c. 700 BC
Overall: 33.5 x 15.5 cm (13 3/16 x 6 1/8 in.); Diameter of foot: 11.9 cm (4 11/16 in.)
Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1993.1
This askos may feature the earliest known representation of Herakles's third labor, the Keryneian hind.
An askos (plural: askoi) is a vessel of squat proportions with an opening at the top for filling. The museum's Bird Askos, probably made near the ancient Etruscan city of Vulci in Italy, presumably owes its excellent state of preservation to being deposited in a sealed tomb. Its form and decoration suggest a date of about 700 BC, and reflect the ancient, local traditions of both Italy and Greece. The fired clay vessel has a tall cylindrical foot and a body abstractly resembling a duck with parted tail feathers. The opening at the beak was for pouring, while the spout between the head and the handle was for filling the vessel with its liquid contents, perhaps scented oil. The form of the askos appears to be related to earlier askoi of animal form produced in the area of ancient Italy known as Etruria (its inhabitants are known as Etruscans). Duck askoi in a more naturalistic style continued to be produced in Etruria into the 4th century BC. Although the form of this duck askos may be from Italy, its decoration is wholly Greek. The entire surface is covered in a network of registers containing a variety of motifs known from Greek painted pottery of the "Geometric" style. Among these, checkerboards, zigzags, and crosshatched triangles coexist with more representational images within a unifying framework. The ornamentation thus points to a Greek artist decorating a vessel of Italic shape. This is possible because Greeks from the island of Euboea in the Aegean Sea established a trading colony in Italy-at Pithekoussai on the island of Ischia-in the 8th century BC. A Euboean potter/painter might very well have set up a workshop in Etruria. The Greek painter left further indication of his cultural background: in a rectangular frame centered on one side of the askos is a scene from Greek mythology. Shown in silhouette, a man with left arm upraised and holding a spear leads a deer by a rope. This scene probably represents the third labor of Herakles, namely his capture of the Keryneian hind (also known as the Arcadian stag), famous for its golden horns. A similar scene was incised on the catchplate of a near contemporary Greek bronze fibula, or pin for securing clothing, from Boeotia in central Greece. The askos is probably earlier than the bronze fibula, and may in fact feature the earliest known representation of Herakles's third labor.
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