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Work Kylix, known as the "Borghese Vase"

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Kylix, known as the "Borghese Vase"

© 1992 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This monumental kylix from the Borghese collection is evidence of the flourishing art market that arose from the Roman taste for lavish garden decorations in the late Hellenistic period. The workshops in Athens were extremely skilled at making these ornamental pieces, that were exported in huge quantities to Italy. The relief decoration represents a Bacchic procession. Satyrs and maenads dance to music, accompanying Dionysus and Ariadne, who preside over the revels.

The modern history of the Borghese Vase

This monumental kylix, discovered in 1566 in the gardens of Sallust in Rome, was acquired - like the Borghese Gladiator and the Wounded Galatea (both in the Louvre) - by Napoleon Bonaparte from his brother-in-law Prince Camillo Borghese, when he purchased the latter's entire art collection in 1808. The Borghese Vase has been one of the most-admired classical vases ever since the mid-seventeenth century. Much copied and imitated, in particular for the decoration of the fountain of Leto at Versailles, its image has been reproduced throughout modern Europe in engravings, biscuit, and stone.

A Bacchic procession

This kylix lacks the handles attached to the mascarons depicting satyrs' heads on either side of the bowl, above the fluting. Both the shape and the decorative repertoire of the vase are inspired by the large metal drinking cups used at banquets from the fourth century BC on. The relief decorations around the bowl of the vase depict a Bacchic procession surmounted by a rinceau of vines. Satyrs and maenads dance gaily to the sound of music, accompanying Dionysus who presides over the revels. One satyr collapses, drunk, and is supported by a young companion, a reminder of the excesses that were often a feature of the revels. Dionysus is portrayed half-naked, crowned with ivy and vine; he holds his thyrsus, a staff decorated with a pine cone. Beside him, his wife Ariadne plays a lyre. The models for the decoration are drawn from Hellenistic art of the mid-second century BC.

A garden vase

Made in the first century BC, the Borghese Vase attests to the flourishing art market generated at the end of the Hellenistic period by the taste of Roman society for lavish decoration for its villas and gardens. Several marble vases comparable to the Louvre kylix were discovered in the wreck of a ship, probably sailing from Piraeus to Italy, that sunk off Mahdia in Tunisia. These large vases, much appreciated by the Romans as decoration for their gardens, were mass-produced in workshops in Athens and then exported to Italy in large quantities. Athenian marble workers specialized in making these pieces. The rapid Hellenisation of the Roman ruling class that resulted from the conquests stimulated the development of backward-looking styles. Since pillaging by Roman generals was not sufficient to meet the growing demand for Greek works, artists drew on the repertoires of ealier periods of Greek art.


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Technical description

  • Vase decorated with a Dionysiac procession, known as the ‘Borghese Vase’

  • Marble from Mount Pentelicus, near Athens (Greece)

    H. : 172 cm. ; D. : 135 cm.

  • 1807

    Inventaire MR 985 (n° usuel Ma 86)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Ground floor
    Galerie Daru
    Room 406

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