Jug with a Man and a Bull
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Attributed to Painter 20
Greek, 1250 - 1225 B.C.
6 9/16 x 5 1/8 in.

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A sphinx holding a pomegranate branch, a bull, birds, and a man grasping the bull by one horn decorate this Mycenaean sieve jar. With its strainer spout, this jar would have been used for wine or any other liquid that might contain particles needing filtering.

Most decoration on Mycenaean pottery consisted of extremely stylized motifs of marine or floral origin. Around 1400 B.C., however, artists, probably inspired by wall painting, developed a less common pictorial style of pottery decoration. Bulls were frequent subjects on this pictorial pottery, and the man grasping the bull by the horn on this jar may be a bull jumper. Bull jumping, a ritual performance that originated in the Minoan culture on Crete, involved literally grabbing the horns of a bull and somersaulting over its back. If this man was a bull jumper, the sphinx and the pomegranates may indicate an unsuccessful leap resulting in his death, since they had funerary connotations in later Greek art.

Most Mycenaean pictorial pottery has been found in the eastern Mediterranean, especially on Cyprus. In the 1300s and 1200s B.C., Mycenaean Greeks exerted a strong influence over Cyprus. Scholars are not certain whether Mycenaean pictorial pottery found on Cyprus was imported or made there, either by immigrant Mycenaean potters or by Cypriot potters under Mycenaean influence.