Heraldic Sphinxes

6th century B.C.

7 (Height) x 4 (Diameter) inches (17.8 x 10.2 cm)

William A. Clark Collection


Greek pots were formed by skilled hands on a wheel; however, potters had little opportunity to express their individuality. For the most part, pot forms followed standard shapes, sizes, and uses. This form, the lekythos, was a small flask used for precious oil or perfume that often had ritual or funerary applications. Once the potter was finished, a painter would apply the exterior decoration. The technique required the artist to paint with a fine clay slip, which was followed by a complicated sequence of kiln firings. The result was the traditional red and black motifs as  well as occasional whites and pinks, seen in this vessel. This lekythos displays black figures painted on a white ground. Red is the natural color of the clay and indicates that no slip was painted in those areas.

The lekythos comes from the Greek island of Euboea. Egyptian decorative elements, including lotus leaves along the shoulder and opposing sphinxes, adorn the pot. The sphinxes show slight differences in the faces, forearms, and tails, an unusual feature in Greek pots. It was probably a favored personal object because it was found buried with its owner. Its excellent condition can thus be explained by centuries hidden in the ground.