Cycladic marble bowl
Period: Cycladic (Early Cycladic II), ca. 2700-2200 B.C.
Dimensions: Height: 5.3 cm Length; 14.3 cm
Ex-US private collection; acquired from Henri Kamer Gallery, 1964.
Perfectly intact. Traces of red pigment on the interior. Deposits of lime incrustation. Some scratches on both exterior and interior surfaces.
This bowl is remarkable for its excellent state of preservation and craftsmanship. It was carved from a block of white marble and shaped as an almost perfect hemispherical vessel. The surface is smooth and has now has a yellowish patina. The external pro?le is convex; inside, a groove emphasizes the horizontal, thick, rounded rim, where it shows traces of tool marks from the carving of the marble. The bottom of the piece presents a circular depression which forms the base and offers stability. Owing to its precise, ?ne shape, as well as its depth, this bowl is a good example of this type of open vessels (plain bowls with an average diameter of 14-20 cm).
Together with kandiles, jars and beakers, plain bowls are one of the most distinctive forms of Cycladic vessels. As the design is simpler and the shape is shallower than kandila-type vessels, the execution of such bowls required less labor and time. The number of plain bowls excavated shows that these vessels were definitely more affordable and widespread. Although their exact purpose is unclear, their shape made them versatile; they could be used not only for storage but also for mixing. Most of the examples whose provenance is known were found in necropolises, often along with marble ?gurines; this suggests that they could have served as cult vessels during funerary banquets and that they were left inside the tomb as dedications. One must not, however, exclude the possibility of their use in everyday life; some could be used as cups and containers for food and liquids. Nevertheless, it may be observed that the thick rim on our example might have rendered the vessel impractical for drinking.
This particular piece bears traces of an intense red pigment on its interior, suggesting that it was used as a mortar for grinding the raw pigment (some examples have been found along with their pestles). The red color was believed to have regenerative powers; the pigment (red ochre or ferric oxide, hematite) was mixed with water, oil or animal fat in cosmetic preparations. It was also employed by Cycladic sculptors as paint for their marble figures. Bowls with traces of red color are most common, but green, blue and black are also found on Cycladic marble vessels.
GETZ-GENTLE P., Stone Vessels of the Cyclades in the Early Bronze Age, University Park, Pennsylvania, 1996, pp. 97-105 and 178, pls. 50-55.
GETZ-PREZIOSI P., Early Cycladic Art in North American Collections, Richmond (Virginia), 1987, pp. 300-304, nos. 122-126.
THIMME J. (ed.), Art and Culture of the Cyclades, Karlsruhe, 1977, pp. 318-319 and 507-509, nos. 296-305.