Roman Terracotta Green Lead-Glazed Skyphos


A very fine lead-glazed ceramic Roman skyphos, decorated with moulded decoration to the body. The drinking cup features a deep bowl, typical of the variety. The globular body rests on a small foot, which concaves at the centre. Two d-shaped handles are placed at each side, connecting the rim to the body. The skyphos is decorated to the outside with a series of figures. To the centre is a stooped figure, possibly a maenad or dancing dwarf. She is depicted with one arm behind her, the other carrying a tambourine. To her left is a quadruped animal, feline-like in depiction and most likely portrays a leopard. The last figure is a large bird, with a large body and two long legs. The depiction bears similarity to a large ostrich.

Measurements given below details the width from handle to handle. The internal diameter of the bowl is 7.2cm.

Date: Circa 1st century BC - 1st century AD
Provenance: Fernand Adda (d.1965) collection, formed in the 1920s. Collection of Mrs Petra Schamelman, Breitenbach, Germany. Private collection of a Kensington collector. Property of a London gentleman.
Condition: Very fine condition. Some loss of glaze and definition.


Lead-glazed cups were a Roman invention developed between the second-half of the 1st century BC. They continued to be made up until the 1st century AD. Made of terracotta they had a layer of thick glaze covering their exterior surface. Made from a mixture of silica and other minerals, predominantly lead, the discovery allowed potters to create a range of different colours. Vibrant turquoise greens, mustard yellows, rich browns could be added to the existing palette of red and black. This technique expanded the artistic repertoire, creating unique terracotta pieces. The process required to create lead-glazed pieces was costly and involved the twice-firing of the ceramic. Room was needed around each piece, to give the glaze room to drip freely. The inability to stack pieces into a kiln also increased the cost of production. Lead-glazed pieces originated in Syria and spread West, with inferior productions made in Gaul. The practise died out largely due to the expensive production costs and because of the invention of blown glass. Pottery was the cheaper and less-costly material, compared to glass, and thus it made little sense for a costly-ceramic product to continue to be made.

The decorative motifs used on this particular skyphos were themes commonly used for drinking vessels. The dancing figure, which is hard to distinguish, could be a maenad or a dancing pygmy. Maenads were associated with Bacchus, god of wine and frivolous symposia. Dancing pygmies feature on other skyphoi and made up comedic choruses, thus a dramatic association to Bacchus. The leopard was an animal also associated with the god, who is often portrayed riding the feline. The oriental association connecting the two figures. Ostriches are a slightly rarer depiction but again feature in comedic choruses. Themes associated with Bacchus were used on skyphoi, as large drinking cups used in symposia.

Weight 158.1 g
Dimensions W 12.7 x H 7.1 cm


Pottery and Porcelain


Roman Mythology

Reference: For a similar item: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, item 15.163.1

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