of myths and
legends depicted through art. Some served as reminders of perceived past
glories, others as religious references or more still as prompts for storytelling.
Characters can be identified through visual clues given by the artist. Examples
include:
Herakles’ immediately recognisable lion skin cloak.
Athena is a rare example of a female depicted as a warrior but also has a
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secondary signifier - her aegis (snaky cloak).
Aphrodite is one of the few female figures depicted naked.
Medusa has large staring eyes, snakes in her hair and often sticks her tongue out
towards the viewer.
Stories can then be constructed following the visual clues identifying heroes, gods
or creatures and combining these with other details. For example, once Herakles is
identified the viewer can look for hints that show whether it is a specific one of his
12 labours being shown, or a moment from other stories surrounding his life such
as his entry to Mount Olympos.
The exhibition provides opportunities to study the myth of Herakles, from Hera’s
rage at his birth, through his labours and final entry into Olympos.
Rites of passage
Greek life was a cycle marked by rites of passage from birth to death. The
beginning of life was not formally acknowledged for ten days, the baby’s name
withheld until then. The age of 2 or 3 was marked with a child’s first taste of wine
during the Anthesteria festival in honour of Dionysos. Many depictions show us
children at play whilst some also include reflections of their future, more adult
duties.
Female and male roles differed vastly with females largely constricted to a
secluded home existence whilst men were expected to be more public figures.
Schools were the preserve of boys whilst girls gained skills at home that would be
needed to run households when they were older. Both though did have toys and
games in childhood.
A significant marker in a female’s life was her marriage, something that was
likened to an abduction and frequently shown as such in art. A mythical link was
made to Persepone’s forced marriage to Hades. Once installed in her new home
wives were responsible for the smooth running of the household, which could
stretch across generations and include numberous servants and slaves. Females
took part in public life only during the course of performing religious duties. Men
held more public lives and were responsible for securing items for the household
as well as being expected to partake in any military duty required of them.
When a person died their body was prepared for a funeral ceremony. This
removed them and members of their family from society for a short while and
allowed for a transition period. Grave goods and markers often reflected the
person’s role or traditional gender separations. For example men might be shown
as warriors in armour and holding weapons.
15
Exhibition image bank
You can download an image bank in the schools section of the exhibition website:
www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/defining_beauty/schools
The image bank includes a range of objects from across the different sections of
the exhibition.
You will find information about the objects in the Notes section of each slide.
You can use the image bank to introduce students to the types of objects they will
encounter in the exhibition and to support follow-up activities back in the
classroom. Individual images can be printed out for use in small group work.
16
Further resources
British Museum website
Teaching History with 100 Objects includes 6 objects files for ancient Greece for
Key Stage 2 full of information and ideas
www.teachinghistory100.org/browse/curriculum/7/
Explore is an online database of over 5000 objects from the Museum’s collection.
To investigate Greek objects click on Explore at britishmuseum.org
Aimed at primary school aged children Museum Explorer can be used to explore
ancient Greece
www.britishmuseum.org/explore/young_explorers/discover/museum_explorer/anci
ent_greece
Books for students
Woff, Richard Pocket Explorer The Ancient Greek World British Museum Press
McAllister, Emma Pocket Timeline of Ancient Greece British Museum Press
Books for teachers
Jenkins, Ian (ed) Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art (exhibition
catalogue) British Museum Press (March 2015)
Jenkins, Ian and Turner, Victoria The Greek Body British Museum Press
Oakley, John The Greek Vase: Art of the Storyteller British Museum Press
Other websites
BBC Primary History website on ancient Greece, in particular the Growing up in
Greece and Home Life sections for information about male and female lives.
www.bbc.co.uk/schools/primaryhistory/ancient_greeks/
Official website of the Olympic Movement features a section on the ancient Greek
Olympics. http://www.olympic.org/ancient-olympic-games?tab=history
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Defining beauty the body in ancient Greek art