Friday, May 1, 2020

Pottery askos in the form of a lion preparing to spring, Etruscan, 340-300 BCE at the British Museum

An askos was a vessel used to dispense small quantitites of liquids such as oil. They were used most commonly for refilling oil lamps. The original meaning of askos was wineskin. This example, thought to have been made in Chiusi, Italy has a base of irregular outline that has been cut away inside so as to leave only a narrow support, has a glazed black, and is decorated with a wavy pattern. The motif of the lion drawing back and snarling was popular in the art of both Etruria and southern Italy in the second half of the 4th century BC. It is frequently found on Greek vases and is also common in Etruscan funerary sculpture, particularly in Tuscania and Vulci, and most notably on the frieze of the Tomba Fran├žois itself where this askos was probably found. All the examples pre-suppose an opponent: one is rarely shown. Buranelli suggests that the opponent may originally have been Herakles, and that the lion is the Nemean lion, shown at the moment before the hero seizes it. In support of a single original for the derivation of many of the examples Buranelli notes the disproportionately small head which all share, though many Greek depictions of lions in the classical period also characteristically have small heads.

The tail is laid back against the right flank, and beside it a spout rises vertically, adjoining an arching handle over the spine. The hide of the lion is represented by rows of small hatched marks in brown on the natural clay; the mane is conventionally modelled in rows of tongue-shaped locks. The mouth is open and forms a second spout communicating with the interior. The mask and feet have been painted yellow on a white engobe, but these colours have mostly faded. The tail appears to have been coloured vermilion. The belly is left unpainted. Around the lip of the vertical spout is a band of herring-bone pattern,  around its neck, a loop pattern.

Image courtesy of the British Museum.
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