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Work Oinochoe in the form of the head of youth

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Etruscan Art (9th-1st centuries BC)

Oinochoe in the form of the head of youth

© 2000 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Etruscan Art (9th-1st centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

In Etruria, bronze and terracotta wine jars-oinochoes, olpes, and kantharoi-were often modeled after the shape of a human head. Many of them featured satyrs and maenads, attendants of Dionysus, the god of wine and the vine. Here the model of the oenochoe is probably a simple free-born cupbearer, as indicated by the pendant tied around his forehead. The regular oval shape of the face is inspired by statuary types developed in classical Greece.

The production of vases for symposia

In Etruria as in Greece, bronze and terracotta wine jars-oinochoes, olpes, and kanthares-were often modeled after a human head. Many featured satyrs and maenads, attendants to Dionysus, the god of wine and the vine. This type of sculpted vase probably derives from Attic tableware of the 5th century BC, which was often exported to Etruria. This bronze oinochoe with a trilobate mouth and belly in the shape of the head of a youth is highly representative of this prestigious tableware, which was used at banquets (symposia). It was allegedly found in ancient Gabii (18 km from Rome), probably in a subterranean votive depot near the temple of Junon. In the early 19th century, the object was mentioned in the inventory of Empress Josephine's belongings at Malmaison (near Paris), but described as a "ewer representing a woman's head."

Image of a cupbearer and free-born citizen

The vase probably depicts a young cupbearer, identified as a free-born citizen by the small circular pendant tied around the forehead. This attribute appears frequently in Etruscan sculpture and in paintings in 4th century BC graves. It was usually worn suspended around the neck or on a bracelet, or, in several cases, attached to a thin headband or tiara. A number of such pendants made of gold have been found in graves from this period.

Inspired by Greek statuary

The impassive expression on the youth's face is inspired by certain statuary types developed by Greek artists of the classical period. The regular oval shape of the face, idealized features, perfectly straight nose, fleshy mouth, and strong chin are reminiscent of the sculpted figures of the 5th and 4th centuries BC. The hair is finely chiseled and the pupils of the incised eyes slightly hollowed out. The modeling of the face and fine locks of hair echo the features of the Mars de Todi, the imposing bronze in the Vatican Museum in Rome, made in the 5th century BC. Similarities to bronze sculptures made in the workshops of Orvieto (central Etruria) have also been noted in the craftsmanship of the vase, the regularity of the facial features, and the treatment of the hair. The Gabii oinochoe is sometimes thought to be the work of a bronze-maker of that city.

Bibliography

S. Haynes, "The Bronze Head-vase from Gabii in the Louvre : its History and Echoes", Italy in Europe : Economic Relations 700 BC - AD 50, 1995, p. 177-186.
M. Cristofani, I Bronzi degli Etruschi, 1985, n 115, p. 291-292.

Technical description

  • Oinochoe in the form of the head of youth

    Late 5th to early 4th century BC

    Ancient Gabii, central Italy

    Orvieto(?), Etruria

  • Cast, incised bronze

    H. 30.2 cm

  • Formerly Malmaison collection; purchase, 1824

    Br 2955

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Ground floor
    Etruria II
    Room 19

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