Greece, Athens, 5th century BCE. This is a red-figure pottery skyphos, a dual-handled, deep cup with a low flanged base, used for drinking wine. The design originated in Corinth and spread to Greece, initially being made of precious metals like gold and silver. The decoration is an owl standing between two sprays of olive. This type of skyphos was extremely popular and was exported from Athens throughout the Greek world, including into Italy. This particular example is a Type A under Beazley's classification system, with two horizontal handles attached just below the lip. This owl is similar to the image of an owl that is found on various denominations of silver coins from Athens; on the observe of these coins is Athena wearing a helmet. The owl is a symbol of Athena, and often shown accompanying her; Athena, of course, was the goddess of the city, and so the owl became a symbol of Athens and its government. The olive tree, as well, relates to Athens. Athena and Poseidon were said to have quarreled over the city of Athens and Athena planted an olive tree on the Acropolis to show that it belonged to her. Herodotus records that, although the Persians burnt all of the Acropolis, the remains of the olive tree sprouted a new branch the very next day. This skyphos a beautiful example of all these symbols, and of the craftsmanship and economic power of Classical Athens. Size: 3.6" L x 5.5" W x 2.7" H (9.1 cm x 14 cm x 6.9 cm)
If you would like to learn more, there is a full essay on these items here: http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/the-owls-of-athena-some-comments-on-owl-skyphoi-and-their-iconography
Provenance: Ex-private Dana Simons collection, Houston, Texas via family descent
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