Two busts placed back-to-back form the double-headed body of this small faience aryballos, a vessel used to hold oil. One head is that of a woman, the other a snarling lion. The mouth of the vase and a small handle emerge from the top of the heads.
The style of this aryballos indicates that it was likely made on the island of Rhodes. Because of its location linking the Aegean with the greater Mediterranean, Rhodes was a cross-roads for commercial travelers. The so-called East Greek style prevalent in this region shows the influence of a variety of artistic sources: Egypt, the Near East, and Greece. The woman’s head in particular shows a strong influence from Egyptian art, especially in the treatment of her hair as a solid mass, parted in the center of the head. Incised lines emphasize strands of hair. The style of the lion, with its incised, flame-like locks and laid-back ears, is closer to styles of the Near East. The form of the vase, however, is Greek. Aryballoi served as containers for scented oils and perfumes and frequently took the form of miniature sculptures. In the 500s B.C., faience aryballoi were popular in the Greek settlements along the coast of Asia Minor (present-day western Turkey) and their combination of Greek, Egyptian, and Near Eastern elements demonstrates the cross-cultural connections of the eastern Mediterranean in this period.
Faience, the material from which this aryballos is made, was used for centuries, primarily in Egypt but also in Mesopotamia and later in Greece. It is a composite material consisting of crushed quartz or some other silicate combined with lime and the mineral natron. This substance is mixed with water to form a clay-like paste that can be pressed into a mold or thrown on a wheel. Once the piece is formed, it is allowed to air-dry prior to firing in a kiln. The body of this aryballos was constructed by pressing the damp faience into a mold. The mouth and handle were added separately after the body was removed from the mold, and finer details were incised into the faience before firing. Traces of the original turquoise color of the faience can be seen on the eyes of both figures and on the woman’s earrings.