Late Classical or Early Hellenistic Period
Late 4th century B.C.
Vase-Painting in Italy (MFA), no. 177.
12.6 x 18.7 cm (4 15/16 x 7 3/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Conservation on View: Etruscan Sarcophagi (Gallery 117)
ITALIAN VASE PAINTING in ITALY, #177 (03.795)
Attributed to the Bruschi Group
Late 4th century B.C.
This unusual vessel is composed of two mold-made faces set back to back: the upper one a bearded Greek warrior with curly hair and wearing a Corinthian helmet pushed up on top of his head; the lower one a caricature of a bearded man, perhaps a Syrian or Phoenician, with a broad nose, almond eyes, and thick, smiling lips. The warrior’s mouth is open and pierced. Below his chin is a scallop-shaped opening, partly restored, with angled incisions on the yellow-brown painted rim. In the top of his helmet, which is coated with a wash of diltute glaze,is a small spout, the tip broken off. The warrior’s hair is black and his skin a light brown. The whites of the eyes are properly colored. A double-channeled handle is set on either side, below the ears.
Four “warts” on the “Syrian’s” nose and by his mouth provide a resting surface for the vessel. He has brown skin and large white eyes with black pupils; unlike the warrior’s, the eyes are outlined in black. The “Syrian’s” long beard forms the underside of the rhyton’s mouth.
The vase is loosely connected with the double-headed kanatharoi of the Clusium Group (Haraari, Gruppo Clusium, pp. 65-68, 70-72, pls. 41-43, 49-55). Both the kantharoi and the rare examples of rhyta with a single head (double-headed rhyta are otherwise unknown) have the mouth above the head and the spout below, the reverse of what is seen here; compare the gold head-rhyta in the Panagyurishte Treasure (Venedikov and Gerassimov, Thracian, figs. 125-127; A Minceav, Pulpudeva 3 [Sofia, 1980], pp. 177-188).
Beazley (EVP, p. 190) pointed out two vases, a complete vessel in the Vatican (Z 129) and a fragment in the Todi Museum (487; Trendall, Vasi antichi, II, pp. 254-255, pl. 66j; CVA Musei Comunali Umbri, Todi, pl. 9, 5) that not only are the closest parallels for this rhyton in style and composition but also help to explain the inversion of the relationship of spout and mouth. The complete example in the Vatican again has two heads back to back; one is a bald Oriental similar to the “Syrian” here, and the other is a balding grotesque, whose acquiline nose gives him an Eastern flavor as well. The latter has a gaping mouth and asymmetries that strongly recall masks of both Atellan farce and New Comedy (cf. Bieber, Theater, 1961, pp. 100-101, 248 figs. 377, 381, 820) Since the gaping comic mouth could conveniently be used as the mouth of the vase, there is a certain logic (missing in the Boston rhyton) in putting the spout in the tops of the heads. Turning the heads upside down to pour from the spout, moreover, increases the comic effect.
The Vatican piece is unmistakably humorous in intent, while the Boston rhyton is more ambivalent, since the warrior’s head is not a caricature. Nonetheless, it seems likely that both vases were intended as parodies of foreigners, including Greeks as well as Semites, and their drinking habits. It is not improbable that the Etruscans knew that rhyta were used in the drinking rituals of the lands surrounding the Aegean and the Black Sea. (On these rituals, see Venedikov and Gerassimov, Thracian, pp. 72-77; H. Hoffmann, Greek Vases in the J. Paul Getty Museum 4, pp. 157-160.) Rhyta of fourth-century type have even been found as far south as the Golan Heights (M. Hartal, Israel Exploration Journal 37 , p. 271, fig. 2). In the Thracian realm, at least„ these rituals had a Bacchic character, in which comedy would be entirely appropriate. The designers of the Etruscan rhyta seem to have played on a considerable knowledge of the geographic and cultural associations of this exotic type of vessel.
A relationship to the rhyta of the Bruschi Group has been observed in a miniature Etruscan jug with a grotesque face applied like a mask to its front (Andre Emmerich Gallery Inc., Classical Art from a New York Collection [New York, 1977], no. 46)
According to J. D. Beazley, Etruscan Vase-Painting (1947, p. 189: found at Tarquinia and formerly in the Bruschi Collection; by 1903: with Edward Perry Warren; purchased by MFA from Edward Perry Warren, March 24, 1903
Francis Bartlett Donation of 1900