The Boar in Art History

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Greek World

The wild boar was widespread throughout ancient Greece. Its ferociousness, destructiveness, and strength made it a worthy opponent for the hunter and heroes of Greek mythology. Fear of these wild beasts resulted in legends arising to explain the nature and purpose of their being. Boars were often associated with certain gods or as sent by them to punish the human race. Artemis, the goddess of hunting, mountains and forests, is the most closely linked with the wild boar. As a wild and fierce animal, the boar was regarded as a symbol of one side of Artemis' nature, capable of unleashing sudden, violent destruction on humans and property. The Kalydonian boar was regarded as an instrument of her vengeance, sent by Artemis against King Oeneus because he had failed to offer her the first fruits of his harvest. Her sacred buildings were often decorated with images of boars' heads.

Kalydonian boar.

Image taken from a Greek vase depicting the Kalydonian Boar. The boar has severed the dog into two parts. Details of the head have been well conceived but its legs and feet more closely resemble those of horses.

Because of their strength, courage, and ferocity, the wild boar symbolized a worthy adversary for the hunter as well. Theseus determined to slay the Krommyon boar to prove his bravery by risking his life in battle against this formidable opponent. The fourth of the labours of Herakles involved the pursuit and capture of the Erymanthian boar. Odysseus managed to overcome his beastly foe but not before its tusks left their mark on his body. Unfortunately, the ferocity of the boar hunted by Adonis led to his death. The Greek farmer or warrior hunted the wild boar to protect crops or for sport. The hunter might dedicate the tusks of the boar, killed in dangerous circumstances, in a sanctuary or mount its tusks upon a battle headdress.

Artists of the Archaic period of Greek art were attracted to the muscular build, pliant skin, bristly mane, and fierce countenance of the wild boar. Its image appeared often on coins, gems, vases, and reliefs.

  • Bevan, Elinor. Representations of Animals in Sanctuaries of Artemis and Other Olympian Deities. Oxford: B.A.R., 1986.
  • Comstock, Mary and Cornelius Vermeule. Greek, Etruscan, & Roman Bronzes in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Greenwich, Connecticut: New York Graphic Society, 1971.
  • Hall, James. Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. London: John Murray, 1974.
  • Morin, Jean. Le Dessin des Animaux en Grece d'apres les Vases Peints. Paris: Librairie Renouard, 1911.
  • Rawson, Jessica (ed.). Animals in Art. London: British Museum Publications Limited, 1977.
  • Richter, Gisela. Animals in Greek Sculpture: A Survey. New York: Oxford University Press, 1930.

Boar on hind legs.Head of boar.Standing boar.Standing boar.Standing boar.

These depictions of wild boars, taken from Archaic vases, display the artists' interest in their strong build and the decorative possibilities of the mane, tail, and fur. During the Hellenistic period artists concentrated on portraying people and animals naturalistically as shown in these gems. The fierceness of the boar and the dangers of hunting it remain a constant element.

Painting of marble statue of boar.


This marble statue of a wild boar (from which UWaterloo's casting was taken) is rendered in a completely naturalistic manner characteristic of the Hellenistic period. It sits in the Uffizi, Florence.

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Roman World

The large, tusked wild boar (cinghiale) was found in abundance in almost every country of the ancient Roman world and particularly so in Italy. Wealthy Roman gentry often established private parks, called vivaria, in which boars were kept. These partially tamed animals were sometimes trained to come running when their keeper, dressed as Orpheus, whose renowned musical ability with the lyre enabled him to charm wild beasts, announced their mealtime. Apparently, these antics gave pleasure and amusement to their owners. The proximity of the boars also allowed owners to serve an exotic meat to guests on special occasions. Another reason for keeping boars in vivaria was for the sport of hunting, primarily for its own sake, and secondarily for provisioning the table in a more exciting manner than direct slaughtering. Wild boars also made appearances at spectacles in Rome, tamed for display or as part of a procession, or wild and battling each other or other animals. Animals in Roman art look back to Greek or Hellenistic models, and it is difficult to detect how far they reflect a genuine Roman sensibility. Nonetheless, images of boars, alone or as part of a hunting scene, have been discovered decorating a wide range of objects.

  • Bevan, Elinor. Representations of Animals in Sanctuaries of Artemis and Other Olympian Deities. Oxford: B.A.R., 1986.
  • Clark, Kenneth. Animals and Men: Their Relationship as Reflected in Western Art from Prehistory to the Present Day. London: Thames and Hudson, 1977.
  • Toynbee, J.M.C. Animals in Roman Life and Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1973.
  • Ward Perkins, John and Amanda Claridge. Pompeii AD 79. Bristol: Imperial Tobacco Limited, 1976. Wilson, R.J.S. Wilson. Piazza Armerina. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1983.