The Funerary Vase


Interactive Activity

This vase is color blocked, each one of its sections has an important part in telling its story. It is now your turn to try to put the pieces together and put together its possible function.
Some of its parts appear to have a domestic function while others represent the
immortalization of loved ones and memory of life. We have divided the vase into five symbolic parts.


The pieces are numbered and color coded:

The face: preservation of youth, ideal of beauty

The hair and diadem: radiated diadem symbolism of the sky and the sun and memories of life

The statuette: representation of the dead love ones


The base: domestic function. Grounded it direct accesses to the dead


The handle: the connection of the living the dead the handle of life

Name: Funerary Canosan Vase
Location: Canosa, Italy
Date: 4th Century
Material: White glazed clay and polychrome paint
Artist/Patron: Unknown

Physical Description

This is a Greek funerary vase decorated with two female figures, a small statue and a bust. The origins of the vase can be attributed to Canosan pottery, dating back to the fourth century in southeastern Italy. It is an oinochoe or pitcher, used as funerary vase. The vase takes the form of a woman with her hair pulled back from her face, kept in place with a diadem. On top of the lady’s head is a smaller, upright figure of a woman wearing a flowing garment called a chiton. The smaller figurine is supported by the pitcher’s long, curved handle. This vase is made of a reddish clay and covered with semi-transparent white glaze or slip, and also includes polychrome painted features, which have become worn and faded with time.

The woman’s face is that of a generic young female. Her eyes are slightly asymmetrical, and she has a long nose and small but full lips. The sculpture does not show her ears but rather puts emphasis on her hair style and the diadem, which is decorated with triangular petals that emulate the rays of the sun. The neck of the figure forms the base of the vase. The smaller statuette at the top of the vase displays less detail in its face and hair. The head of this figure turns to the side while the larger female head looks straight ahead. The figure appears to be holding her hand on her waist. The smaller figure stands in a contrapposto pose, with one hand on its hip and a knee bent in a relaxed posture. The identity and significance of the figures are unclear.

Comparative Images

Taking a comparative look at better preserved funerary vases gives insight into the likely paint-scheme of the vase under study.

The funerary vase was often associated with an oinochoe, a true vessel which was likely used as the receptacle to the wine decanted over the above bust-figurine vases.

Oinochoe and funerary vases. Shown with paint still somewhat intact.

Vases of this sort were often used as grave markers, although their primary intended purpose was as a means to decant and dilute wine meant for the dead. Technically, the vase is not a vessel, as it has no visible openings. The Greeks may have instead poured wine and water over the object, aerating and diluting the wine as it flowed down the intricate groove of  the vase. The funerary vase, presumably, was used primarily in ceremonial rituals, not in everyday life, considering there are examples other Greek vessels from the same era that would provide a more practical way to decant and dilute wine.

A mourner visits the grave of a loved one.

The vase is telling the story of a deceased person, how important they were, and a generalised image what they looked like when they were alive. The smaller, standing figure is meant to portray the deceased. The face appears to preserve youth eternally, regardless of the age of the person depicted at the time of their death. The elegant chiton drapes her modestly, as modesty was important for women even in death. The fact that the deceased has a vase this ornate to mark burial is indicative of their elite social standing. Their importance was enhanced by their proximity to the image below, possibly representing a goddess.