The Idea:

Black and red figure pottery was a revolutionary discovery for Greek artisans that created a whole new meaning to decorations on pottery.  The method, originally pioneered in 700 BC, was created in the town of Corinth, the main hub of black-figure paintings early on after its creation.  That is until Athens eventually perfected the technique and reigned supreme starting 625 BC.

The Process:

To create these decorations and figures, images were painted onto special glossy slips (a more liquid-like clay) that turn black when being fired.  The pottery is put into the kiln after it is shaped and handled.  The overall design is be outlined and filled in with the slips.  Then the details would be carved into the pottery.  This was so that the red clay would eventually show through to provide specific details around the black figures and shapes.  The firing process behind red and black figure pottery consists of the same steps.  The key to getting the different colors was the kiln.  With a normal piece of clay, the temperature inside the kiln would reach at least 450 degrees Celsius. 

Diagram showing a typical ancient kiln

The Stages of Firing Black and Red Figure Pottery:

The first stage is the oxidizing stage. The potters let air into the kiln, allowing for the whole piece to turn into the typical orange clay color.  At this stage, the temperature reaches up to 800 degrees. 

Then, the oxygen is reduced by closing the air vents, allowing the temperature to increase to 950 degrees.  A special kind of green wood is introduced to increase the moisture in the air and to create carbon monoxide, with smoke erupting.  Both the closing of the air vents and the moisture allow for black smoky color to appear on the clay.  

The last step is the reoxidization stage. Now, the vents are opened and oxygen reenters the kiln. The temperature decreases to about 900 degrees because of this.  The reintroduction of oxygen causes the clay not covered with the slip to turn back into the typical orange color.   Checking the temperature of the kiln throughout this process was very important to achieve the desired result. 

Black-figure pottery
Athenian Black-Figure Vase on display at The Met

For the clay to turn red though, you do everything the same, just opposite!  Artisans developed and refined this technique around 530 BC.  The artisan paints slip parts as the background area instead of in the shape of silhouettes or other patterns.  Thus, the whole pot would turn black leaving the figures and design to be the red-orange of normal clay.  Red-figure pottery has advantages because artisans can add more details in black quite easily. On the other hand, the design must be carefully put together and painted with black-figure pottery in order to come out with the desired look.  Hence, red-figure designs are more life-like and refined while black-figured are harder to have such detail.

Red-figure pottery
Red-Figure Hydria on display at the British Museum

The Magna effect of Black and Red Figure Pottery

The Red-figure technique, pioneered in Athens, was quite popular and was produced even after the Archaic period.  Black-figure pottery was the most popular of the two in the beginning, but red-figure pottery dominated.  But, black-figure pottery was more commonly used for traditional ware, such as a piece depicting the Gods.  There were various different designs that were made with both techniques, some very detailed by master artisans, but some were mass-produced with more basic designs. It’s crazy to think that such methods of producing a large number of goods in a small period of time were so prevalent even back in ancient times! 

There was such high production in order to sell the pottery through trade.  At the time, items from Magna Grecia were highly sought after and coveted, especially ones from well-known artisans.  The goal of establishing multiple trade routes was to achieve dominance over nautical trade.  While traveling around and trading, they established several coastal towns, and by the 6th century, controlled much of the Aegean Sea.  One major trading port that imported quite a bit of Greek pottery was in the Nile Delta, a port town called Naukratis.

Enjoy this post? Please check out our other blog posts as well or book a hunt with us to see some of these fantastic treasures here.

What better place to visit for cool ancient objects and their stories than a museum!? But, wow, can they be overwhelming! Don’t panic…we want you and your kids to enjoy your museum visit so we have complied some great tips for visiting museums with kids!  

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You’ve probably heard the saying Love conquers all. This timeless saying goes all the way back to the Roman poet Virgil in his “Eclogues”. In Latin, he writes, 

“Amor vincit omnia, et nos cedamus amori”

Love conquers all things, so we too shall yield to love


Not even War can beat Love! Sandro Botticelli celebrates Love’s triumph through depictions of Venus, the goddess of love! There’s his famous work The Birth of Venus (which you can see at the Uffizi). But, today, we’ll take about his painting, Venus and Mars.  

This spectacular piece contains some humor, cool myths, classical references, and marriage themes! What’s not to love!? 

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A young woman with nonhuman countenance, is carried on a conch shell, wafted to shore by playful zephyrs; and it seems that heaven rejoices in her birth.”


Who is this young woman Poliziano is speaking of? It’s none other than Venus, the beautiful goddess of love! Venus, and other gods and goddesses, are central icons in some Renaissance works especially as scholars and artists alike looked towards the classics. Remember Bronzino’s An Allegory with Venus and Cupid or even Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne? Those are just a few paintings we’ve touched on that focus on the myths!  

I’d like to introduce you to another great painting featuring Venus: Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus! This painting reimagines the very beginning of our favorite love goddess. For inspiration, Botticelli most likely looked towards his friend Poliziano and classical writers Homer and Virgil.  

Why don’t we see what Botticelli’s painting has to say about Venus!?  

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Italian painter, Tiziano Vecellio, better known as Titian, knew how to tell a story in a single frame. In one painted scene, Titian weaves together a story of abandonment and the thrill of love at first sight alongside the immortalizing and captivating powers of classical gods and playfully rowdy mythical creatures. This is the pictured story of Bacchus and Ariadne.  

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Leicester Square (say it like Lester) is a cultural hub and entertainment center in London. From great dining, shopping, theatres and casinos, Leicester Square has something for everyone! Read on to discover just what you can do during your visit.  

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Gods, goddesses, and creatures, oh my! Bronzino took advantage of such mystical figures to create an intellectually pleasing (and eye-catching!) allegorical painting. Let’s decode the many interlocking secrets hidden throughout An Allegory with Venus and Cupid (1545).  

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Hans Holbein the Younger, Self Portrait at the Uffizi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re ever curious about 16th century portraitists, look no further than our German friend, Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543)! He’s one of the most accomplished painters out there with his versatility and technical ability. Like our good friend, Jan van Eyck, Holbein used oil painting to achieve realistic textures in his works. Many 16th century celebrities – from King Henry VIII, Erasmus, to Anne of Cleves – vied for Holbein to capture their looks.  

But wait! When discussing Holbein, we have to mention his double portrait (it’s practically full-length and life-sized), The Ambassadors (1533). At first glance, this eye-catcher commemorates two friends, showing off their wealth and status. But, if you look closer, you’ll notice references to the English Reformation and Holbein’s own message about life and mortality. Since it’s Halloween season (BOO! 👻), it seems fitting to take a closer look at such spooky themes! 

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Oil, light, marriage, wealth, religion, and a mystery man in a mirror. What can we make of this? Who is Jan van Eyck? Read on to find out!

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Who is Paolo Uccello? What is he known for? What can we learn from his work? Let’s find out! Read on to find out who Paolo is while taking a closer look at one of his masterpieces: The Battle of San Romano.

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Trafalgar Square is a central gathering place you might have been to many times, but do you know everything about it? Read on to discover tidbits about its present, past, and some quirks (surveillance lamp attachment, anyone?).

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Upon first glance, you might expect this alleyway to be filled with witches and wizards shopping for wands at Ollivander’s, school robes at Madame Malkin’s, or buying new spell books at Flourish and Botts. Unfortunately, this charming street is not Diagon Alley, the center of London’s Wizarding World in Harry Potter series, it is actually Goodwin’s Court!

Goodwin’s Court! Photo from Wikimedia Commons, Davric, CC BY-SA 4.0.  

Located a short walk away from the Leicester Square tube station, Goodwin’s Court was clearly a key inspiration for the wizarding world! If Diagon Alley isn’t designed to look like Goodwin’s Court, then Knockturn Alley (the dark wizard’s Diagon) was definitely inspired by this London alleyway. It is believed that the Harry Potter film team could not use Goodwin’s Court as a filming location, due to the fact that it was too narrow, but they took major inspiration from the alleyway still. 

Can you imagine waving your magic want in Goodwin’s Court? Photo from E2 Architecture.  

Take a look at these clips from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone in America) and from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Can you see where Goodwin’s Court provided inspiration?

Diagon Alley Scene – Harry Potter

Diagon Alley – Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets 

The Harry Potter movies aren’t the only ones to use Goodwin’s Court in some film capacity – the movie Mary Poppins Returns actually used the alleyway in a scene (click here if you’re interested in more iconic London film locations)! As Emily Blunt and Lin Manuel Miranda traipse through London with grand musical numbers, they dip into an alleyway looking for a hidden door. This alleyway, you guessed it, is Goodwin’s Court! The charming street looks just as perfect within the Great Depression era of London, as it does in a magical wizarding world! 

Check out this video: London Film Locations 2 – Covent Garden: Mary Poppins, Harry Potter, Superman and more! to get a sneak peak into the different films shot at Goodwin’s Court!

The plaque on Goodwin’s Court dates its origin back to 1690. Photo from Wikimedia Commons, John Levin, CC BY-SA 2.0. 

This charming piece of London offers a window into the past with gaslit lamps, ornate window fronts, and exclusive foot traffic fit for Charles Dickens and eras past. According to a plaque at the entrance of the alleyway tells us that Goodwin’s Court was built in 1690 (Wow!) and was previously known as Fishers Alley. The buildings are believed to be over 300 years old – older than the United States of America even!  

Goodwin’s Court is a great photo location — duel your friend as if you were Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, or click your heels in the air like Mary Poppins, Jack, and the Banks kids (you’ll get the chance to pose for a pic on our London Street Fun hunt!). This slice of history is not only a window into the past but a window into some of our favorite movies! Explore Goodwin’s Court and make a little magic of your own by adventuring out on our new London Street Fun treasure hunt! 

If you liked this blog post, you may also like our other THATMuse post Four Iconic London Film Locations as well!

“A half-blood of the eldest gods, Shall reach sixteen against all odds, And see the world in endless sleep, The hero’s soul, cursed blade shall reap, A single choice shall end his days, Olympus to preserve or raze.”

This epic prophecy guides the events of Rick Riordan’s beloved Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, fantasy adventure novels based in Greek mythology. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll remember how important prophecies are and they are central to classic Greek mythology. If you’ll let me play oracle for a moment, here is a prophecy for you as you read this THATMuse blog post:  

A reader shall delve into the spirals of endless learning,  

From one post a thirst for knowledge you are affirming, 

Stories woven together from mouth, to paint, to text, to screen,  

Heroes of centuries and years, in museums and novels beg to be seen, 

Raise a glass to wedding guests and parents one in the same,  

A beginning to a treasure hunt we do proclaim.  

To begin your endless learning (after all, we learn something new every day, right?) I will be introducing you to the Sophilos Dinos, which illustrates a result of (yet another) prophecy about Zeus and Poseidon.

The depiction of Sophilos Dinos starts out as a wedding, and actually has a direct tie to the Percy Jackson series! Believed to have been created between the years 580BC and 570BC in the Attica region of Greece, this black-figured wine bowl was acquired by the British Museum in 1971. The dinos were painted by Sophilos, who specialized in the black-figure painting of complex, continuous narratives

The story of Sophilos Dinos is essentially a wedding between two individuals known as Peleus and Thetis, which is also a Greek myth. The sea-nymph Thetis was adored by the king of the Gods, Zeus, and his brother, Poseidon, the God of the sea. However, their love turned sour when they learned of the prophecy that Thetis’ son was destined to be more powerful than his father. In order to prevent this from happening, Thetis was betrothed to the mortal hero Peleus and promised a wedding of grandeur. 

The wine bowl, which provides a closer look at the wedding scene. On the far right, you can see Peleus, holding up a glass to welcome the wedding guests. Photo courtesy of the British Museum.
The Sophilos Dinos, pictured in full, from the front. The wedding scene is on the top register. Photo courtesy of the British Museum. 

In the top register of the dinos, Sophilos depicts the arrival of the gods at said magnificent event. The first arrivals include the God of wine Dionysos, who is followed by Hebe and the centaur Chiron. Then enter the chariot procession of the gods, led by Zeus and Hera, followed by Poseidon and Amphitrite, then Hermes and Apollo, Ares and Aphrodite, and Athena and Artemis. Between the chariots are Fates, Graces, and Muses. What a grand affair! And how nice of Sophilos to create a family portrait – as siblings, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, and in-laws make up the entirety of the wedding guests. This wedding began a string of events that triggered the Trojan War, but that is a story for another day! 

How do Thetis and Peleus’ nuptials – and their prestigious guests – relate to our favorite demi-god Percy and his five-book (or two-movie, if that is more your thing) journey? Well, many of the guests captured in Sophilos’ detailed vase painting appear in Rick Riordan’s story

The hero, Percy Jackson, is the son of Poseidon, Thetis’ at-one-time admirer and wedding guest. Annabeth, Percy’s best friend (and — spoiler alert — girlfriend!) is the daughter of another wedding guest, Athena, the Goddess of wisdom.  

Remember Camp Half-Blood (and the epic game of capture the flag?) well, the ever-eccentric director of camp, Mr. D, is the God Dionysus, who, in the Percy Jackson tales, was sentenced to one hundred years of “rehab” as camp director with an endless supply of Diet Coke replacing wine. In the Sophilos dinos, the centaur Chiron enters after Dionysus, and at Camp Half-Blood he is the beloved activities director (you might also remember him as Mr. Brunner when he posed as a teacher at Percy’s school in The Lightening Thief!).  

Many of the rest of Thetis and Peleus’ wedding guests are important pieces of the Percy Jackson stories. All of the major gods and goddesses – such as Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Ares, and Aphrodite – all make appearances in the series, and many are the parents of the demigods (half-god, half-human) attend camp Half-Blood with Percy! One notable example is Hermes, who arrived on a chariot with Apollo to the wedding, was the estranged father of Luke Castellan, sometimes friend and oftentimes foe of Percy.  

To Conclude on this epic adventure of comparison and history…

The crazy cast of characters that appears in both the Sophilos Dinos and the Percy Jackson books make for some interesting stories! If you’re interested in learning more about ancient Greek mythology, you can check out our other blog posts here or you can do a book hunt where you’ll have the opportunity to see important artifacts like the Sophilos Dinos up close! With that, your prophecy has come true! Book your THATMuse treasure hunt now as to not disobey the fates!  

Henry VIII, His Wives (and their demise!)

King Henry's Six Wives
Henry VIII’s Six Wives (taken from Fanpop)

Henry VIII was an all-around shocking, certainly groundbreaking (breaking being the operative word!), and thoroughly unforgettable king. Particularly notorious is his marital life—going through six wives. This month we’re launching our first ever London Street Fun Treasure Hunt. The Hunt is for about 50 kids (hailing from 40 nationalities, speaking 30 languages collectively!) from the upper school of EIFA International School in London’s Marylebone. One of the threads that ties our London Street Fun treasure hunt together is the story of Henry VIII, his wives – and their demise! So dig in and get ready for a regular Hello! Magazine, scandalous article that will answer some bonus questions for the street hunt.

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The wandering museum: El Prado in Geneva

There is a certain capriciousness to most things and the success or failure of art exhibitions is one of them. The Nazis experienced this first hand when they simultaneously organized the Degenerate Art Exhibition and The Great German Art Exhibition. Germany may have been great in Goebbels’ mind, but the art of his exhibition certainly wasn’t. Except for the most ardent party card carrying member, the Great German was a difficult dish to savour; not many visited the one dedicated to the eternal genius of the Aryan race, whilst more than 20.000 people per day queued to see why Weimar artists were attempting an “Insolent mockery of the Divine under Centrist Rule”. If the Degenerate Art Exhibition was the success story, albeit unintended, of 1936, the Masterpieces of the Prado Exhibition in Geneva was the art event of 1939. Because of the actions of another war mongering, power hungry dictator, the hastily put together exhibition was effectively the transposition of one of the best art collections in the word to what was effectively a minor museum in a Swiss city, a free city.


On November 16 1936, Francisco Franco’s planes bombed Madrid. Nine of the incendiary bombs dropped on the centre of capital of Spain by the rebel general hit the Museo del Prado, which caught fire. This prompted the Republican Government to try to save the collection, the most important in the country and one of the most valuables in the world. The decision was made to move them further away from the frontline and the push for Madrid that the Nationalist were attempting. The paintings were loaded in 71 trucks and carried to Valencia, where in less than a month a propaganda exhibition was organized “as a testimony to the civilized world of the culture saved by the anti-fascist people”.

La carga de los mamelucos, Francisco de Goya, 1814

But, alas, neither propaganda nor bravery could stop the slow but unrelenting advance of the Nationalists. Although Valencia, the city where almost 1000 years earlier El Cid had died withstanding another invader, would go on uncaptured until the very last day of the war, the government decided that it would be prudent and safer to move the Prado once again, this time to Cataluña. Trucks were loaded and the long and dangerous convoy started to move north. Bombs fell, as they usually do in wars. Paintings were damaged. One of Goya’s, La  Carga de los Mamelucos, severely so. Crossing the Ebro with such voluminous paintings, like Las Meninas, proved difficult, but the collection finally arrived, relatively unscathed, to its new destination: two castles and a talc mine where they were hidden for a while.


But the enemies continued their advance until the imminent fall of Cataluña made the evacuation out of Spain necessary. The French gave the paintings the same safe passage that were giving at that point to the sea of people crossing the Pyrenees, the one that they refused to the last remnants of the Republican army, trapped in Valencia and Alicante and that chose suicide rather than falling in the hands of the enemy. The paintings left Spain at the beginning of February 1939 and arrived in Geneva one week later. At that point the war was practically over and the Republic had fallen. By the time the exhibition opened, in June, there was a new government in Madrid, one that would stay in power for almost 35 years. The exhibition was a success: Van der Weyden, Velazquez, Goya were exhibited for the first time in Swiss soil but the government that had protected the national treasures was no more.

Loaded trucks

By then it was Franco who ripped the benefits: the exhibition, following Hitler’s example, but with the advantage of Art on his side, became a celebration of Spanish nationalism. The main gallery was named the Imperial Room. He managed with the help of the Gestapo to throw in jail some of those who for years had risked their lives to save the national patrimony. There is also a lack of justice to most things, but at least the paintings were not destroyed by the bombs of a war that should have never started. On September 2 1939, one day after another, longer deadlier war began in Europe, the exhibition closed and the paintings made their way back to Madrid, after three wandering years.

Rossetti, Dante and the exhumed wife


In 1848, a group of painters, which included a very young and promising Dante Gabriel Rossetti, formed the seven member’s Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood., whose credo, penned down in an unusually latitudinarian manifesto for such a dogmatic group, was properly issued. The main tenets of the Brotherhood was the rejection of all painting that came after Raphael, and the promotion of the Quattrocento, with its bright colours, florentine predilection for the line and pre-mannerist style of composition. They also had, especially Rossetti, who would later bequeath it to William Morris, an avid interest in all things Medieval. 

Ophelia, by John Everett Millais. Elizabeth Siddal modeling

Exhibitions were held; magazines published; each painting was signed with the name of the painter and the initials PRB. Critics and academics hated them as much as the Pre-Raphaelites hated the critics and established painters. Effervescent, the Brotherhood split after 5 years, consumed by its own intensity.  Rossetti continued its style and subjects, producing a stream of well-delined medieval femme fatales from his numerous models and muses. Fanny Cornforth, Elizabeth Siddal, Jane Morris, Alexa Wilding, Marie Stillman. Some of them, besides the more chaste role of muses, were his lovers, not always sequentially. 


Elizabeth Siddal, who became Rossetti’s wife, died of a drug overdose of laudanum in 1862, at just 32 and only 2 years after marrying Rossetti. Her husband had painted hundreds of portraits, in different mediums, of her future wife. He wrote poems to her. They gave each other nicknames and lived in isolation, basking in their mutual love. When she died, the grieving husband, ridden with guilt, buried her with the unpublish collection of poems he had written for her, the meticulous manuscript deposited by the head of the muse that he had painted so often, her long Hayworth hair carefully wrapped around the book.

Dante Alighieri had been a source of inspiration for Rossetti from the beginning of his career, his Medieval sensitivities attuned to the works of the Florentine poet.  He had altered the order of his names, so Dante would come first. He had translated La Vita Nuova into English. After Siddal’s dead, using some of the drawings he had made of her as a model, Rossetti painted her as Beata Beatrix, Dante’s undying chivalric love, his cult object, the woman who had conquered death and guided him through Paradise. Beatrice had also died young, at 25, in the Republic of Florence.

Beata Beatrix, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti


But neither pain nor mourning last forever and soon Rossetti found comfort on Cornforth’s embrace again, his ideals of courtly love unable to check his natural propensities. He also started an affair with another of his muses, Jane Morris, the wife of his friend William Morris, with whom he lived in a more or less public menage a trois. Contradicting not only his Medievals notions, but John Keats, the poet he tried to emulate, Rosetti went to Lethe and allowed himself to be persuaded by Jane and others to publish the poems that he had carefully put down by his dead wife’s brow. He had a friend unbury the coffin, open it, and recover the impure manuscript which he published the following year, in 1870.

But the poems were not well received, he had a mental breakdown, and in order to sleep, took chloral hydrate, with whisky chasers to remove the bad taste of the drug or of his conscience, and spent the last 10 years of his life in a state of sopor, now himself a drug addict. In an appropriate Dantean contrapasso, Rossetti was condemned by failing to keep his ideals with the same punishment that Elizabeth had suffered, the wife whose love and body he had desecrated. 

Proserpine, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Jane Morris as the beautiful goddess of the Underworld

Almost 200 hundred years ago, in a day like today, May 12, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born in London. He died in Kent at 53.

The Tomb of Meketre: Insight to Ancient Egyptian Burials

Type of Tomb

This tomb belonged to Pharaoh Mentuhotep’s chancellor, Meketre.  The tomb of Meketre was a common burial tomb used at the time for officials, a rock-cut tomb. Just as it sounds, the structure of the tomb was carved from existing rock formations. Mostly, the rock architecture is carved from a cliff or sloping rock face. Rock-cut tombs originated in ancient Greece, causing the Egyptian tombs to have Mycenaean influences in their design. So, these types of tombs are seen throughout the Mediterranean.

Ancient Egyptian burial rock cut tomb
Rock cut tomb, similar to Meketre’s

The Tomb of Meketre

The tomb is located in a main necropolis at Thebes, a very popular destination with many different archaeological sites. Due to this though, there are quite a few looters that hang about the area. Unfortunately, the tomb had been looted multiple times over the generations, but luckily one room had gone unseen until it was discovered in 1919.  The room had 25 wooden models, depicting various scenes from everyday life. The purpose of the models was to provide the means to live in the afterlife. With these models, the ancient Egyptians believed that they could then have food and drinks, servants, luxurious clothes, and so much more with models depicting these things. This would allow them to live as or even more lavishly in the afterlife than real life.


Model Bakery and Brewery from the Tomb of Meketre, Wood, gesso, paint, linen
Model of a Bakery and Brewery found in the tomb of Meketre, on display at the Met

Above, this model displays both a bakery and brewery together. The making of bread and beer were quite related in the times of ancient Egypt. They both used the same typical ingredients, grains and barley. Although both had complicated processes, they were still very similar. In this model, an overseer guards the room with a baton. On the right side is the bakery. Here, a man is crushing the grain with a pestle. Others are grinding, working with dough, etc. Next, the other side is the brewery. Overall, what is being shown is the fermentation process, with grain being fermented in the pots.

Model Cattle stable from the tomb of Meketre, Plastered and painted wood, gesso
Model of a cattle stable found in the tomb of Meketre, on display at the Met

Next, the model above consists of cattle being fattened up with fodder for slaughter. There are cattle managers feeding the animals as well as an overseer at the entrance. The overseer has a baton and is prepared if an animal decides to try and escape.

Similar Model

model; barge | British Museum
Model of a funerary barge, similar to what is found in the tomb of Meketre. On display at the British Museum

Lastly, the model above is one that is often compared to those found in Meketre’s tomb. Again, since many tombs have been raided prior to being found by academics, these models are not easily seen. But, they allow incredible insight to the belief in the afterlife. For example, this one is from the Middle Kingdom and depicts a funerary barge. Much like the previous models, this one is also related to the afterlife. It was believed that these boats would help the deceased to be transported to the afterlife. This would happen while the soul was judged. If one was deemed good, this boat would take them to the “Field of Reeds”. Essentially, that was the afterlife of pure bliss and happiness. Once again, displaying the importance of the afterlife, even in the burials and tombs after one has died.

Enjoy this blog post? Check out many more just like it on a variety of cool topics here. Join us on one of our hunts at the museums to discover more amazing treasures! We have hunts at the Natural History Museum, the V&A, the British Museum, the Louvre, and the Orsay!

Gusoku: Japanese Samurai Armor


The samurai were a military class of strong warriors starting in premodern Japan.  They held themselves to high standards of self-discipline and live according to the ethic code of bushido, living “the way of the warrior”. The term samurai was originally used to identify the warriors who were aristocrats, the bushi. Using a wide range of weapons, the samurai needed strong armor in order to protect their bodies.  Their main weapon of choice and used as their symbol was the sword.  Other weapons included bows and arrows, spears, and guns.

Strongly inspired by Confucian practice, the main concepts include deep loyalty and respect, especially to one’s master. Their deep pride and stoicism was exemplified in their refined behavior while at imperial court. Honor and respect were quite prevalent and harsh, to the point that as opposed to dying dishonorably or by defeat, there was an institutionalized ritual suicide of disembowelment, called seppuku.


With most battles being carried out by calvary with a bow or sword, flexible armor was a must.  The flexible armor “Ō-yoroi” or “Great Harness” was developed.  The cuirass, or the armor piece that covers the torso, consisted of multiple smaller plates to allow for movement and flexibility.  There are two shoulder pieces that fall down to protect any exposed underarm. There would be a lot of exposure when fighting with arms being raised.  Then there is a skirt made from the same linked plates that protect both the lower abdomen and thighs.  The armor protecting the arms consisted of both mail and solid plates. This allows for the protection to be defensive but suitable for great movements. 

Helmets were solid iron plates, not the ones used for the body as it would be more flimsy. Traditionally, the helmets have a pointed shape called ‘shii-nari’, or acorn-shaped. Besides the main iron piece that covers the skull, there are flaps hanging from the top. These are made to protect the neck from injury. The neck guard is called a shikoro. Shikoros are often made of multiple covered plates, normally silk or various leathers.

Samurai Gusokus on Display

Traditional Samurai Gusoku
Gusoku on display at the British Museum

Above is a set of ceremonial Gushoku armor but made into a stand. This set comes form the Edo period, one of the most prominent and the height of the samurai. Took place in the 18th century.

Traditional Samurai Gusoku
Gusoku armor on display at the Met

This set is quite unique as it is a revival of earlier styles present during the Edo period. But, the overall construction is that of classical 16th century Gushoku. During this time, as you can see, the armor was covered in cloth as it was based off of classical armor. The shape is typical with being boxy in order to allow for the most protection.

Periods of Armor

There are three different periods of gusoku armor: ancient, classical, and modern.

Ancient armor is classified as the armor that was worn up until the 10th century. Unfortunately, not much ancient armor has been preserved. But it is known that there was continental Chinese and Korean influence in the armor.

Classical armor, worn between the 10th and 15th centuries, were considered to be Japan’s ideas and creations brought to life. This is the period in which Japanese armor got its distinct figure and look of the classic gusoku, with the flexible multi-plated protection.

Lastly, there is the modern period of armor. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, this era is the one with most variety in the design of the gusoku. This is when different designs and materials were used most often. This included an increased use of leather and silk coverings.

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Different Vessels of Ancient Greek Pottery

Here are some of the main Ancient Greek Pottery Vessels that were most prominent.

Oinochoe:  A wine pitcher that has only one handle

Chytrai: These were very large and designed for cooking purposes.  Chytrai were made of rough clay as they didn’t need to look pretty and polished when they were only used in the kitchen behind the scenes.

Hydria:  A hydria is used as a water jar.  It has three handles on it, used for carrying and pouring out water.

Amphora:  Mainly used for the storage of grains or sometimes wine, the amphora is a large vessel with a lid and two handles.

Kylix: This is a drinking cup that has a few different designs.

Kraters:  There are multiple styles of Kraters, including the calyx, column, bell, and volute styles.  Kraters are used for mixing wine and water.

Lekythos: A narrow-necked flask that is used for both pouring oils and fragrances.

Different pottery shapes
Visual of the different types of vessels

Some of the most iconic Greek Pottery pieces

The First Signed Ancient Greek Vessels:

The artist Sophilos’ Dinos (cauldron):

This Dinos depicts the scene of Peleus and Thetis’ wedding, present with multiple different orientalizing motifs, dating this piece back to the Orientalizing Period and is from about 580 BC. Overall, this piece is incredibly unique as it is one of the first to be signed by its artist, “Sophilos painted me” was painted by Sopilos between the columns at Peleus’ house. This was unseen and unheard of before this.

Sophilos’ Dinos Cauldron ancient greek vessel
Sophilos’ Dinos at the British Museum

The François Vase:

This large Attic style krater has classic black-figure motifs and is dated back to 570 BC. Erigotimos was the potter while Kleitias was the painter. Both of the had signed the vessel, showing us many different clues into Ancient Greek life. For example, the fact that there is both a potter and a painter, we can deduce that there was a specialization of work even back then. The krater was found in Etruria which shows that trade of various vessels were still carried out in Athens at this time.

The François vase ancient greek vessel
The François Vase at the Archaeological Museum in Florence

Other Unique Works:

Exekias’ works:

Yet another Archaic period potter, Exekias used an increase in the of black on his black-figure pottery, allowing for only the middle section to be the classic orange color. In general, his pottery was quite unique not only because of this but with how he portrayed quite serious scenes with high emotions. For example, with the use of emotions in his depiction of the suicide of Ajax. Normally, it would be quite the somber event, but Exakias added emotion to it.

Ancient Greek pottery vessel by Exekias
The Suicide of Ajax by Exekias

Andokides Painter:

The Andokides painter painted six different “bilingual” vases. Bilingual vases are when both red-figure and black-figure paintings are used on the same vessel, which was very unique and needed to be done by a highly skilled artisan. The one pictured below depicts Hoplites with Athena and Hermes.

bilingual ancient greek pottery vessel
Bilingual Andokides Painter vase displayed at the Louvre

These are a few of the different Ancient Greek Pottery shapes and some of the most iconic pieces on display today!

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Places in London that Feel Like You Have Escaped the City

Sometimes London feels a bit too big and you may want a break from all the madness from the city. Luckily, you don’t have to always travel far to feel like you’ve gotten away! Here is the list of my favorite places to go when I feel that I want to take a breather from the business and vastness of wonderful London.

Holland Park:

Holland Park is a real treat, a place that has an atmosphere unlike any other.  With multiple different themed gardens inspired by countries around the world, you can find your fancy in at least one of these gardens!

Kyoto Garden
Kyoto gardens at Holland Park

Kyoto gardens present a tranquil area in which you can relax on a bench, watching the carp swim along in the pond while listening to the calming waterfall.  Or you could head over to the Dutch gardens and enjoy the bright tulips, organized in beautiful patterns.  Who would have thought that this would all be present within the city? Whatever sort of atmosphere you are looking for, I am sure you can find it somewhere in Holland Park!

The British Museum:

The British Museum has so much culture and history under its great glass tile roof, one could get lost and forget where they are.  The museum is also known as the “World Museum”. This is because there are so many different archaeological artifacts from around the world, from Aboriginal Australia, to China, to Canada. Thus, there’s so much to see and learn.  You can get lost in all the history that you forget you’re in the present!

Millennium Bridge

Now, you may recognize this bridge from a Harry Potter film, but this bridge is still just as great and camera-worthy in real life!  Walk along the river Thames and take in the beautiful sights of central London. You will be snapping pictures that will make all of your friends and family jealous.  The steel suspension footbridge was built as part of the UK’s millennium celebrations.  Check out the famous “wobbly bridge” and see views of the London skyline that almost seem distant although in the middle of the city.  You will feel as if you are in a movie while on this movie star bridge.

Millennium Bridge, City of London
View above Millennium Bridge

Victoria and Albert Museum:

Much like the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum is not only a museum filled with many different amazing artifacts and cultural pieces. The building itself is stunning!  You can enjoy both the wonderful exterior of the building, with the grand red brick and perfect arches. There is also the sophisticated, bright interior that helps to showcase all the artifacts. 

No matter what mood you are looking for, you can get it just right with all of the different exhibits.  The V&A have many classic European sculptures, but also different works from all over Asia. You can once again get lost in history when at this museum.

Neal’s Yard:

If you would like a pop of color, you absolutely need to check out Neal’s Yard!  Tucked into an ally way near seven dials, this colorful getaway is the perfect place to get that fun atmosphere.  It is one of the most vibrant areas that you can find in central London. With such fun colors, what better place to hang out?  This colorful escape makes you forget about the hustle and bustle of the city that is just steps away.

Neal's Yard

Hampstead Heath:

Hampstead’s protected wild park is a wonderful grassy public space that you can just go and relax on.  It is located in Northern London and consists of 320 hectares of land, including many different biking and hiking trails.  The view of the Central London from the park is phenomenal.  With the wooded areas and meadows surrounding you, you will forget that you are a short tube ride from the main part of the city. 

Kynance Mews:

Yet another South Kensington gem, Kynance Mews is a beautiful picture spot in the spring and summer that isn’t extremely popular.  You can always go to a park to see blooming flowers, but at Kynance Mews, you get to experience wonderful cobblestone streets, traditional architecture, all enhanced by various flowers and trees.  It is a quaint area that is the perfect spot for some fun and springy photos that feel far gone from the touristy areas.

A walkway on Kynance Mews

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Eras of Greek Art: Pottery Edition

The Different Eras of Greek Pottery

When you first think of ancient Greece, what do you think of?  Do you think of great mythological stories of wondrous adventures as told through intricate pottery depicting these great scenes?  Greek art is incredibly fascinating and is something that many coveted, both in ancient times (we are looking at you, Romans) and modern-day. Well, Greek pottery wasn’t always so grand and detailed.  The earliest Greek pottery derives from the Geometric period. During this period, pottery was primarily influenced by traditional Mycenean decorations. Abstract patterns and geometric shapes were the most common.

The Geometric Period

            The Geometric period displayed various patterns full of decorative lines, linear patterns, including a mixture of many different shapes.  With all the linear shapes and lines, it’s no wonder they call it the Geometric period!  This period was between roughly 1000 and 700 BC.  The designs eventually evolved into crude and abstract human and animal shapes. Again mainly linear and stiff lines and shapes with a lack of movement.  Then, in Athens, the Greek cultural center, there came the adoption of the black figure technique style of painting, calling for great depictions of heroic ventures and stories. 

Greek Krater
Terracotta Krater from the Geometric Period on display at the Met

The Archaic Period

            The Archaic period was during the 6th century BC while the artistic hub, Athens, was rising with its pottery market.  This era was the start of the rise of black-figure painters. They were mainly based in Corinth, and held a monopoly on the design until the early 6th century.  That was when Athens rose to the top.  Designs in the Archaic period became much less rigid and more natural than they were in the previous eras.  Human figures and incredible epics were often portrayed in black-figure during this time, with more attention on anatomic proportions making things more life-like. 

Archaic Amphora
The Antimenes Painter: Herakles and the Erymanthian boar amphora. On display at The British Museum

The Orientalizing Period of Greek Pottery

            The Orientalizing period and the Archaic period overlap within the 6th century, Orientalizing period occurring during the Archaic.  But the Orientalizing period was a time in which the arts were heavily influenced by Eastern trade and designs.  Hence the name, Orientalizing refers to the culture and the arts of Eastern Asia.  Geometric style designs were replaced with outlined figures. The black-figure pottery firing techniques became prevalent.  Animalistic figures were quite prominent within Near East designs, so the Greeks started incorporating that within their pottery including various floral elements. 

Orientalizing Amphora
“Proto Attic (Oriental) Analatos” Amphora on display at the Louvre

The Classical Period

            The Classical period took place around the 5th and 4th centuries BC and had a continued steady love for black-figured pottery. But, there was also the introduction of the red-figure pottery, which happened late archaic, early classical period.  The pottery of this time conveys the vitality of life. There are more realistic-looking people and animals, even some in motion.  But the people drawn on pottery had severe facial expressions, present in both the pottery and the sculptures of this period.  There was a great innovation in pottery with the use of space and having multiple groundlines, better-looking drapery for clothing, and no more reduction in the size of figures, allowing for no optical effects and creating distance.  By the end of the Classical period though, red-figure pottery decreased in popularity.

Greek pottery: Classical Krater
Terracotta volute-krater displayed at the Met

The Hellenistic Period

            The Hellenistic period took place during the 4th century BC.  Athens is still the leading pottery center and endured no disruption from the Peloponnesian War.  Mid-4th-century was the last great red-figure movement, then its popularity dissipated.  It was the time of Magna Graecia, or Great Greece, and was a time of very ornate style pottery.  Artists also incorporated color into their pottery, using various whites, blues, and golds.  After learning more about the use of space in the Classical period, Hellenistic artists did not like a lot of empty space. They used the area they had to the fullest in order to showcase their designs the way they wanted.

Greek pottery: Hellenistic Gamikos
Lebes Gamikos displayed at The British Museum

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