The J. Paul Getty Museum

Pitcher (Oinochoe) in the Form of a Black African Male Head

Object Details

Title:

Pitcher (Oinochoe) in the Form of a Black African Male Head

Artist/Maker:

Attributed to Class B bis: Class of Louvre H 62 (Greek (Attic))

Culture:

Greek (Attic)

Place:

Athens, Greece (Place Created)

Date:

about 510 B.C.

Medium:

Terracotta

Object Number:

83.AE.229

Dimensions:

21.5 × 8.9 × 12.7 cm (8 7/16 × 3 1/2 × 5 in.)

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Object Description

This jug (oinochoe) belongs to a tradition of Greek “head vases” – drinking or pouring vessels that incorporate a hollow mold-made head. Athenian potters and sculptors regularly used the same clay and the same kilns, and these vases – part figure, part vessel - demonstrate that the two crafts overlapped and interacted. Furthermore, the use of a mold meant that head vases could be produced in series, and other examples have been attributed to the same workshop that produced the Getty vase.

The most popular face for fifth-century Athenian head vases is that of a young woman (see for example 83.AE.242). Head vases in the form of Black Africans are much less common. Besides the use of black gloss for their skin, the faces are often rendered with stereotyped physical features - thick protruding lips, flared nostrils, and tightly-curled hair.

The Greeks used the term Aithiops for peoples who lived in the Sahara and south of Egypt. The word translates as “burnt face”, and mythical tales suggest that Greek awareness of Black Africans was deeply rooted. Homer described the Aethiopians as “blameless” (Iliad 1.423) and centuries later, the Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-425 B.C.) observed that they “are said to be the tallest and most beautiful of all men” (Histories III.20). Extensive trade networks across the Mediterranean, as well as occasional battlefield encounters, would have provided opportunities for Greeks to see – or at least hear about -- Black Africans. By the time that this vase was made, some Africans are likely to have been living in Athens, either as metics (resident aliens, with some of the privileges and duties of citizenship), or as the property of citizens. Most Athenian households would have had at least one slave, and a small number of Athenian vases show Black Africans in subservient roles. These enslaved individuals were perhaps valued as expensive commodities, and this pitcher incorporates a sought-after server into the form of a serving vessel.

Provenance
Provenance
- 1983

Galerie Nefer (Zurich, Switzerland), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1983.

Bibliography