A World of Sports at The Met

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"Siyavush Plays Polo before Afrasiyab," Folio 180v from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp, ca. 1525–30. Text composed by Abu'l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020); painting attributed to Qasim ibn 'Ali (active ca. 1525–60). Iran, Tabriz. Opaque watercolor, ink, silver, and gold on paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., 1970 (1970.301.26)

Egle Žygas

If sports inspire and engage you—as a participant or as an observer—then you already know the important role they’ve played throughout history. But did you know that depictions of athletes and athletic endeavors from over two millennia around the world can be found in many galleries at The Met? Here are just 10 of the sports-inspired artworks and objects in the Museum. 

Works with racing, running, and training themes:

Running and Training in Ancient Greece

The ancient Greeks admired and believed the human body to be the most beautiful of forms and worked to perfect their bodies through exercise. Games were held throughout Greece and they also served an essential role in training warriors for battle in the frequent wars between the Greek city-states.

Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora.

Masked Race on the Ivory Coast

In Dan communities of western Côte d’Ivoire, dangerous immaterial forest spirits are translated into the forms of human face masks. One spirit embodied in such masks is Gunye Ge, whose mask is worn by a community’s champion foot racer in competitions.

A runner wearing such a mask chases an unmasked runner and if he catches him, he keeps his mask. If he doesn’t the unmasked runner puts on his own mask and chases another competitor in turn. At the end of the dry season, the runner with the most victories is the champion.

A Yakouba carver. Face mask (Gunye Ge), 19th–20th century.