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Work Attic pyxis

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

Pyxis circulaire

© 1993 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Sophie Padel-Imbaud

In parallel with large monumental vases with figurative decoration, in the second half of the eighth century BC Late Geometric pottery also produced smaller vases decorated with abstract designs, such as this pyxis. It is distinguished from others of its type by the presence of sculpted decorative figures (a quadriga) on the lid, and by the harmonious arrangement of the geometric motifs covering its entire surface.

A pyxis with sculpted decoration

The pyxis was a shallow and circular lidded receptacle used by women for cosmetics and jewelry. The knob usually found on the lid is replaced here by a remarkable sculpted group, apparently representing a quadriga (four horses harnessed abreast to a two-wheeled chariot). Traces of the painted harness on the horses' necks go to confirm this hypothesis.
The choice of the horse motif was not without significance, as the horse was an ancient symbol of nobility and wealth. This pyxis undoubtedly belonged to a high-ranking member of the aristocracy.

The Late Geometric period

The vase dates from the third phase of the Late Geometric period (LG III, 760-770 BC), during which human figures made their reappearance in the iconography of Greek vase-painters. The earliest examples of the representation of complex figure compositions (funeral scenes and battles) are found on monumental kraters and amphorae used as aristocratic grave-markers in the Dipylon cemetery in ancient Athens. Smaller, non-figurative vases were also produced in the Late Geometric period, mainly for use as grave furniture.

A harmonious decorative scheme

This pyxis is distinguished from the vases of the Middle Geometric period (850-760 BC), with their abstract decoration, by the meticulous arrangement of its dense painted decoration, replacing the earlier bands of black varnish. Radiating cross-hatched petals around the lid and the bottom of the pot emphasize the roundness of its form, while the rest of the surface is covered with a contrasting frieze of alternating triglyphs and metopes decorated with swastikas, rosettes, diamonds and checkered patterns.


M.Denoyelle, Chefs-d'oeuvre de la céramique grecque dans les collections du Louvre, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1994, p. 20, n 5

Technical description

  • Pyxis circulaire

    Vers 740 avant J.-C.

    Provenance : Béotie ?


  • H. : 22,30 cm. ; D. : 34 cm.

  • Acquisition, 1887 , 1887

    A 567

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana I
    Room 655
    Vitrine 17 : Géométrique attique

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