Culture: South Italian
Date: 320 B.C.
Medium: Pottery
Condition: Intact, very good.
Provenance: Ex-Patricia Kluge collection, Charlottesville, Virginia, acquired from Royal Athena, 1991.
Dimensions: H. 10 7/8 in. (27.6 cm.).
Ref No. GV187


Published: A.D. Trendall, the Red-Figured Vaese of Apulia, Suppl. I, 1983, 198, 29/838a; J. Eisenberg, One Thousand Years Of Ancient Greek Vases, 1990, no. 96.

Apulian Red-Figure Spherical Pyxis from the White Saccos Group, Triangular Eye Subgroup. Lid: Woman’s head emerging from a flower. Bowl: Head of a woman.

A pyxis (plurral pyxides) is a small lidded jar (lit. “box”) for pins, jewelry, cosmetics, and other feminine toilet articles. These came in a variety of shapes in Attic vase-painting of the 5th century B.C., but the spherical pyxis is a type peculiar to South Italy, particularly Apulia and Sicily. This example has flaring knob and a high ring base.

The ornament is particularly elaborate and colorful: a large complex of palmettes and scrolling tendrils covering the back and sides. On the front of the bowl is the head of a woman facing left. She wears a necklace, earrings, and an embroidered hair-cloth (kekryphalos). On the front of the lid is a large flowering plant, with scrolling tendrils to left and right. The head of a woman emerges from the yellow flower in the center. The woman is painted white and drawn in three-quarter view; she wears earrings and embroidered sakkos. This pyxis is exceptionally intact.

Heads of women emerging from flowers more commonly appear on necks of large volute-kraters, beginning about 350 B.C.. Their meaning has been much debated. In some cases an inscription or an attribute gives a clue to the identity, but their treatment is far from uniform. Some association with Persephone (who emerges from the ground every year), or some other fertility or vegetation goddess is likely, at least in early examples. By the late 4th century B.C., however, when this pyxis was made, they had become a standard artistic motif and may often be devoid of any real meaning.