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on vessels and other objects
Relief of a running/flying Gorgon on a locally made ceramic tile.
Gela Regional Archaeological Museum, Sicily.
From the area of the acropolis, Gela, Sicily. 6th century BC.
Relief of a running/flying Gorgon on a ceramic tile from the Northern Sanctuary
National Archaeological Museum of Paestum, Campania, Italy.
of Paestum, Italy. Made in an East Greek (Ionian) workshop, 6th century BC.
Painted Gorgoneions on the volutes of the handles of an Archaic Laconian
Gela Regional Archaeological Museum, Sicily.
black-figure volute krater. 6th century BC. The painting on the neck depicts
a lion confronting a boar among birds and other animals.
The Gorgoneion on the right-hand volute of the krater above.
Painted Gorgoneion "mascaroons" on the volutes
of an Apulian red-figure volute krater.
2nd half of the 4th century BC.
Greek section, Civic Archaeological Museum, Milan. Inv. No. St. 135026.
The krater (vessel for mixing wine and water) is a funerary vase. The painting on the body depicts the deceased woman, identified by her pale skin, holding a coffer and sitting in her funerary monument which is in the form of a naiskos (ναΐσκος, diminutive of ναός, temple). She is visited by two female figures holding gifts, including an alabastron (perfume bottle), a fan and bands.
Each of the moulded Gorgon mascaroons has a white face, brown eyes and hair, and wears a white diadem (see photo below). Around the head are painted, snake-like locks. On the neck of the vessel a female head rises from a flower between symmetrically arranged tendrils. On each shoulder, between the bottom of the handles and the neck, is an attachment in the form of a black swan's head.
A similar krater displayed next to it in the museum depicts a deceased young man, shown in heroic nudity with his horse, also in a naiskos. The form and iconography of both kraters are typical of the "Ornate Style" (also referred to as the "Rich Style") of south Italian red-figure vase painting, thought to have been developed by the Iliupersis Painter around 375-350 BC.
The pretty Gorgon mascaroon on the left-hand volute of the krater above.
Archaic flask in the form of a Gorgon
bust with traces of colour.
East Greece. 590-570 BC.
Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums,
Rome. Inv. No. 306.
The Gorgon head on the handle of a bronze strainer.
From Syracuse. Made in Sicily, perhaps in Syracuse, about 500 BC.
The strainer's ring has a relief of the river god Acheloos, but it is
British Museum. Inv. No. GR.1851.8-13.100 (Bronze 574).
almost impossible to discern the figure on the corroded object.
From the Comarmond Collection.
Detail of an Etruscan bucchero pesante oinochoe (wine jug) with an ovoid body,
decorated all around with rows of naked dancers and Gorgoneions in relief.
6th century BC. Height 50 cm, maximum diameter 23 cm, diameter of foot 18.8 cm.
Etruscan Section, Civic Archaeological Museum, Milan.
Inv. No. A 0.9.296. From the Seletti Collection.
The figures on the side of the oinochoe (οἰνοχόη) have been interpreted as dancers taking part in a sacred ritual dance, perhaps at a funeral, and the Gorgoneions probably had an apotropaic function.
Many of the objects in the Etruscan Section of the Milan Archaeological Museum are from excavations at the cemeteries of the Etruscan city Caere (today Cerveteri), northwest of Rome, while others, such as this oinochoe, are from private collections. The provenance of this jug is unknown, but it is thought to have been produced in Chiusi (Siena), southeastern Etruria. It was owned by the Milanese lawyer and historian Emilio Seletti (1830-1913), who donated most of his collection to Milan's civic museums at the end of the 1900s.
Bucchero (perhaps from the Spanish búcaro, or the Portuguese púcaro; derived from the Latin poculum, a drinking vessel) is the modern name given to Etruscan black ceramic ware with a glossy black surface, obtained by the reduction method of resticting oxygen in the kiln during firing. In the 6th century BC a variety of the bucchero type was developed, known as bucchero pesante or heavy bucchero. Such vessels had thicker walls, were often squatter and were decorated with reliefs, moulded separately and affixed to the still-damp clay before firing. The use of bucchero ware declined from the early 5th century BC due to the increasing popularity of imported Greek ceramics and then locally made vessels adapting new styles and techniques of pottery production and painting.
This oinochoe (Ancient Greek, οἰνοχόη; from οἶνος, oinos, wine, and χέω, kheo, I pour; plural oinochoai or oenochoai) is of the type known as trefoil, due to the form of its mouth which resembles a three-lobed ivy leaf. The inside of the mouth, at the top of the handle and at each side, is decorated with three relief heads (see photo below).
The Etruscan oinochoe in the Milan museum.
One of the Gorgoneions on the oinochoe.
The protomes (heads, see note in Medusa part 4) on the
trefoil mouth of the Etruscan bucchero oinochoe in Milan.
Detail of an Etruscan black-figure neck amphora ("Round Dance"), 525-500 BC,
by the Micali Painter, with dancing or running three-winged Gorgons, followed
by a winged male figure (Perseus?). All three figures also have winged ankles.
The vase is displayed in a glass cabinet against a wall, so it is not possible
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. V.I. 3226.
to see the painting on the other side, or whether it shows from what or
whom who the figures appear to be fleeing.
Acquired from the Collection Ancona in 1892.
The front of the Etruscan "Round Dance" neck amphora in Berlin.
Detail of an Etruscan black-figure hydria, 530-500 BC, possibly by the
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. F 2157. Acquired in 1834.
Micali Painter, showing a Harpy, the Demon of Death, with a head similar
to that of a Gorgon. The four-winged Harpy, with the body of a bird, holds
a naked human figure by the wrist in each hand of her outstretched arms.
A bronze handle of a lid or dish, with Tritons and sleeping Gorgons (see detail below).
Made in southern Italy, perhaps at Croton, around 500 BC. One of a pair; the other, now in
British Museum. GR 1824.4-89.31 (Bronze 576).
Naples, has been described as "Ionic". National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 72981.
From Naples. Bequeathed by R. Payne Knight.
The sleeping Gorgons on the bronze handle above. The winged Gorgons also
have wings on their ankles, and stretch out their arms to touch each other.
In 1885 the Dutch art historian Jan Six (1857-1926) completed De Gorgone, his doctoral thesis on the Gorgon in ancient art and literature, and in September of the same year he wrote a paper examining Archaic Gorgons on artefacts in the British Museum.
He attempted to distinguish between types of Gorgons in Greek art, and discussed the theory that the Gorgon myth may have arrived in Greece from Asia via Cyprus, the southern Aegean and Dodecanese islands and Arcadia. "We may safely assume," he wrote, "that wherever the flood of material is most copious we are nearest to the source." He cited as evidence the "Golgoi sarcophagus" from Cyprus (see Medusa part 1), which turned out not to be as ancient as was perhaps at first thought, and the plate from Kamiros, Rhodes (see Medusa part 2). The "flood of material" never appeared, Archaic Gorgons from Cyprus and the Dodecanese have proved relatively rare (see for example, a fragmentary statue in Medusa part 2), and none appear to predate those found in other Greek territories.
Over a century later we appear no closer to being able to identify an "Ur-Gorgon", an original or prototype from which others were copied, or a geographical source for the myth.
Among the Archaic Gorgon depictions in the British Museum, Six was also drawn to the charming but baffling figures on this bronze handle.
"It would be hardly less interesting to know whence comes the handle of a large flat and circular or oval object from the Payne-Knight collection. If it is, as I suppose, Etruscan, we must of course despair of explaining its meaning. Yet it seems worth describing.
The real handle, on each side of which is a Triton, bears in relief two Gorgons bending forward in consequence of the shape of the handle, and sustaining each other by the elbow with outstretched hand. The knees are slightly bent, and the wings folded, which gives a very peculiar look to this strange composition. The heads are, of course, seen de face, but not upright. They belong to the same type as those already mentioned, but are much later. The figures are clad in a short folded garment, and wear shoes with large wings. The space between the heads is decorated by a rosette.
I dare not even guess what the meaning of all this may be, and should not like to follow those who find a family connection between Iris and Medusa, and might perhaps explain this as a symbolic picture of the rainbow resting on the waters. It will be best to accept it for the moment as merely decorative."
Jan Six, Archaic Gorgons in the British Museum. In: The Journal of Hellenic studies, Volume 6, pages 275-286. Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, London, 1885. At the Internet Archive.
See also: Jan Six, Specimen literarium inaugurale de Gorgone (in Latin). De Roever Kröber-Bakels, Amsterdam, 1885. At the Internet Archive.
Woodcuts from drawings by
Jan Six of Gorgons on Etruscan
gems in the British Museum.
Gorgoneion on the tondo of a band cup from
Izmir Archaeological Museum, Turkey.
Smyrna (today Izmir, Turkey). 6th century BC.
Gorgoneion as the tondo of a fragment of a kylix (drinking cup).
5th century BC. Found in the area of an Ionic temple
Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum, Syracuse. Inv. No. 45673.
in the Via Consiglio Regionale, Syracuse, Sicily.
A small terracotta Gorgoneion, as a votive offering at
the rural sanctuary of the Chthonic deities to the west
of Orchomenos (Ὀρχομενός), Boeotia, central Greece.
4th century BC.
The underworld deities worshipped at the sanctuary included
Thebes Archaeological Museum.
Demeter and Persephone and the Graces (Χάριτες, Charites),
whose cult, according to Pindar and Pausanias, was one of
the most ancient at the lakeside city Orchomenos.
A terracotta Gorgoneion as a seal for a workshop
producing vases with relief decoration.
4th century BC. From Piraeus, Attica, Greece.
Piraeus Archaeological Museum.
A painted ceramic plaque in the form of a Gorgoneion of the
"beautiful type". The impassive face, without a potruding
tongue, is white, the hair golden with traces of deep blue.
4th century BC. From Greece.
Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam. Inv. No. 1049.
Gorgoneions on two round ("discoid") terracotta loom weights (shown at the same
scale). Such weights for weaving looms were often dedicated at sanctuaries.
Made on Sicily around 400-100 BC. From ancient Akragas or Gela.
Left: Inv. No. GR 1863,0728.202 (Terracotta E 162). Diameter 7.62 cm (3 inches).
Right: Inv. No. GR 1863,0728.195 (Terracotta E 164). Diameter 7.3 cm (2 7/8 inches).
Donated by George Dennis in 1863.
See another of the loom weights from Sicily donated by George Dennis,
and a note about their provenance in Homer part 3.
The lid of a large Apulian terracotta relief pyxis with a Gorgoneion.
Around 300 BC. From Canosa, Apulia, southeast Italy.
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. Inv. No. 1917.680 a-b (pyxis and lid).
From the Johannes W. F. Reimers Collection.
A pyxis (πυξίς; plural, Πυξίδες, pyxides; from πῠ́ξος, pyxos, boxwood), was a type of box with a separate lid, generally cylindrical and originally made of wood, but later made of metal or clay. Pyxides were used mainly by woman to hold cosmetics, toiletries, jewellery and other small objects.
This example was found in "Tomba Reimers" (or Ipogeo Reimers), a chamber tomb at Canosa (Ancient Greek, Κανύσιον; Latin, Canosium; Italian, Canosa di Puglia), Apulia, southeast Italy, named after the businessman, painter and collector Johannes W. F. Reimers, who was present when the grave was discovered and purchased all the ceramic objects found there. After Reimers' death in 1913, the Hamburg museum, after some difficulty, managed to acquire his large collection of antiquities in 1917, including over 1500 Greek and Italic ceramic objects.
Reimers appears to have travelled widely, built his collection with relatively modest means, and later displayed objects in his own museum. Considering the size and importance of his collection, surprisingly little has been written about him or the objects.
A Canosa askos, a large polychrome ceramic vase, with
a painted relief of a Gorgoneion applied to the body.
Around 350-300 BC. From Canosa, Apulia, southeast Italy.
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. Inv. No. 1917.971.
From the Johannes W. F. Reimers Collection (see above).
It is thought that other masks were also originally applied around the body of the vessel. An askos (ἀσκός, tube; plural, ἀσκοί, askoi) was originally a wineskin, but askoi were later made of metal or clay, often used for storing oil.
Askoi of several types were made in Apulia around 350-300 BC, probably exclusively for use in graves. They were painted with water-soluble pigments (perhaps a mixture similar to tempera) in blue, pink/red, purple, yellow and brown, on a white background. Reliefs and three-dimensional figures (including Gorgoneions, Nikes, winged heads) were fired separately and fixed to the body with an adhesive made of a resin-like pitch. Some feature elaborate statuette-like figures on the top of the body or handles. The non-durable colouring and fragile attachments indicate that the vessels were not intended for practical use, and had a purely sacred decorative function.
Although this askos is displayed in the same case as objects from the "Tomba Reimers" at Canosa (see above), the museum labelling does not state its age or provenance. The Gorgoneion is similar to those on a sphageion (σφαγείων, vessel for collecting blood during ritual sacrifices) with two Gorgoneions from Canosa, dated late 4th - early 3rd century BC, now in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow.
An ceramic oil lamp with a relief of a Gorgoneion on top
and a spout in the form of a lion/panther head.
Hellenistic period (?).
"Hellenistic Cabinet". Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam.
A handle attachment of a bronze situla (used for mixing
wine and water at banquets) in the form of a Gorgoneion.
From a cist grave in Dangli Street, Stavroupolis, Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. MΘ 5124.
Late 5th - early 4th century BC.
Three gold discs with Gorgon heads, probably sewn onto clothing as decoration.
From the north coast of the Black Sea. Late 5th - early 4th century BC.
Neues Museum, Berlin.
One of a number of gilded terracotta discs with Gorgon
heads, excavated from Tomb C, Sedes (ancient Thermi),
Macedonia Greece. 320-300 BC.
The discs were originally sewn onto fabric and depositedThessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
as grave offerings. Similar golded discs have been found
at other locations in Macedonia, such as Veria (see below).
Inv. No. MΘ 5536-5538.
Two of a number of gold buttons with Gorgon heads, among offerings found in
Veria Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece. Inv. Nos. M 1690 a-στ, M 1692, M 1692.
the cist grave of a girl (Kavallaris Plot), Mieza, Macedonia, Greece. 350-325 BC.
A pyxis with painted and relief Decoration. On the lid a Gorgoneion relief,
the features of which, like the colossal head in Veria above, resemble
those of Alexander the Great. The vessel stands on a base with three
feet in the form of Sirens, each with a single lion's foot (see photo below).
From Amphipolis, Macedonia, Greece.
Amphipolis Archaeological Museum.
The pyxis in Amphipolis.
Black-glaze pyxis decorated in the "West Slope" style, with a Gorgoneion relief.
Found among grave offerings of the rock cut chamber tomb on the Spanos Plot,
in the ancient necropolis of Veria, Macedonia. 2nd century BC.
The "West Slope" type of ceramic vessels is named after the first examples
Veria Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece. Inv. No. Π 2379.
found during excavations on the western slope of the Athens Acropolis.
A Megarian ceramic skyphos with relief decoration. On the bottom is a
Gorgoneion in a medallion, surrounded by four feet in the form of seashells.
3rd - 2nd century BC. From Thebes, Boeotia, Greece.
Thebes Archaeological Museum.
A gold hairnet with a tondo showing the head of Gorgon Medusa.
From Akragas (Agrigento), Sicily. 3rd century BC.
Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum, Sicily.
A repoussé relief of the head of Medusa with three cobras
on the pendant of a gold necklace from an Egyptian mummy.
Gold foil. From Egypt. Roman period, 3rd century AD.
Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam. Inv. No. 7001.
Glass flask in the form of the head of Medusa.
From Folkling, Moselle department, France.
Neues Museum, Berlin.
Roman period, 3rd century AD.
A small glass disc with a Gorgoneion from a Roman settlement.
Roman period, 1st - 4th century AD. Found at the site of a Roman
Historisches Museum der Pfalz, Speyer.
settlement in the Pfalz area, west of the River Rhine in Germany.
One of a variety of objects of bone, glass, silver, gold, bronze and limestone, displayed in a case titled "Kosmetik und Schmuck" (cosmetics and jewellery), as part of an exhibit dealing with everyday life in a Roman vicus, a civilian setttlement outside a military post. Unfortunately, the individual objects are not described by the museum labelling, and there is no book or catalogue available for this excellent museum.
It is not clear from looking at this glass Gorgoneion in the case what its function was: a lid for a jar, a furniture attachment, a part of a fibula (pin for fastening clothing) or other item of jewellery? It is the only glass Gorgoneion in this form I have seen anywhere (although see the glass flask above), and one of the few ancient depictions of a Gorgon found in Germany.
There is at least one similar glass object in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden, although I have not seen it, and it may not be on display. According to the museum's website it is a type of phalera, a medallion given as a military award to Roman soldiers. Such phalerae were made of glass, silver or silver-plated bronze, cast in two layers and set in bronze. They usually bore a portrait of an emperor or member of the imperial family, or sometimes the head of a god. Glass phalerae, mostly cobalt blue, have been found mainly in the northwest of the Roman Empire, in former military posts along the Rhine, and also at Nijmegen.
The example of a glass phalera with a Gorgoneion on the website is described as:
"On the light blue medallion we see Medusa with loose hair and two snakes entangled under her chin. The production technique is the same as with the copies from the imperial series. The piece is cast in an open form, in two layers: on the back a layer of dark blue glass, on the front light blue, opaque glass. The medallion was found in the former Roman fortress in Vechten (municipality of Bunnik) and dated to the 1st century AD."
Inventory number: VF * 522.
A bronze winged head of Medusa from one of Emperor Caligula's Nemi ships.
Lost wax cast, finished with burin and chisel.
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. National Museum of Rome.
Made during the reign of Caligula (37-41 AD).
|Photos on the Medusa pages were taken
during visits to the following museums:
Berlin, Altes Museum
Berlin, Bode Museum
Berlin, Neues Museum
Dresden, Albertinum, Skulpturensammlung
Dresden, Semperbau, Abgusssammlung
Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Münzkabinett
Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe
Speyer, Historisches Museum der Pfalz
Athens, Acropolis Museum
Athens, Epigraphical Museum
Athens, Kerameikos Archaeological Museum
Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Corfu Archaeological Museum
Corfu, archaeological site of the Temple of Artemis
Corfu, Museum of Mon Repos
Corinth Archaeological Museum
Delos Archaeological Museum
Delphi Archaeological Museum
Dion Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Eleusis Archaeological Museum and site, Attica
Kavala Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Mycenae Archaeological Site and Museum
Mykonos, Aegean Maritime Museum
Mykonos Archaeological Museum
Nafplion Archaeological Museum, Peloponnese
Olympia Archaeological Museum, Peloponnese
Olympia, Museum of the History of the Olympic Games in Antiquity
Patras Archaeological Museum, Peloponnese
Piraeus Archaeological Museum, Attica
Pyrgos Archaeological Museum, Elis
Thasos Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Thebes Archaeological Museum, Boeotia
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Veria Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Milan, Civic Archaeological Museum
Naples, National Archaeological Museum
Ostia Archaeological Museum
Paestum, National Archaeological Museum, Campania
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo dei Conservatori
Rome, National Etruscan Museum, Villa Giulia
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Baths of Diocletian
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Massimo
Italy - Sicily
Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum
Castelvetrano, Museo Civico
Catania, Museo Civico, Castello Ursino
Gela Regional Archaeological Museum
Palermo, Antonino Salinas Archaeological Museum
Syracuse, Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum
Amsterdam, Allard Pierson Museum
Leiden, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden
Bergama (Pergamon) Archaeological Museum
Didyma archaeological site
Ephesus Archaeological Museum, Selçuk
Ephesus archaeological site
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
Istanbul, Basilica Cistern
Izmir Archaeological Museum
Izmir Museum of History and Art
Manisa Archaeological Museum
London, British Museum
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum
Many thanks to the staff of these museums,
especially at Dion, Gela, Manisa and Veria.
|Photos and articles © David John, except where otherwise specified.|
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