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Vase with Three Handles

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: Etruscan
: Villanovan, 8th century B.C.
: bronze
: H: 23.5 cm - D: 23.5 cm

Ex- European private collection, acquired in 1993, imported into the US in 1999.


Good condition. Missing lid.


The vase belongs to the finest examples of the hammering technique used by the metalsmiths of the Villanovan culture. Considered as Proto-Etruscan, this culture corresponds to the period of Iron Age in central and northern parts of the Italian peninsula. Archaeologists state that Villanovan bronze vessels are rarer than the terracotta ones. Among all of the surviving bronze items, this present vase is distinguished by its highly sophisticated design and decoration. The flaring base supports the body which has a lower widening surface that is worked with vertical ribs, each of them ending with an encircled boss. To this corresponds the horizontal row of projecting, almost sculptural conical studs, which marks the mid-section of the ample body. The shoulder is entirely decorated with a geometric ornament consisting of chevron rows. Simple lines encircle the lower part of the neck, which remains without a linear ornamentation but receives the structural additions (connections and supports) on the top. 

The vessel was assembled from several pieces: the hammered foot, body, lid, vertical handle and knobs, and cast two swinging handles, studs, connections and supports. The now missing lid was connected to the neck by a chain. Typical to the design of large vessels, the composition of this present one is based on the balance of the undivided shape and several added details. Characteristic to their relationship is the position of the long vertical handle: its sinuous line faithfully follows the outline of the body and neck, one end is attached to the body at its mid-section while another end is not attached to the rim leaving space for the top handles supports attached to the neck below the rim. To secure the stability of the vertical handle, the bronze maker introduced a special detail, which connects the mid-handle to the lower part of the neck. The mobility of the swinging handles are provided by the support of the loops. The ends of the coiled handles take the form of the stylized swan-like heads. The shape of the vase resembles a hydria, a vessel to carry and serve water; it could also be used as a cremation urn as it is attested for many Villanovan large size bronze vessels found in the burials. 

The early Iron Age in northern Italy is termed Villanovan after a site found near Bologna in the 19th century. The Villanovan period was preceded in the 10th and 9th centuries B.C. by a proto-Villanovan phase, which was a time of transition from the Apennine Bronze Age culture related to the Urnfield cultures north of the Alps. This early phase used geometric designs and figural representations that persisted as components of later Etruscan and Italic art. The usual ornamentation includes incised zigzags, triangles, concentric circles, swastikas, and figures of humans and animals, such as water-birds and horses. Developing further between the 9th and 8th centuries B.C., and contemporary with Greek Geometric art, the artistic production of the Villanovan Iron Age contributed to the development of early Etruscan art, particularly at Villanovan sites where Etruscans would later flourish. Villanovan art is noted for its bronze and iron metal work, particularly its large bronze vessels adorned with figurines, as well as simply decorated pottery, which was well-made in spite of being produced without use of the potter’s wheel. Although primarily from burial contexts, the art of the Villanovans focused on the form and decoration of objects for the house, such as terracotta and bronze vases of various shapes, or for ceremonial use, such as wide bronze belt plaques, protective armor and swords, and fibulae to fasten clothing. 


L’Art des Peoples Italiques, 3000 a 300 avant J.-C., Naples, 1993, p. 94, no. 2. 

DE PUMA R. D., Etruscan Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New Haven, London, 2013, pp.29-39, no. 3.21. 

HAYNES S., Etruscan civilization, Los Angeles, 200, pp. 1-45. 

RANDALL-MACIVER D., Villanovans and Early Etruscans, Oxford, 1924.

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