Achaemenid Gilded silver Bowl With Incised Garlands
Culture: Greek, Achaemenid-Empire
Period: late 4th-early 3rd century B.C. (ca. 300 B.C.)
Material: Gilded silver
Dimensions: H: 9.1 cm - D: 10.2 cm
Ex-A. Menno Collection, Switzerland, 1970s; ex-A. Apollone Collection, Comano (Ticino, Switzerland).
Remarkably preserved, virtually intact; superficial wear and light traces of dents. Inner medallion still in place, but surface of the metal damaged. Barely visible traces of the preparatory incisions made before decorating (bottom, garland on the neck).
Despite the slight asymmetry of the shape (the height of the bowl is a little irregular), the technical and artistic qualities of this piece are outstanding. The use of the two noblest metals (silver and gold) makes it an even more extraordinary object. The bowl is composed of a single, rather thick plaque of hammered silver; held in the hand, it is quite heavy. After hammering, the shape was then perfected and polished (visible traces of turning). The decorations are incised and/ or deeply engraved, but, because of the thick wall, there is no trace on the inside. The inner medallion was worked in repoussé from a thin plaque that was then soldered to the bottom. The interior is perfectly smooth and polished. Even with a certain structural unevenness (the neck is taller and more imposing than the rest of the body), the vessel still conveys a beautiful elegance, thanks especially to the regular though undulating profi le. Finely flared, the neck terminates with a bevelled lip; the body is semi-spherical, the shoulder is short and slightly flattened and the flat bottom provides good stability. But it is above all the rich and diversified decoration that gives this object its charm. Partially embellished with a delicate gilt (garland, central guilloche, bottom), it is arranged in a very structured way over the entire surface of the bowl. Many barely incised lines near the base guided the toreutic artist for the drawing of the vertical languettes that adorn the body. Above, delineated by four horizontal lines, a plant garland runs round the middle of the neck; this is a stem of winding ivy, which features heart-shaped leaves alternating with groups of ivy flowers and/or berries. At the maximum body diameter, friezes of beads border a golden guilloche and a Lesbian kyma, executed with skill and precision. The medallion depicts a female head practically carved in the round. The young woman, whose oval face is idealized, is probably a mythological or divine figure, but the absence of attributes does not enable us to identify her with a specific figure (her presence within a wine vessel adorned with ivy and therefore related to the Dionysian sphere suggests a maenad or perhaps Ariadne, the companion of Dionysus, although this hypothesis cannot be proven). She turns her head slightly towards the left, with her thick hair arranged high on her forehead and falling in long locks onto her shoulders. She is dressed in a tunic with a high décolleté that encircles her neck, on which two rings of Venus are visible. The hair and the tunic are highlighted by the gilt.
Underneath the base of the bowl, the toreutic artist has thickly incised a rosette, composed of a corolla with a central dot, flanked by two other corollas, one with rounded petals, the other with triangular petals.This form of cup without handles is a Greek adaptation of a type of luxury tableware that first spread throughout the Persian world – hence the name of Achaemenid bowl – and that diff ers from the Greek imitations by its lower and wider proportions and by an undecorated body (or sometimes adorned with horizontal rather than vertical fluting). It spread throughout Greece during the 4th century B.C. and was given a strong impetus after the Macedonian conquest and the campaigns of Alexander the Great. Frequently seen even in the early following century, these bowls seem to disappear in the middle of the 3rd century B.C. Attested in two main variants (the type with the lower neck and the less common type with the high flared neck), Achaemenid bowls were often discovered in the tombs of northern regions such as Macedonia, Thrace and even southern Russia. As evidenced by the large table service uncovered in the tomb identified as that of Philip II, in Vergina (northern Greece), and by contemporary iconography, these vessels initially belonged to the banquet services of the wealthy and powerful, accompanying them in their graves following death. They were so popular that potters frequently imitated them in black-ground pottery, even sometimes including the inner medallion. The closest parallels have been documented by M. Pfrommer in his classifi cation of Hellenistic toreutics. In addition to a few bowls showing the same type of shape with a high flared neck (Archaeological Museum, Sofi a, from the Varbitsa necropolis; Antikenmuseum, Berlin, from Thessaly but including perhaps fragments from two different vases; British Museum, London, from Ithaca but with a very diff erent decoration), one should indicate two other pieces, closely related from a stylistic point of view (same type of patterns on the maximum diameter, rosette underneath the base): the bowl from the tomb in Vergina, which still retains the head of a satyr on an inner medallion, and a piece in the Fleischman Collection.
On this type of bowl in general, see:
PFROMMER M., Studien zur alexandrinischer und grossgriechischer Toreutik frühhellenistischer Zeit, Berlin, 1987, pp. 42-74.
SIDERIS A., Achaemenid Toreutics in the Greek Periphery, in Ancient Greece and Ancient Iran, Cross-Cultural Encounters, Athens, November 11-13,
2006, Athens, 2008, pp. 339-353.
On some parallels, see:
ANDRONIKOS M., Vergina: The Royal Tombs, Athens, 1988, p. 150, fi g. 112-114 (so-called tomb of Philip II).
A Passion for Antiquities: Ancient Art from the Collection of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, Malibu, 1994, pp. 74-77, no. 31A.
L’or des Thraces: Trésors de l’art et de la culture thraces dans les terres bulgares, Mainz/Rhine, 1980, n. 313, pp. 158 and 161 (specimen from
Varbitsa, Archaeological Museum, Sofi a).
OLIVER A. and LUCKNER K.T., Silver for the Gods: 800 Years of Greek and Roman Silver, Toledo, 1977, pp. 40-41, no. 10-11.
STRONG D.E., Greek and Roman Gold and Silver Plate, London, 1966, pp. 99-101, pl. 25A-B (specimen from Ithaca, British Museum, London).
On ceramic examples, see:
ROBINSON D.M., Excavations at Olynthus: Part V, Mosaics, Vases and Lamps of Olynthus Found in 1928 and 1931, Baltimore, 1933, pp. 189,
SPARKES B.A. and TALCOTT L., The Athenian Agora: Black and Plain Pottery, Princeton, 1970, pp. 121-122, 185, nos. 685-689, pl. 28.