Myrtle Wreath, 330–250 BC
Greek (Corinthian)
Gold
diameter × depth: 12 × 1 3/8 inches (30.5 × 3.5 cm)
Gift of Miss Annette Finnigan

Habits of Mind

  • COMMUNICATE Verbalize ideas, thoughts, feelings / ask provocative questions / ask for support

Writing a Story

Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.

Curriculum Objectives

•  Understand the use of symbolism.

•  Write a sentence describing a personal accomplishment

GRADE LEVEL

1

SUBJECT AREA

Language Arts

HABITS OF MIND

Communicate

Connecting to the Work of Art

This exquisite wreath of gold myrtle leaves and flowers was probably found in a tomb.  For many years this work of art was identified as a laurel wreath.  Recent scholarship, however, indicates the leaves to be myrtle.  Myrtle, an aromatic evergreen, was a tree sacred to Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, and was thus a symbol of love.  Also associated with Hades, god of the underworld, myrtle was a symbol of death, making it an appropriate choice for a funerary wreath.  Too fragile to have been worn, the wreath was probably placed in the tomb to symbolize the achievements of the deceased during his lifetime.

 

Style/Technique:  This myrtle wreath is a superb example of ancient naturalism.  The artist closely observed the myrtle leaves and flowers, then rendered them in gold.  The leaves and blossoms were cut from thin sheets of gold, finished with stamped or incised details, and attached to the gold circle with pieces of gold wire.  Originally, beads of glass or semi-precious stones were fastened by a wire loop to the center of each blossom.

 

Context:  This wreath is probably from Macedonia, a region in northern Greece famous as the home of Philip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great.  The conquests of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C. made the precious materials abundant in Asia Minor and Egypt available to Mediterranean craftsmen.  Trading systems that developed at this time continued to supply artists well into the first century A.D., and the flourishing of metalwork and jewelwork created new techniques that emphasized modeling and fine detailing.

 

The few surviving gold wreaths of antiquity were found in tombs, where they served as grave offerings.  This wreath was reportedly found not far from Corinth in central Greece.  However, it appears to be of Macedonian workmanship.  In the late 1970s, a Macedonian tomb was excavated at Vergina and a wreath very much like this was discovered.

 

In ancient Greece, wearing wreaths made of real plants signified special accomplishments, such as success in athletic contests.  In the summer of 2004, the winning athletes of the Olympic Games in Athens wore olive wreaths as a symbol of victory and merit. Very similar in design to this myrtle wreath, the wreaths worn in 2004 are a direct reference to the laurel and olive wreaths presented to the victors of the ancient Olympic Games.

 

Curators are always researching the museum’s collection.  In the process, titles of works of art can change.  This work used to be called Laurel Wreath and is now titled Myrtle Wreath.

Observations

  • Describe the textures, shapes and material in this artwork. Do you think it is hard or soft? Heavy or light?

  • What can you say about this object’s volume and depth?

  • The overall shape of the object is fairly flat, and so height and width are more prevalent than volume or depth. How does the artist nevertheless create depth in this work? Look at the leaves, and the play of light and shadow.

  • What material do you think this object is made from? How can you tell?

  • Discuss symmetry and variety in this work. How do they balance each other?

  • What ornaments can you see? What does this tell us about the skill of the artist?

  • Originally, beads of glass or semi-precious stones were fastened by a wire loop to the center of each blossom. How would the work be different with these ornaments?

Interpretations

  • How do you think this object was used? Is it functional or decorative or both?

  • This is a wreath of gold myrtle leaves and flowers and was probably found in a tomb. Too fragile to have been worn, the wreath was probably placed in the tomb to symbolize the achievements of the deceased during his lifetime.

  • Are the leaves lifelike? Do you think that the artist copied the leaves or that the forms came from his imagination? Why?

  • This myrtle wreath is a superb example of ancient naturalism.  The artist closely observed the myrtle leaves and flowers, then rendered them in gold. What associations do you have with myrtle leaves?

  • Myrtle, an aromatic evergreen, was a tree sacred to Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, and was thus a symbol of love.  Also associated with Hades, god of the underworld, myrtle was a symbol of death, making it an appropriate choice for a funerary wreath. Can you think of other funerary artworks that you have seen? How are they different from this wreath?

  • In ancient Greece, wearing wreaths made of real plants signified special accomplishments, such as success in athletic contests.  In the summer of 2004, the winning athletes of the Olympic Games in Athens wore olive wreaths as a symbol of victory and merit. Very similar in design to this myrtle wreath, the wreaths worn in 2004 are a direct reference to the laurel and olive wreaths presented to the victors of the ancient Olympic Games.

  • What do you think about the practice of burying an object with a person? Do we still do this in our time?

Assessment

•  Using a list of accomplishments, students write sentences detailing their accomplishments.

•  Have each student copy the sentence on the inside strip of tagboard used in the art lesson.

•  As a class, create a leaf shaped book by having students copy their sentences onto writing paper and paste onto large precut construction paper leaves.

•  Assemble into leaf-shaped book entitled “Unbeleafable Us.”


The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.

The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.