Roman Bronze Bottle with Enamel Decoration

2nd - 3rd century A.D.




H: 16 cm





Download PDF


  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


The shape of this vase is very particular: the truncated and inverted body does not have a circular base but a hexagonal one; it is thus formed of six equal panels, welded to each other and closed in the upper part by the flat shoulder of the container. In the center of it, there is a narrow round opening, which was used to fill and empty the vase (like the parallel of Anapa, mentioned below, this vase could have a small flared neck). The semi-circular handle is retained by the two rings attached to the sides of the shoulder.
The container rests on a low cylindrical stem, supported by a disc with a convex outline.

The decoration, very elaborate and rich, is polychrome: inlays in blue enamel (imitating the color of lapis lazuli) and red have been placed and melted on the dark surface of the bronze. Each panel of the hexagon is decorated with two superimposed windows, which feature colored tendrils and scrolls. A circular frieze with another blue geometric pattern as well as white triangles adorns the entire shoulder and the edge of the foot.

There are only a very limited number of bronze vases comparable to this one: particular mention should be made of the example found at Anapa (necropolis of Gorgippia in southern Russia, near the Black Sea), and the piece belonging to the Fleischman collection, in the United States.

The first of these two bottles is particularly interesting: on the one hand, note that its shape and decoration are close to those of the part in question. On the other hand, the well-known archaeological context of the Anapa bottle provides important information on the use of this group of objects: it comes from a tomb that contained, among other things, three strigils (scrapers in the shape of a half-moon) in bronze, the handle of which is decorated using the same technique (with enamel patterns embedded in the surface of the metal).

It is therefore reasonable to believe that this type of bottle was used as an unguentarium and served to contain the oils with which athletes (especially wrestlers) sprayed their bodies before training or competitions. The mixture of oil, sweat and dust was then removed at the end of the session by passing the strigil over the skin like a scraper.

The bottle from the Fleischman collection, which was made using a similar technique, has a different decoration, characterized by the square “millefiori” glass plates. This process is well known, above all thanks to a few small pyxis, the production of which is generally attributed to Gallo-Roman workshops, such as the one that archaeologists discovered at the Villa d’Anthée near Dinant, in present-day Belgium.
Although rare, objects decorated with this technique are spread over a very wide region, which touches the north of the Alps, Italy, Eastern Europe, Thessaly, southern Russia and Asia Minor: they were certainly highly prized vases.

Chronologically, both the bottles with vegetal decoration and the “millefiori” enamel pyxis are dated to the period between the 2nd century and the middle of the 3rd century A.D.


The vase is in excellent condition. The metal, whose surface is dark brown, is largely covered with a beautiful green patina of uniform appearance. With the exception of a few broken chips, the enamel is very well preserved (the white coloration of the enamel is due to the formation of a patina; the original color was bright red). Unfortunately, the small round lid is lost.


New York art market, 2003


The other two comparable bottles:
Aus den Schatzkammern Eurasians, Meisterwerke antiker Kunst, Cat. Expo. Zürich, 1993, p. 188, no. 97.
A Passion for Antiquities, Ancient Art from the Collection of B. and L. Fleischman, Cat. Expo Malibu (J.P. Getty Mus.), 1994, p. 318-19, n. 165.
On the technique of producing objects in bronze and enamel, c. :
THIERRY N., About a new pyxis from the Roman period decorated with “millefiori” enamel, in Antike Kunst 5, 1962, p. 65-68, pl. 24.