Ancient Near East, Syria, ca. 8th to 7th century BCE. A fascinating, rare steatite vessel in beautiful condition. The vessel is conical, with a very narrow mouth that widens into a round base. On either side, standing on an integrated base, are two lions, each posed as if pressed forward, with its face against the upper part of the vessel, its body crouched, its back legs low and its front legs pushed up to meet the base of the cone. The platform is long, flat, and rectangular. The lions are realistic, with powerful-looking bodies, large manes, and long curled tails in relief on the bodies. The mottled and veined grey, black, and cream steatite contributes to the beauty of the piece. Size: 5" L x 1.5" W x 2.5" H (12.7 cm x 3.8 cm x 6.4 cm)
Stone libation bowls, often made of steatite or serpentine, have been found throughout the Near East, especially in northern Syria. The lions here serve as handles, as on many similar examples; small holes on either side of their mouths may have once had inlaid jewels or precious metal. Who made these vessels? Who owned them? It is very difficult to say with the available evidence, but there seems to have been a small and experimental artistic tradition, associated with courts and royalty, that produced vessels for elite use from a variety of stones and in a variety of forms playing on accepted motifs, like the lions shown here.
Provenance: private Florida, USA collection; ex-European private collection; ex-Christie's June 12, 2002 Lot 327
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