GOD OF WINE: The World according to Dionysus 2019

May 1 — 30, 2019

47 East 66th Street, New York

Press Release

On May 1st, Phoenix Ancient Art, one of the world’s leading dealers in well-provenanced antiquities, will be launching its newest themed exhibition in New York entitled, GOD OF WINE: The world according to Dionysus. The display is designed around the theme of grapes, Satyrs, and the serving of wine in antiquity in an inspired and everlasting mood of joy.

On view at the exhibition, an Attic Greek red figure vase scene attributed to Epiktetos highlights the Dionysiac thiasos including Dionysus himself carrying a rhyton filled with wine in one hand and a vine of grapes in the other.  His usual companions, dancing ithyphallic satyrs and maenads are seen by his side following in celebration.


Another fine wine related object is a unique silver coin with a bunch of grapes in relief.  An extraordinary example of coinage from the Cycladic islands in the 6th century B.C. Hicham Aboutaam, President of Electrum, the exclusive agent for Phoenix Ancient Art, says “I have never seen a coin like this one, it was acquired at a Zurich auction house in 2010 and now is the perfect time to show it among so many great antiquities related to wine. A beauty from the Cyclades where grapes were cultivated and Dionysus was worshipped.”

GOD OF WINE will be open from May 1-30, 2019, at Electrum, 47 East 66th street, New York. Open M-F 9:30am – 5:30pm.




With the tradition of gathering at a symposium, a banquet, to share a meal, drinks and entertainment established early in history, the Greeks invented an incomparable variety of vessels. Their shapes were differentiated according to capacity and function. Wine was brought from a cellar in a large terracotta storage amphora and mixed with water in a deep vase, a krater, or deep bowl, a lebes; water would be supplied in an  ample jar, a hydria. The intermediate function of carrying and serving wine at a table was fulfilled by a number of handled vases: stamnos, amphora, olpe, and oinochoe. It was distributed into individual drinking bowls and cups either directly or using ladles and strainers. The presented bronze situla has a spout designed as a lion’s head backed by a perforated strainer to clarify wine from its sediments.


Depending on the body depth, position of handles, and foot size, the shape of a drinking cup was distinguished as kylix, phiale, kantharos, skyphos, just naming a few but not forgetting the extravagant plastic vases modeled as human faces or figures, or an exotic rhyton (a horn with the animal’s head or half-figure as a spout). From all of them, the kylix was especially favored as it was also used in the accompanying game called kottabos.


Luxury was not promoted in Classical Greece, and gold, silver, or glass vessels would be a rarity. The Hellenistic era, with its profound social changes, expanded trade and technical progress, and not only introduced glass on a more common level but also substituted basic terracotta vessels, at a royal request, with the most valuable repoussé silver-gilt jars and cups, or vessels cut from agate, rock crystal and chalcedony.




Variants of the myth have it that Dionysus was born from the thigh of his father Zeus; his early life was far from Greece: the baby was raised by the nymphs of Nysa in Ethiopia; after many journeys, he returned in triumph from India to the Greek lands. Having foreign origins, the cult of Dionysus was accepted later than the official cults of other Olympian gods. The mythical appearance of the deity to the humans was considered a very important moment in its history. One of the episodes describes a reception given to Dionysus by Ikarius, the noble citizen of Ikaria in Attica; Dionysus presented him with a vine tree to show his gratitude.


Dionysus, the god of wine and vegetation, or “the joy of mortals” called by Homer (Iliad, 14, 325), was also the god of festivity and ritual madness who seeks ecstasy and a mythical union from his worshippers. Besides the participation in the official festivals set through the calendar year, the initiation to the Dionysian Mysteries (a ritual intended to produce religious enthusiasm by way of wine consumption, dance and music) became an essential event in the life of a worshipper.


The image of Dionysus was represented differently in art – as a big and mature man with a beard and clad in long garments in the Archaic period, and as a naked youth with an ideal athletic body in the Classical and later periods. His long hair remained, and the arrangement of the curly, long locks produced the effeminate look of the ever-young god. His transformation from old to young over a historical period of time is in line with the influence of the Orphic tradition of the boy-god who dies and is resurrected, which symbolizes the cycle of nature and the cycle of life.  His popularity was the result of the chthonic nature of the deity of fertility, who descended into the Underworld and returned, increasing the great meaning of the revival of life.




The Greek religious calendar had several Dionysian festivals throughout the year which related to the agricultural seasons, wine making and wine tasting. The farmers expectations for a future good harvest helped to associate Dionysus with such important fertility deities as Demeter and Persephone. At the Haloa festival, still in winter, Dionysus was celebrated as the male counterpart of the goddess of vegetation. At the time of the Dionysia in the Fields, phallic processions and masqueraded ritual performances took place.


The Lenaia festival celebrated him in the hypostases of a “principle of humidity”, again, bringing him in close association with the female deities of fertility. Ecstatic dances were performed to provoke Dionysus’ epiphany. During the three days of the Anthesteria in the beginning of spring, the new wine was tested; the wine presentation was accompanied by its unrestrained consumption, singing and dancing, in which the whole population of men, women, and children was involved; the slaves were also admitted to participate.


On another day, the statue of the God was carried in a procession, and a ritual was performed to represent the sacred marriage of Dionysus and Basilinna, the Basileus’ wife. The initial forms of the theatrical performances originated from such festivals when the participants with their faces painted and in disguise pronouncing witty jokes or dancing with attributes and musical instruments. The Great Dionysia, which lasted five days, became the festival of the drama contests.




Not surprisingly, a large number of themes employed for Greek vase painting, relate to the world of Dionysus. Even when his own figure is not represented, his symbols are used for ornamental decoration such as the ever-green ivy or vine. When the god is depicted, he is never alone. The festive band, thiasos, follows the god and consists of dancing satyrs and maenads, with musical instruments and drinking vessels, Pan, Silenus, Hermaphrodite, erotes, centaurs, animals, and the god in the middle of the cheerful crowd, all proceed in an inspired and ever-lasting mood of joy. The god of wine is inebriated himself and seeks support, usually a satyr.


The satyrs, with pointed ears, long tails, and sometimes long hair on the skin, represent the bestial and sensual aspect of man. The female daemonic companions of Dionysus, the maenads, carrying the thyrsoi (wands wound with ivy and surmounted by a pine cone), torches, and krotala (castanets), were described by Euripides as frenzied women who abandoned their homes and families for the mountains; they are the most devoted participants to glorify the god. The frenzied maenads appearing in the wild hold snakes who although refer to the chthonic character of the god. A number of animals appear beside Dionysus and his companions. Naturally, a mule known for its strength serves to transport Dionysus.


The image of a she-panther with clearly visible breasts suggests that she is still feeding her cubs thus evoking the growing powers and fecundity of nature presided by Dionysus, but also this exotic animal reminds us of his past Oriental journeys. In a similar way, as a symbol of fertility and reproductive forces of nature, a goat accompanies Dionysus.