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Museums and collections


Jennie Thornber, Education and Outreach Coordinator
Museum of Classical Archaeology

Why is that baby squashing that goose?

As the Museum’s Education and Outreach Coordinator, I work with thousands of children a year and, as you can imagine, I get asked all manner of weird and wonderful questions, working in a collection such as ours. But almost without fail, a child in every school group will pipe up with what is, let’s be honest, a perfectly reasonable question: why is that baby squashing that goose?

Perhaps it is because I spend so much time and energy defending this baby that he has become my museum favourite. It’s true: he can be a hard sell, particularly in the face of children’s impassioned protests against the maltreatment of birds. Yet who can deny the charms of this podgy little toddler? Take one look at his puppy fat, at his delicate fingers and toes. With his tiny hand outstretched, his eyes cast upwards to meet ours and his lips parted, as if he’s about to speak to us (or, at least, try to), it’s difficult to resist the urge to scoop him up in our arms, and to remind ourselves that he is but a plaster cast.

Who could really believe this innocent child of cruelty? And perhaps that’s part of the challenge with this sculpture: it’s up to me, you and the children visiting on school trips to decide for ourselves what is happening here. Are we truly faced with a crime against the welfare of geese? Or is this an affectionate tussle, as the baby play-fights with his pet? Does the baby even know the difference? And does he realise his own strength?

Tucked away in a corner of the Museum, surrounded by gods and heroes who tower over him with their chiselled features and rippling muscles, it’s easy for this chubby little fellow to be overlooked. But if you tear your eyes away from the perfect bodies, both divine and mortal, and the paradigms of heroism and athleticism all around you, you will discover secreted in this corner a hidden gem.