Greek Terracotta Trefoil Oinochoe

Greek · Corinthian, ca. early 6th century B.C.





H: 36.8 cm (14.5 in)





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This elegant and cleanly potted black-figure jug with trefoil mouth (oinochoe) has a great precision of forms which undoubtedly refers to a metallic prototype. Its complex pictorial design was made by the incision lines and added red for the details. The foot, handle, neck and mouth are black-glaze. The decoration of the lower part of the vase consists of rays beautifully rendered above the foot, which has concentric circles underneath. The rest of the body is divided into three broad freezes with animal and bird motives.

The upper frieze represents a goose, a lion, two deer, and a panther. The central freeze has larger figures, with confronting lion and bull below the handle. Beside a single figure of a bird, two lions and two sphinxes are arranged symmetrically on the side of central image, a Sirene with wide-spread wings. The Sirens were sea monsters, with a head of a young girl and the body of a bird, that used a bewitching song to drag sailors to their deaths. Formerly, these sirens were handmaidens of the goddess Persephone but after her abduction Demeter transformed them giving them wings to search for the lost goddess. Hades was responsible for stealing her from Earth and bringing her to the Underworld. This inhibited the sirens from finding her and ultimately settled on the island of Anthemoessa where they would target passing sailors. The lower frieze has figures of two lions, boar, panther, deer, bird, and goat. The animals are depicted in their characteristic attitudes: lion with roaring mouth, goat and deer grazing, lowering their heads toward the ground, while the panther’s head is expressively turned to the front.

Because of the horizontal composition, figures in friezes received elongated bodies. A competent artist employed fine incision lines to shape the variety of anatomical details characteristic of different figures. A trademark of his personal manner is detected in the way of shaping the eye, a large circle with two tiny triangles to mark the inner and outer canthi. The added red-purple color was used to distinguish certain parts of the bodies. Besides the obvious decorative effect, the colored parts may contribute to the three-dimensional quality in otherwise completely graphic work. Empty spaces are filled with abundant rosettes, blobs and dots. This specific shape of a large jug with multi-figural friezes was particularly favored by Corinthian vase painters during the second half of the seventh – sixth century B.C.

During the Archaic period (ca. 700-480 B.C.), Corinth became an important center of the ceramic production, famous for its fine clay, intricate geometric and ornamental designs. Corinth was also an important port to trade in Greece; the terracotta containers like this have been exported to different parts of the Mediterranean.


Reassembled from fragments with filling the gaps and overpainting along the breaks; overpainting to the black band above the foot below the panther and goat; surface weathered, abrasions, minor losses of glaze; encrustation in places.


Ex- Bill (1928-2022) and Edith (1926-2014) Rudolf private collection, New York, acquired from M. Simotti Rocchi, Rome. 1999.


BOARDMAN J. Early Greek Vase Painting, London, 1998, pp. 178-182.
PAYNE H., Necrocorinthia, A Study of Corinthian Art in the Archaic Period, Oxford, 1931.