The J. Paul Getty Museum

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

Object Details


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


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


Greek (Attic)


Athens, Greece (Place Created)


about 510 B.C.



Object Number:



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 may have been present in Athens, either as enslaved servants, freed slaves, or freeborn immigrants.