Magna Graecia, South Italic colonies, Apulia, Gnathian, attributed to the Laurel Spray Group, ca. 330 to 320 BCE. An exquisite wheel-thrown pottery situla with a concave footed base, a piriform body with a corseted shoulder, a bulbous spout, and a slender handle. The shoulder is decorated with a wispy incised vine band bearing berries and ivy leaves and interspersed vines hanging between bucrania and rosettes, all in red slip and fugitive yellow-white pigment atop a black-glazed surface bearing faint silvery iridescence. The molded spout emulates the form of an actor mask with a gaping mouth and tasseled fillet over a bald head, and the relief face of Silenos projects from the opposite side of the vessel. The bifurcated handle arches over the mouth with terminals splayed along the rim, a design element meant to emulate the bail handles of larger metal situlae. A superb example replete with sophisticated form, lustrous patina, and a sublime presentation. Size: 5.75" W x 7.875" H (14.6 cm x 20 cm).
Gnathia ware is named for the site where it was first discovered - the Apulian site of Egnathia. The black glaze ware is traditionally decorated with floral motifs in red, white, or yellow hues. Scholars believe that its production most likely was centered around Taras, with primary workshops in Egnathia and Canosa. The quantity and quality of Greek colonial Apulian potters increased significantly following the Peloponnesian War when Attic exports dramatically decreased. Apulian artistry demonstrates influences of Ionian (Athenian, Attic) conventions, as well as Doric (western colonial Greek) styles, with a palpable native Italian aesthetic.
Situlae with clay handles are quite rare. Vessels like this were used to mix water and wine. The shape was intended to imitate a metal bucket; see Rainer Vollkommer, Unteritalische Vasen. (Kleine Reihe des Antikenmuseums der Universität Leipzig, 2) (Leipzig, Universitätsverlag, 1995), p. 30, and Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, Deutschland 72: Hannover, Kestner Museum 2, (München, C.H. Beck, 2000), pl. 57, 4-6; 58, 1-2. For additional information and comparisons see J. Richard Green, "Gnathia and Other Overpainted Wares of Italy and Sicily: a Survey", in Évelyne Geny (ed., sous la direction de Pierre Lévêque et Jean-Paul Morel), Céramiques Hellénistiques et Romaines III (Besançon, Presses Universitaires Franc-Comtoises, 2001), 57-103, esp. p. 89, no. 15) as well as Anneliese Kossatz-Deißmann, "Eine neue Phrygerkopf-Situla des Toledo-Malers", Archäologischer Anzeiger 1990 (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut), p. 505-520. A comparable spout can also be found in Leipzig, Antikenmuseum der Universität, inv. no. T951, see Vollkommer, o.c., p. 30-32, no. 18 (illustrated).
This situla hammered for $6,250 at Christie's, New York Antiquities Auction (sale 2056, December 9, 2008, lot 118): https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/ancient-art-antiquities/an-apulian-gnathian-ware-situla-laurel-spray-group-5157946-details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=5157946&sid=0882bd90-6097-44d9-9586-cb013a2650cb
For a discussion of metallic and pottery situlae, see Milena Candela, "Situle metalliche e ceramiche a beccuccio nel IV e III secolo a.C. Origine e diffusione," BABESCH 60 (1985), pp. 24-71.
Cf. a Gnathian situla in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, inv. 01.8098, published in J. Michael Padgett et al., "Vase-Painting in Italy: Red-Figure and Related Works in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston" (Boston, 1993), cat. no. 110, pp. 193-194; another in the Toledo Museum of Art, inv. 73.7, published in Margaret Ellen Mayo, "The Art of South Italy: Vases from Magna Graecia" (Richmond, 1982), cat. no. 130, pp. 270-272; one also attributed to the Laurel Spray Group, at Fordham University, inv. 7.036.
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection; ex-Christie's, New York Antiquities Auction (sale 2056, December 9, 2008, lot 118); ex-Alexander Schreiber collection, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, acquired in the 1970s
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