Lekythos

Greek Lekythos Vase-
500 – 475 BCE, Athens
Material: terracotta
Size: 25.7 x 7.9 cm

This type of vase is a lekythos. The artifact is a tall, slender vase with a small circular opening at the top. The artifact has a black background with red figures. The area joining the neck and body is characterized by a smooth downward slope that creates a near-horizontal surface before abruptly transitioning into the vertical plane of the body. The body of the bottle gradually narrows at an increasing rate until it reaches a pinched circular base atop a thick disc, which is smaller in diameter than the widest part of the bottle. The bottom of the handle is fixed to the top of the body of the bottle and the top of the neck of the bottle.

scene of scilenus on lekythos

The scene painted on this lekythos consists of a red-figure silenus, identifiable by its horse tail. The nude silenus stands in a bent-over position and gazes into or over a handheld mirror. In contrast with other depictions of sileni, this subject has anthropomorphic eyes and feet. It is also shown alongside a chair, which is not associated with the traditional natural environment of sileni. The silenus figure is represented via the red-figure technique, a later innovation made in ancient Greek pottery in order to better illustrate fine details and movement. This narrative is important because it shows an aspect of culture which discusses the way sileni and even satyrs are portrayed then. Many artists developed the concept of satyrs and sileni into humorous pieces. They discriminated against half animal, half human creatures, and therefore portrayed them in a humiliating way in their art works.

comparative image of the Lekythos

This artifact is a narrow cylindrical flask made of fired clay that was used for storing oils such as olive oil. Lekythoi are associated with baths, gymnasiums, and funerary offerings. Despite its small size, it is intricately decorated with a combination of black-figure and red-figure techniques. Black-figure elements are created by painting a glaze/slip over the pottery, while red-figure elements consist of the negative space colored by the unglazed areas of the clay.

In the interactive strategy portion of this exhibit, three miniature lekythos vases were constructed with 3-dimensional printing. These models were then painted to show the different stages in which the lekythos were created, thus displaying how the development and creation of the original lekythos. One life-size lekythos was also 3-dimensionally printed, painted, and hollowed out. This model was painted to mirror the real lekythos, and it was hollowed out and filled with olive oil that the participants could pour into a separate vessel themselves.

This is an exciting exhibit as it allows viewers to directly interact with the object and see how the original piece was created. In addition, the use of a functional, life-size model will allow the audience to recreate the experience of the Greeks, and understand why the Greeks emphasized the incorporation of beauty in all aspects of life, even in ordinary, everyday objects.

Theater Mask

Bronze Roman Mask
300 – 200 BCE (Hellenistic), Greece
Material: bronze
Size: 18.1 x 16.5 cm
Unknown Artist

This artifact is a bronze copy of a round theater mask. Theater masks were originally molded out of lighter, more perishable material, such as linen and paste. However, it is unlikely that this mask had a functional, theatrical use, but rather it is likely that it served for more decorative purposes. This is evidenced by the fact that the mask is not the size of a human face- it is, in fact, much smaller. It also does not have holes on the side of its frame to be pinned to a face, but it does have two holes at the bottom of the mask- suggesting that it could be pinned to a wall. It is also important to note that the material of this artifact was bronze, a heavy material, indicating that it was not meant to be worn, and it is nonperishable, possibly to withstand the outdoors if it was placed in a garden. Before the oxidation seen on this object occurred, the original bronze color was reminiscent of tanned human skin.

Example of ancient Roman theater

The theatre mask was a staple to Greek and Roman theatre. This gave the actors their identity during their performances. It also allowed one person to play multiple roles in one show. The masks were predominantly used by actors. The theater mask was a popular devices in theatrical performances as it conveyed emotion to far-away audiences in the amphitheater. The theater mask portrayed very expressive faces in order to emphasis the emotions being shown.

The mask is used to display an expression of emotion, the carving of these features into stone helps convey the emotion the actor aims to express. The mask is fashioned as to show a look of shock, surprise or awe, as seen by the gaping mouth and wide eyes. It can be assumed that from the short hair and masculine features that the mask was meant to portray a male.

The importance of this mask in Greek society was so the actor could express emotion and create a character for audiences. Theater in Greek culture was an extraordinarily important and was a primary source of entertainment. It was seen as a way of investigating further into the world they lived and the meaning of humanity. The Romans had a tendency to adopt greek traditions and artifacts into their own culture. In this case, the inclusion of theater masks in a domestic sphere, highlights the Roman admiration for Greek plays and an attempt to create a theater-like environment for the home. Masks were often utilized as a form of decoration in houses, garlands, or gardens to bring elements of the theater into a domestic space. Later on, they even began to be incorporated in Roman paintings.  

Example of Mask in Garden Setting
Example of Mask in Decorative Setting

The importance of this mask in Greek society was so the actor could express emotion and create a character for audiences. Theater in Greek culture was extraordinarily important and was a primary source of entertainment. It was seen as a way of investigating further into the world they lived and the meaning of humanity. The Romans had a tendency to adopt greek traditions and artifacts into their own culture. In this case, the inclusion of theater masks in a domestic sphere highlights the Roman admiration for Greek plays and an attempt to create a theater-like environment for the home. Masks were often utilized as a form of decoration in houses, garlands, or gardens to bring elements of the theater into a domestic space. Later on, they even began to be incorporated in Roman paintings.  

Example of Mask in Roman painting

In this particular case, the mask could possibly be depicting a Gorgoneion, which were seen as masks in themselves. Gorgoneions are apotropaic symbols characterized by a wide open mouth, forward facing eyes, and a snub nose. This particular mask of a frowned Gorgon, found near a sanctuary of Dionysus, is of importance because it may have been an offering to the God. In a Roman context, the Gorgoneion became somewhat ubiquitous, and rather than being tied to one myth, began to a recognizable symbolize a protector of the home.

Mask of Satyr 200-100 BC


Theseus and Ariadne

Name: Theseus and Ariadne
Location: Greece/Lowe Art Museum
Date: 2nd to 1st century BCE (330-31 BCE)
Material: Marble
Size: 10 x 11 1/8 x 7 in. (25.4 x 28.3 x 17.8 cm)

This work is a Hellenistic marble double-headed bust that portrays a helmeted, youthful male on one side and a female wearing a headband on the other.  The head that is presumably Ariadne’s has what looks like a crown, which is an indication of royalty, around wavy, pulled-back hair. The male on the bust is wearing a helmet, and Theseus is often shown bearing a helmet in many visual comparanda.

This bust (on the left) of Theseus depicts the hero wearing a helmet.

Although not all of the original features are easy to see on the double-headed bust, the most evident features are the lips and eyebrows, both of which are important in determining facial expression. However, both of the faces on the piece are mostly neutral and do not express much emotion. Both of the noses have suffered a degree of damage, and the left half of the male’s face seems to have been worn down by time. The heads are connected behind the ears, and the partial sculpture features a janiform bust, that is, two heads looking in opposite directions. This piece may have come from a herm, a sculpture with a head and shoulders set atop a square pillar that was often used as a boundary marker in Classical Greece, and as a decorative item of furniture in post-Classical times. Such herm may be indicated by the slight angular transition between the sides and the backs of the heads.

Theseus and Centaur: here Theseus can be seen wearing a helmet as well.

The identities of the characters depicted on the bust have yet to be confirmed, but unnamed scholars suggest that the heads are those of Theseus and Ariadne, characters in a Greek myth popular in that time period. Ariadne was a Cretan princess who fell in love with Theseus, a Greek hero who slayed the Cretan Minotaur, a half-bull and half-man monster. The Cretan Minotaur lived in the Labyrinth, and Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of thread so that he could find his way through the maze. Ariadne is shown wearing a crown over her wavy, pulled-back hair in a number of visual comparanda (as shown below), which may explain why scholars believe that the identity of the female on the bust may be Ariadne. This bust of Ariadne (on the right) depicts the royal wearing a headband around wavy, pulled-back hair.

In addition to already being of royal blood, Ariadne marries Dionysus, who gave her the corona borealis, a crown to immortalize her.  Since janiform heads denote complementarity, it would only make sense for the identity of the male character to be that of either Theseus or, less possibly, Dionysus [really unlikely with the helmet]. One may speculate that the identity of the male figure is that of Dionysus because Ariadne is his wife, so the complementarity in the bust would be that of husband and wife. However, Dionysus is generally not shown wearing a helmet in other works of art. Since Ariadne helped Theseus find his way through the Labyrinth, the relationship demonstrated by this sculpture would be that of helper and hero. Evidence that lends support to this assumption is that Theseus is commonly depicted wearing a helmet. Neoclassical artists, for example, were convinced that Theseus would have worn a helmet, as seen in work by Canova, such as Theseus and Centaur. The difficulty with identifying these characters with certitude lies in that there are neither inscriptions on the bust nor distinctive symbols, so the aforementioned observations and explanations remain hypothetical.

Herms being used decoratively in gardens.

It is suggested that this double-headed bust was possibly part of a herm. Herms originated as sculptures of human bodies, showing no body parts aside from heads and sometimes genitalia. They were commonly found in entrances to places such as temples and homes, beside doorways, and they indicated territorial boundaries. The usage of herms may lend insight into the etymology of the word. The most common head found on herms is that of Hermes, the god of travelers, trade, commerce, and roads as well as the messenger of the gods. The Herm of Hermes (see below) in the J. Paul Getty Museum (second half of the 1st c. A.D., Getty Villa, 79.AA.132) is an example of one of these herms.

The Greeks placed herms on roads in order to ward off evil and, according to the Greek traveler Pausanias, used them to venerate their gods. They were used as grave markers as well. Later on, the Romans appropriated herms and used them as decorations in the gardens of villas.

There is some evidence presented by Hetty Goldman in “The Origin of the Greek Herm” that suggests that herms were additionally used as important figures in Dionysian marriages, which were practiced by the cult of Dionysus. Although this bust most likely does not portray Dionysus, it is interesting to think about the use of the herm in this way, especially when accounting for the fact that Ariadne, one of the supposed subjects, is Dionysus’s wife.

An example of a janiform bust portraying young and old Janus

Janiform heads come from the Roman god Janus, the guardian of gates, passages, and doors. When Janus himself is portrayed, one head represents him looking into the future and the other into the past, one looking forward and the other behind, respectively. The significance of the janiform style is the portrayal of opposite as well as complementary concepts or figures. Within Greek and Roman art, herms can represent a variety of complementary relationships, such as old and young, divine and mortal, god and follower, male and female, and husband and wife. There is a double-headed herm consisting of Herodotus and Thucydides, who at first are not strict opposites, but were both historians referred to as the “Father of History.” Janiform heads could consists of Dionysus and a Maenad, one of his followers. Another common type portrays young and old Janus, who looks different ways and into different times.

The coin below portrays a janiform head of Zeus and Hera, who are the married couple on Olympus, on one side. All of these examples make it easy to contextualize this double-headed bust as being Theseus and Ariadne, being portrayed as hero and helper and even possibly placed opposite as lovers.  Moreover, the janiform style stresses the symmetry in this bust, and symmetry was of aesthetic importance to the Greeks.

More Comparative Images:

Description of Interactive Activity

The janiform bust will be bisected in the middle in order to separate the object into two distinct faces. Once split, there will be a flat side on each of the halves. On the flat side of the Ariadne half, there will be a stylus-like device with a spherical tip to represent the ball of thread that Ariadne gave to Theseus to help him get through the maze. Viewers will use this device to get through the maze that will be carved on the flat side of the Theseus half. There will be different colored pins throughout the maze, almost like adding annotations in a physical fashion, and an informative note on the Ariadne half containing segments of information (e.g., the blue pin will match the blue note) about the Theseus and Ariadne myth.

The janiform bust embodies complementarity, and this activity will emphasize the complementarity of the characters depicted on the bust. Viewers will have to use the device on Ariadne’s side to get through the maze on Theseus’s, much like Theseus had to use the ball of thread that Ariadne gave him to find his way through the Labyrinth. While finding their way through the maze, viewers will have the opportunity to learn about the myth. Thread unwinds, and the colored pins will represent the unwinding of the story while revealing facts about this work of art.

References: https://tinyurl.com/y3qwchh6

Roman Matron

2-3rd century Marble 11 ¼ inches x 7 ½ inches x 8 ¼ inches Rome, Italy


This bust depicts a woman who is either middle-aged or older. Her serious facial expression, which can be broadly characterized as veristic, is meant to convey true depiction of age. This bust was most likely part of a funerary niche demonstrating how she wanted to be represented for all posterity. The hole at the back of her head is likely where a metal bar was placed to uphold this piece.   

The history of these sculptured busts demonstrates a back-and-forth between veristic and classical depictions, ultimately resulting in variations during the reigns of different emperor’s. However, even the veristic depictions are questionable as true and accurate portraits of the person in his or her daily life. These busts were spearheaded by the emperors and public officials who mainly commissioned these works.

2-3rd century Marble 11 ¼ inches x 7 ½ inches x 8 ¼ inches Rome, Italy

Ultimately, regardless of the different intentions motivating the busts of emperors and the bust of this woman, some of the same questions may be asked of both: to what extent is the combination of veristic and idealized style intentional? They are also similar in that they were meant to leave an image of how he or she might have wanted to be presented and seen in life and death.

As discussed, this bust represents a middle-aged Roman matron who is depicted in a very realistic way. The Romans believed that all life was noble, so even the aged, wrinkled face that was sculpted here was considered honorable. Additionally, her face is very solemn and projects a seriousness that suggest female virtue. In this way, even though this portrait is very realistic, she is also idealized to show her as a dutiful wife, mother, and citizen.

The virtues represented by this portrait are symbolized by the Roman goddess Vesta who is the patron goddess of the hearth and domestic tranquility.

Vesta, Roman Bust

These values were very important to Roman culture as it idealized women who were able to keep a happy and healthy home, taking care of not only the household but the husband and children as well. There are many similar busts of Vesta, with similar facial expressions to this Roman woman, so although she is not directly related to the goddess, the imagery is meant to evoke ideas of these virtues.

The main function of the Roman Matron is to depict a healthy and good-looking female probably from a noble family. It was used to show how a woman had to look and how important she was for the Roman empire: she had the duty of bearing children and taking care of them ensuring a peaceful society, especially under Augustus.

The decoration does, in fact, relate to the function. The decoration includes a specific hairdo that would represent the latest trend, without it being too excessive. This would make the figure represented accessible and relatable. She could also provide a role model, too, for other Roman women, indicating how they should behave and comport themselves in their daily lives.

The specific object is of the utmost importance for the Roman Empire. It is first of all showing how women were also significant in the day to day activities of the empire. They were given the chance to to be represented in art and at that point in time. This was a delicate task as it held the risk of being perceived as glorifying women. Moreover, it showed and gave women an example, an aspirational point of reference, one displaying how important they were to the whole empire. It also showed how older women with wrinkles were valued as well, and it was a sign of how influential and wealthy these women were at a given point in time.

In Ancient Rome, private portrait sculpture was most closely associated with funerary contexts, and tombs were adorned with portrait reliefs along with short inscriptions. Many of the Roman funerary portrait sculptures were erected by one spouse forto the other, with more commissioned by husbands for their wives. Women tended to die at an earlier age due to difficulties during childbirth, the hardships of early marriage, and overwork. The majority of the honorees of Roman funerary altars were upper- and middle-class women who were commemorated in terms of their role as a wife, mother, or daughter.   

The slightly smaller scale of the portrait, in addition to the large hole in the back of the head suggests that this sculpture may have been displayed in a funerary niche in a columbarium – an underground, typically rectangular, communal tomb excavated to hold cinerary urns and boxes, as well as portrait busts of a noble Roman family and its freed servants. The hole was most likely attached to a metal bar that was affixed to the wall of the niche. This funerary context for portrait sculpture was rooted in the Roman tradition of the display of wax portrait masks, called imagines, in funeral processions of the upper classes to commemorate their distinguished ancestry.What is difficult about this bust is the fact that there is no inscription associated with it, facilitating its enigmatic quality.

Overall, this dossier has provided a thorough understanding of what the Roman Matron was, is, and signifies. All of the information given are pertinent to viewing and analyzing this bust. Specifically, the significance of the hair, the bust being a woman, and the hole representing that it most likely was part of a funerary niche. Although an inscription is not provided, we are able to understand the bust in its descriptions, meanings, and functions.

Funerary Portrait of a Woman, Roman, ca. 120-130 C.E. Marble, 25 x 17 x 9 1/2 inches. Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 48-9

A Marble Funerary Portrait Bust of a Deified Youth or Prince, Roman Imperial, circa Late 1st Century A.D.

Bearded Roman Male

Portrait of a Bearded Roman (possibly Emperor Antoninus Pius)
Artist/Maker: Artist Unknown
Date: Mid 2nd century
Medium: Marble
Dimensions: Overall: 11 3/4 x 10 3/8 x 9 1/2 in. (29.8 x 26.4 x 24.1 cm)
Classification: Art Works
Credit Line: Museum purchase through funds from Colonel C. Michael Paul

Physical Description

This is an 11 ⅞” marble bust of a bearded male figure, produced in Rome around the mid-2nd century A.D. by an unknown patron. A great amount of detail can be seen in the hair and beard. The nose of the bust has been damaged and is missing, and the eyes do not appear to have any discernible pupils or irises. The bust appears to utilise a mix of contrasting idealistic and veristic styles, as is evidenced by the square, idealized shape of the bust’s face and the more realistic wrinkles on the bust’s forehead.

The combination of these two styles is notable, considering the bust was produced well after verism had fallen out of popular use in Roman portrait sculpture. It seems likely that it was a very deliberate choice by the artist, rather than just a following of popular trends. The bust is severed at the neck, indicating that it is only a fragment of a larger piece. The form of this original peace is unclear; the head may be part of a simple bust, or it could even be part of a full-length statue that was later cut for ease of sale or transport. The absence of key identifying details, such as the nose and pupils, make identifying the subject depicted in the bust difficult; however, based on details that are present, it seems likely that this could be a portrait of Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius.

Historical Context


Roman portrait sculpture, originally adapted from the Greeks, played an important role in Roman society. A Roman citizen might have a portrait made to honor the deceased, to celebrate a great social achievement, or simply to avoid fading into oblivion by literally immortalizing himself in stone. Portraiture was not an art form reserved for the elite and was popular across all social classes, such that local citizens and even freed slaves might have one awarded to them in honor of some grand contribution to their city. These honorific statues were typically displayed in public spaces, although many examples of private Roman sculptures exist, typically belonging to the elite.

Female Bust with Inscription

The vast majority of Roman portraits were accompanied by an inscription identifying the person depicted and the reason for which the sculpture was made. Unfortunately, this bearded Roman head is the only surviving part of a larger piece, and the inscription has been lost. If it were present, there would be no question as to the identity of the subject.

Roman portraits were not necessarily accurate representations of the subject’s appearance. This was especially true for the Roman elite; oftentimes it was more important that the image was believed by the public to be a likeness, rather than being a true mirror-image of the person represented. Many Roman emperors, like Augustus, might choose to add physical characteristics that increase the sense of “family resemblance” to prior rulers within their dynasty  in an effort to legitimize their claims to power. At the same time, it was important that imperial portraits be distinct and unmistakable

Comparative Imagery

It is likely that the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, who oversaw a prosperous and peaceful state from 138-161 A.D., is being depicted in this bust. This can be supported through comparisons with other sculptures featuring Emperor Antoninus Pius, which share many distinct features with the bust. The most prominent of these can be seen in the hair and beard. Pius is almost exclusively depicted with a very similar beard and hairstyle as what is displayed on this bust. Additionally, depictions of Pius often show him with the same blockish, squared face seen in the bust, a style commonly used by the Romans to convey a sense of strength in leadership.

This sculpture highlights the important roles that portraiture played in Greek and Roman culture. The first role was that of public honorific structure. This type of portrait was primarily seen in a highly visible location like a forum plaza so as to construct an imposing image of the high-ranking figure. The representation could either be veristic or idealized. In veristic fashion, the portrait features every wrinkle and blemish in order to portray to the viewer a sense of wisdom that comes with old age.

Idealized portraits, on the other hand, emphasize the beauty and power of perfection. The Roman male portrait displays the wrinkles in the forehead; however, other blemishes are not present. The second role played by this portrait could have been a manifestation of wealth. The location of a portrait with such a role would have been within the owner’s own home. These portraits were private and only meant to be seen by certain individuals. The private role has much greater significance to the family than to the general public.

The portrait we have is simply a human head without a neck, yet it is certain that this was not its original form. Almost all portraiture of this kind was more extravagant in that it showed the person represented from the waist up or in some cases riding a horse (equestrian portrait). The fact that our male portrait consists only of a head can mean a few things. It is much easier to transport just the head over the full bust. The owner could have cut just above the neck in order to have the ability to move while keeping most of the sculpture intact. If it was more convincingly a representation of Emperor Antoninus Pius, we could assume that it may have been damaged in an effort by his enemies to defame the ruler (damnatio memoriae). All these hypotheses would be made concrete if we had an inscription for the portrait; without the inscription, modern audiences can only guess at the person represented and his role in society.  

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.

Roman Glass Vase with Disk Foot

Name: Roman glass vase with disk foot
Location: Lowe Art Museum
Date: 2nd to 4th century
Material: Glass
Size: Overall: 6 7/8 x 3 x 2 1/2 in. (17.5 x 7.6 x 6.4 cm)
Artist/Patron: N/A
Name: Roman glass vase with disk foot
Location: Lowe Art Museum
Date: 2nd to 4th century
Material: Glass
Size: Overall: 6 7/8 x 3 x 2 1/2 in.
Artist/Patron: Unknown

Visual Analysis Narrative

Roman Glass Vase with Disk Foot – Side View

This Roman glass vase, which features a disk foot, was created using the blown glass method. This process was often deployed by Roman artisans to create glass vases and other containers. This vase features a lean neck that then expands to a wider belly at the base of this vase. This vessel is believed to have been translucent, if not completely transparent when first created, but in the course of time, the glass’s color changed to feature dark tints of brown and yellow due to oxidation. Moreover, the vessel has symmetrical characteristics that run up the side of the vase: dark blue ridges serving as handles as they lead to the opening of the vase. Additionally, though these black ridges were already a dark color initially, they have only become darker over time, creating a stark contrast with the light color of the vessel itself. Because the handles are now dark it is hard to tell whether they featured any decorative elements along the side of container.

Vases like this apothecary bottle were predominantly used for holding expensive liquids, such as oils, wine, medicine, and perfumes. These vessels were used by their owners on a daily basis as tableware as well as medicine and perfume containers. They were thus essential to the daily life of those who owned them. Compared to other pieces of glasswork made by the Romans, this vase shares some similarities with tableware of the time, with a thin bottle neck that made pouring out liquids simpler for those who used it. The age and wear of this piece can be easily seen through its dark colors and tints. In fact through these characteristics one could hypothesize that this piece was found in archaeological context rather than a succession of private ownership.

Comparative Images

Other Roman glass artworks have maintained their transparency, making them even more valuable and beautiful. Examples, both original and replications, can be found below:

Rock Crystal Bowl,
5th C. BC

This glass bowl is Persian rock crystal- this sort of work served as a sort of ‘eastern inspiration’ for Roman glass works. This crystal was viewed as one of the world’s most desirable materials for this sort of work. The translucent nature of this piece is replicated in our Roman glass vase.

Roman Glass with Iridescence,
1st C. AD

This vase (crafted in the 19th century as an imitation of Roman glass work) is emblematic of the sheen caused by corrosion of the glass. Vickers asserts that this aesthetic is created by the vase basically shedding it’s initial paint to reveal traces of the original medium of the vessel; this aesthetic is demonstrated by our own Roman glass vase, which is greatly appreciated by the viewers and followers of Ancient Roman art.

Iron Age Golden Jug,
present whereabouts unknown.

This is a secondary example of the aforementioned corrosion and its desirability in the art community. It is a gold jug from the Iron Age. Moreover, the corrosion is ultimately one of the fine details that gives these vessels their rarity and value due to the fact it is a direct representation of the age and culture of the vase.

Function

Pale Green Glass Vase,
5th C. AD

The function of this glass vase was mainly to hold expensive liquids such as wine, oils, perfume and medicine. They were not necessarily used for holding water, as they are quite small and therefore not particularly practical water containers. This vessel may have been used as an apothecary bottle to hold medicinal substances in particular. Given its belly which leads up to a relatively narrow mouth, this vase was likely also used to pour the liquids out for quick access to what the owner needed inside. The opacity of the glass would have served to preserve the liquid inside, as exposure to light causes oils to turn rancid. This object was mainly located in the dining room or in the kitchen since it would predominantly be used to hold wine or oil for drinking or cooking. The vase was also commonly used in bedrooms to serve as a container for either perfume or medicine. The vessel’s location, then, is significant for understanding its function. This glass bottle was used by Ancient Romans around the third century, perhaps as a portable means of transporting beverages. These vases were commonly used by all social classes of Romans as an everyday device and likely were not thought of as art. The upper class, however, would likely have more decorative vases made out of finer materials.

While this opaque blown glass bottle lacks much decoration, it is not devoid of design.  This glass does feature metal ridges on either side which lead up to symmetrical handles. These smooth ridges were likely intended to give the bottle better grip on top of the smooth, slippery glass. Due to the high value and fragility of glass, it is easy to see why measures would be taken to improve the structural integrity on its exterior while simultaneously decreasing the probability of accidental dropping.

Famous Vessels

This object would be of great importance to the daily life of both Romans and Greeks due to its functionality. It acted as a container and storage vessel for any liquids that the owner saw fit and it could also be used as a transporting vessel for moving liquids from to one place to another. If intended as a container for wine, this bottle would have played an important part in the dining experience of any Greek or Roman home. Drinking wine was culturally important to Greeks and Romans as it marked a time to become closer with others and honor the god Dionysus.

This vessel was probably part of an upper class home, due to its quality and the expensive liquids it would have held. Its intricacy would indicate that it was a luxury item, and not a simple container . It is also possible, however, that this vase was strictly utilitarian, meant to be placed in cupboards or directly on tables for easy access. This vessel would not only showcase the social class of the owner because of its delicate intricacy, but it would also represent the culture of the people who possessed it. More than likely, this vase was the property of someone of Roman descent, and as such may well have been used as a subtle reminder of the roots and culture of the Romans. For further information regarding the details and conditions of Roman glass works, in the contemporary, reference the above supplements.


Calyx Krater

Calyx Krater
Pottery and slip paint 
14 ⅛ x 12 ½ inches
Attica, Greece 
4th Century BCE 
Unknown artist 
Red-figure terracotta mixing bowl
Calyx Krater
Pottery and slip paint
14 ⅛ x 12 ½ inches
Attica, Greece
4th Century BCE
Unknown artist
Red-figure, terracotta mixing bowl

The body of the Krater, starting at the base of the low handles, is all taken with a narrative of Dionysos in a procession with his followers. The low handles is a characteristic of this type of vessel and accounts for its name, ‘Kalyx’, which refers to the calyx of a flower. Dionysos, the most significant figure depicted, was the Greek god of the grape harvest, wine, and fertility. He was frequently used to represent liberation, and the free, rapturous feeling wine produces in those who drink it. He often has exotic animals with him, in this case, a panther, to further emphasize his wild, carefree nature. The Greeks painted Dionysos as one of their own, like he was a wise philosopher; they revealed in the human form, and gave the bodies of the gods just as much attention.

Greek god, Dionysos painted by Psiax. He was usually shown as young man with long hair. Unlike the other male gods of Mount Olympus, Dionysus wasn’t athletic looking. He often wore a crown made of ivy, animal skins or a purple robe, and carried a staff called the thyrsus which had a pine-cone on the end. He had a magical wine cup that was always filled with wine.

As befits red-figure convention, men are depicted as red figures and women as white figures. The choice to paint the panther white brings compositional balance. On one side, Dionysos is present along with satyrs, maenads, and Eros. On the other side three draped youths are present and all are participating in the thiasos, a term denoting a Dionysian procession involving collective drinking of wine, dancing, and taking on the persona of Dionysos himself. Dionysos wears a long chiton, sweeping to his ankles, and a himation draped diagonally across his body. The garments, though appearing heavy and dense, have a distinct sense of lightness and movement.

Three draped youths portrayed with red figure technique

In myth, the processors of Dionysus are satyrs and nymphs, as well as his female followers known as maenads. The maenads are the ones who raised the young Dionysos, and are nymph-like beings who are angry and protective. In addition to vines and ivy, Dionysos and his followers are seen with a staff called a thyrsus. This staff was not only seen in vase paintings, but also physically used in Dionysian festivals. It is also suspected that the staffs were thrown and tossed in the air as a part of the ritual itself.

Semele seeing Zeus in his godly form leading to her death

Dionysus is unique among the Olympic gods in that one of his parents, his mother Semele, was a mortal. When Semele became pregnant by Zeus, Hera became very jealous. Out of jealousy, she tricked Semele into looking at Zeus in his godly form. Semele was immediately destroyed, but Zeus was able to save the child (Dionysus) by sewing Dionysus into his thigh until his birth. On the right, Semele is shown viewing Zeus in his true form leading to her ultimate and untimely death.

Maenads are pictured with the thyrsus clutched in their hands mid-dance, and are shown in processions. The shaft of the thyrsus was made of ferula, a Mediterranean plant with a hollow stem, and was wrapped with vines of ivy, and on the apex of the thyrsus stood a pinecone. This is thought to be a representation of a phallus: the pinecone acting as the seed, and the long staff producing it. From the thyrsus’ role in the dancing, it can be hypothesized that the act of tossing and throwing was symbolic of fertilizing the land with a healthy crop, spreading the seed.

Maenad depicted with thyrsus

The thyrsus is also welded by Dionysos and maenads alike as a weapon. The thyrsus guarded these maddened worshippers and the vine as a symbol of Dionysos alone, unable to be controlled by any other. Within the narrative, it appears the artist chose to emphasize the role of Dionysos as opposed to that of the of the satyrs, maenads, and even Eros. This is evident through the composition and positioning of the god as the central figure. Additionally, all the figures appear to be looking in the direction of the god while he himself is looking directly forward.

Portrayal of a typical symposia with wine, music, and conversation
Painting of a symposia depicting male participants reclining on klinai

The Calyx Krater was specifically used in what became popular as the symposion. This was an event in the private home which only men attended. During this event, the men drank wine which was mixed with water in the krater and served a cultural significance, as a person who drank unmixed wine was considered a barbarian. Conversation, music, and entertainment were also aspects of the symposion. The male participants also reclined on couches called klinai and many kraters depict this specific scene of the event.

Interactive Strategy

The interactive strategy includes smaller versions of the object available for the viewers to pour a portion of “wine” into it. This direct interaction with this specific version of the Krater provides a sense of what the symposia would have been like. This simulation will not only assist the viewer in connecting with the object and understanding what the experience would have been like, but also provides insight into daily life in ancient Greece.

The Calyx Krater was specifically used in what became popular as the symposion. This was an event in the private home in which only men attended. During this time the men drank wine which was mixed in the krater with water and served a cultural significance as a person who drank unmixed wine was considered a barbarian. Conversation, music, and entertainment were also aspects of the symposion. The male participants also reclined on couches called klinai and many kraters depict this specific scene of the event.

Kraters depicting symposion scenes often include not only the men reclining on the couches, but also the women who would provide entertainment and the young boys who would serve the men. This Calyx Krater however, does not depict the symposion as it would have occurred in the andron, the room in the house specifically designated for this event. The scene on this krater depicts the procession of Dionysus, who was the god of wine and life force, instead of the men reclining on the couches. Dionysus is the figure who watches over and leads the symposion and he is often included in the scenes.

This krater depicts a more metaphorical versus literal connection to the symposion as the krater exhibits the spirit of the symposion instead of what would be considered a genre scene, a realistic representation of what would occur. The decoration on this vase is significant because it shows what the people at the time valued as an important representation of their cultural values. This krater held the place of honor in the andron exhibiting the value and importance the krater held to the people and the event. Each man also had his own kylix to drink the wine from. This vessel clearly held a sacred place when this event took place.

The mixing of wine and water in this krater as well as the decoration of the human figures processing for Dionysus show the cultural and utilitarian significance the krater held in the symposion and society.

The viewer, equipped with the background information, will physically perform the act connected with the beliefs, ritual, and daily life of the ancient Greeks. They will learn how to perform the act, will gain a deeper understanding, and hopefully be able to connect it to their own lives. This activity is important to really assist the viewer in not only understanding, but connecting the information to the object. It is also important because the activity could provide an opportunity for conversation of this object and help interact viewers with each other.