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The word mythologia (the study of stories) was created c. 400 BC by the classical Greek philosopher Plato. Myths are heroic tales about gods, goddesses, demi-gods, men and animals, based on folk tradition rather than fact and concerned with universal human situations and emotions: courage, transformation, war, jealousy and love.

Mythological stories from ancient Greece and Rome informed much of Western art and ideas from the Renaissance (1400s) onwards. They allowed artists and their patrons to express things which lay outside the teachings of the Christian faith: a King, for example, could claim to be as glorious as the god Apollo without offending the true God. In this display these myths are re-told through paintings, sculpture, tapestry, miniatures, drawing, furniture and, of course, books.

Though originally folk stories, these myths also formed the bases for the greatest works of Greek and Roman literature, which have inspired artists (and writers) ever since. The most relevant written accounts are:

Greek ~ Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey (c. ninth century BC).

Latin ~ Virgil, The Aeneid (29-19 BC); Ovid, Metamorphoses (eighth century AD); Lucius Apuleius, The Golden Ass (second century BC);

Renaissance Italian - Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron (1349-52 AD) and De mulieribus claris (About Famous Women), (1361 AD).


Gems and Jewels

The use of mythological subjects in cameos and intaglios

Snuff and sweet boxes

Decoration of boxes with Mythological scenes

Love, loss and transformation

Depictions of mythological stories of love and loss

Gods, Heroes and Villains

Representations of Gods and Villains

Dressing up

Portraying people as mythological figures

Allegories and symbols

The use of mythological symbols in objects


Books with mythological subjects