Back to results

Greek Vase in the shape of a Doe

Download PDF
: Greek
: 5th-4th Century B.C.
: Greek Ceramic
: Height: 13.1 cm

Ex-English private collection, 1970’s – 1980’s Ex-American private collection, 1990’s.


This rare vase has a circular ribbon handle, a neck for filling the vessel attached to the back and a straight sided, cylindrical tube modeled onto the hindquarters. It is completely intact with the colors almost entirely preserved. Although the precise use of this vase is unknown, it is certain that this vase would have been used to hold and dispense small quantities of liquid: perhaps, as is theorized for the gutti and for other plastic vases modeled in the shape of animals, it was used as an infant’s feeding-bottle.


The doe is seated with its four legs folded underneath the body and resting directly on the ground. In spite of the seemingly relaxed position, the clayworker who modeled the animal with its straight neck, head turned slightly to the left and the pricked asymmetrical ears succeeded in portraying the constantly alert state of deer in a very realistic fashion.

The body is cylindrical with very light modeling to indicate the muscles of the hindquarters, the stomach, the shoulders and the neck. Black paint is used for the rendering of the hide (small even dashes for the spots, a continuous line for the back) and for the details of the muzzle, which was first modeled and then painted (eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth). The small tail is triangular. This piece possesses good parallels from the Italiote world and especially from Sicily, from where a number of vases modeled in the shape of different animals seated on their folded legs are known (cows, rams, horses): sometimes their bodies are simply cylinders without any indications of musculature.

As is portrayed in numerous images of hunts painted on ceramics, deer were omnipresent in the woods of ancient Greece. In classical mythology, the doe is the sacred animal of Artemis (the doe of Cyrene that Heracles captures during his third labor was also an animal dedicated to the goddess of the hunt and the wild), a particularly important goddess in the lives of women, since she protected girls and young women, whom she accompanied until marriage, which is said to be their true entry into the social life of the polis. In the Classical period, red figure vases sometimes represented does accompanying women in the domestic sphere, like a pet.


Encyclopédie photographique de l’art, Le Musée du Louvre, Les vases grecs IV, n. 22, Paris, 1938, pl. 64.

KOZLOFF A., Animals in Ancient Art, From the L. Mildenberg Collection, Cleveland, 1981, pp. 145-146, nn. 123-124.

KOZLOFF A.P., More Animals in Ancient Art from the L. Mildenberg Collection, Cleveland, 1986, pp. 22-24, n. 78.

On the use of these vessels:

PADGETT J.M. et al., Vase-Painting in Italy, Red-Figure and Related Works in the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, 1993, p. 187, n. 106.

Related works of art

Greek Bronze Griffin Protome Egyptian Faience Statuette of a Hippopotamus Mildenberg Roman Bronze Reclining Lion Egyptian Bronze Statuette of a Cat Antelope Dish Head of a Lion Archaic Boar Pommel in the Form of Three Stylized Animals