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Work Corinthian Aryballos in the Shape of an Owl

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Archaic Greek Art (7th-6th centuries BC)

Corinthian Aryballos in the Shape of an Owl

© 2008 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Archaic Greek Art (7th-6th centuries BC)

Author(s):
Sophie Padel-Imbaud

The stylized mask-like face of this little owl is nonetheless extraordinarily expressive. Only 5 cm tall, it served as a perfume-holder (aryballos), as indicated by its inner reservoir, the spout and the holes in its base for cords from which it could be suspended. It derives its charm from the perfect mastery of its molded shape and decorative elements - line drawing, black varnish and colored highlights.

The ascendancy of Corinthian production

Although Corinth was very much in Athens's shadow during the Geometric period, it became the leading center for ceramic production during the Orientalizing period (seventh century BC). This phase of Corinthian production is known as the Proto-Corinthian.
Corinth's success can be explained by its specialization in small perfume containers, which were easy to export, and by the invention of the black-figure technique, in which incisions and color highlights were added to existing black silhouettes. Corinth also owed its ascendancy to the popularity of the Orientalizing repertoire, a decorative style exploited to great effect by the city's potters.

An owl-shaped perfume container

The virtuosity of the Corinthian potters and painters reached its zenith in the Late Proto-Corinthian (650-625 BC) period, with the production of miniature vases, often (as here) in the shape of animals. This highly expressive little owl, with tilted head and large wide-open eyes, is in fact a small perfume container known as an aryballos. The figurine is hollow inside, and its contents were dispensed through a small hole in the base. The two other holes in the base were used to thread a cord from which the container could hang.
The vase is decorated with black paint, red highlights, line drawing and dots. A firing accident has turned certain feathers light red, which were initially meant to be black.

Bibliography

Denoyelle M., Chefs d'oeuvre de la céramique grecque dans les collections du Louvre, 1994, p.34, no12.

Technical description

  • Anonymous

    Corinthian Aryballos in the Shape of an Owl

    Circa 640 BC

    Greece

    Corinth

  • Molded clay, black varnish, red highlights

    H. 5 cm

  • Purchased 1907

    CA 1737

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana I
    Room 40

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