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Work Pyxis with a lid in the form of an Oinochoe

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: The Origins of Greek Art, the Bronze Age, and the Geometric Style (3200-720 BC)

Cratère-pyxis géométrique moyen

© 1993 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
The Origins of Greek Art, the Bronze Age, and the Geometric Style (3200-720 BC)

Alexandra Kardianou-Michel

This large pyxis seems likely to have been used as a cinerary urn rather than a simple casket.
The perfect sphere of the belly is flanked by two handles. The surface of the vase is covered with geometric patterns (meanders, hounds-teeth, zigzags and chevrons) arranged in zones separated by lines. The area between the handles is decorated with a hatched meander flanked by two horses. Relegated to a second plane, other animals – a stag and perhaps some lions or dogs – feature beneath the handles.

Harmonious linear decoration

The "Proto-Geometric" style appeared around the middle of the eleventh century to the tenth century BC (1050–900 BC), marking a break with Minoan and Mycenaean representations. Vases were decorated with concentric circles, semicircles and wavy and straight lines, in brilliant black glaze. The painted decoration usually occupied the zone around the shoulder, and part of the belly.

Stylistic refinement

This refined and often austere style reached its peak in Attica during the ninth and particularly the eighth century BC (Early Geometric style, 900–850 BC, and Middle Geometric style, 850–770 BC). Vases were decorated with geometric patterns arranged in zones, and the repertoire gradually expanded to include a range of geometric motifs (triangles, crenelated lines, hooks, lozenges and meanders). Painted in a brilliant, metallic black glaze, these bands of decoration would eventually occupy the whole surface of the vase. As seen here, the decoration was often arranged in perfect symbiosis with the form of the vase: the more complex motifs occupied the zone around the shoulder, with darker bands of plain pigment in the shadowy area around the bottom. The decoration is always very clear, simple and precisely-drawn: circles were traced with a compass and the checks are so flawless that they seem to have been drawn with a ruler.

Early figurative scenes

The contiguous linear motifs are occasionally broken, as here, by the isolated figure of a horse (an extremely widespread motif and symbol of aristocracy). Later, representations of horses and men took on a greater significance, with figurative scenes appearing during the late Geometric period (circa 775 BC): funerals, chariot processions, sailing ships and naval battles.
Vases with geometric decoration were produced in several regions (Corinth, Boeotia, Argos, Crete and the Cyclades), generally with homogeneous decoration and no apparent hierarchical order to the motifs. The most common forms are the krater, the amphora, the hydria and various forms of oinochoai and bowls.


Martine Denoyelle, Chefs-d'œuvres de la céramique grecque dans les collections du Louvre, 1994, Réunion des musées nationaux, p. 16, n° 3J.N. Coldstream, Greek Geometric Pottery, 1968, MethuenJ. Boardman, Aux origines de la peinture sur vase en Grèce, 1999, Thames & Hudson

Technical description

  • Cratère-pyxis géométrique moyen

    Vers 800 avant J.-C.

    Provenance : cimetière du Dipylon (Athènes)


  • H. : 55,50 cm. ; D. : 38,20 cm.

  • Collection Fauvel, 1817 , 1817

    A 514

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana I
    Room 655
    Vitrine 21

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