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Work Ionian black-figure cup

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

Coupe ionienne à figures noires dite "coupe à l'oiseleur"

© 1993 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Kardianou-Michel Alexandra

In the second quarter of the 6th century BC, pottery made in eastern Greece caught up with the Attic black-figure style. On occasion, as in this instance, the interior is given a remarkable and inspired decoration. The scene is a paean to generous nature which remains accessible to man. Some experts see the figure as a dionysiac figure, or even Dionysos, god of wine and nature, himself. Others interpret the figure as a bird-catcher hoping to find a nest or a family of baby birds.

Ionian pottery and the cups made by the Little Masters

The series of vessels known as Little Masters cups, probably made in Samos, take their name from their resemblance to Athenian pottery of the same period, featuring miniaturist paintings on cups with a tall foot and vertical lip.
In the second quarter of the 6th century, the artistic influence of the Attic workshops that produced black-figure pottery spread to eastern Greece. Although the quality of these pieces, produced in series, was mediocre in general, several pieces do stand out. In general, the clay and the technique are similar to Attic pieces and the shapes are inspired by Siana cups and cups with lips made in Athens.
On Ionian cups, the exterior of the lip is often decorated with a garland of ivy and the interior with a frieze of animals or birds. The interior of the bowl is usually decorated with concentric circles round a central medallion with one or two figures. Unlike the Attic black-figure technique, the details are heightened by thin lines that imitate incisions. This technique is characteristic of Fikellura vases from Rhodes and is also found in pottery made in Miletus at around the same time, but over a shorter period.

Dionysos or a bird-catcher?

The scene which covers the entire interior of the bowl is rich in small, picturesque details. It appears to be purely decorative in nature. A bearded man wearing a loincloth is depicted between two trees - or rather, given the shape of the leaves, two vines. We are looking at the scene from directly overhead. The man is holding the branches of the vines. Behind him is a bird's nest with four baby birds painted in thinned varnish. Beaks agape, they are waiting for their mother who is coming to feed them. A snake is approaching the nest, coiled round the trunk, its eyes painted face-on. There is also a grasshopper hidden among the leaves. Another bird is sitting in the branches of the other tree, its wings unfolded.
The scene is lively and picturesque. The work reflects the richness and generosity of nature. Some experts believe the figure may be Dionysos, the god of wine and nature, incarnated as the Master of Trees, or a dionysiac spirit gripping the branches. Others interpret the man simply as a bird-catcher hoping to find a nest or a family of baby birds.


Boardman J., Aux origines de la peinture sur vase en Grèce, 1998.
Cook R.M., Dupont P., East Greek Pottery, 1998.
Isler Kerenyi K., Dionysos nella Grecia archaica, 2001.

Technical description

  • Coupe ionienne à figures noires dite "coupe à l'oiseleur"

    Vers 550 avant J.-C.

    Provenance : Etrurie ?

    Fabrication : Grèce de l'Est

  • Terre cuite

    H. : 15 cm. ; D. : 23,50 cm. ; L. : 30 cm.

  • Collection Campana, 1861 , 1861

    Cup with a bird-catcher

    F 68

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Pre-Classical Greece
    Room 170

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