A Campanian Black-Ware Kernos


Ancient Greek black-glazed kernos from the Campanian area, a region in southern Italy which was extensively populated by Greek settlers, since as early as the 8th and 7th centuries AD. The kernos consists on a stone round pedestal supporting four small offering pots, interspersed with four protomes in the form of a female profile. The centre of the composition features a loop handle, decorated with vertical parallel strokes, running in low relief. The base is undecorated and presents some earthly encrustations.

Date: Late 4th century BC
Period: Hellenistic Period
Provenance: From the West German collection H.W., acquired in 2011 from the De Mynter, Belgium. Acquired from buyer, Portuguese private collection, R.M.
Condition: Fine condition


The kernos can be recognised by its series of small cups in the lip, with examples dating back to the Bronze Age. It was used to store offerings made to the gods, specifically in cults pertaining to Demeter and Persephone. The receptacles probably contained foodstuffs, or perhaps flowers, and a lamp was sometimes placed in the centre. Kernos, such as this, were often carried in processions at the Eleusinian Mysteries (secret initiation rites celebrating the goddesses Demeter and Persephone) and were an important object for greek religious life. Kernoses are thus tightly related to the agrarian cult and to the myth of Persephone and Demeter, the goddess of fertility and agriculture. The myth is recounted on an Homeric Hymn  (c. 650 BC) according to which Persephone, Demeter’s daughter, was seized by Hades, the king of the underworld, who brought her to his kingdom to make her his wife. Distraught, Demeter caused a terrible drought, which continued until Persephone returned to her mother from the underworld, but she could only be with her for few months a year. She had eaten pomegranate seeds whilst she was in the underworld and the Fates rule dictated that whoever consumed food or drinks in the underworld was doom to spend eternity there.

The myth explains the origin for the cycle of the seasons, winter being the time of the year when Persephone is trapped in the underworld and spring when she finally rejoins her mother. The kernos was thus related to the cult of these deities, celebrating the arrival of spring, when nature awakens as a symbol of rebirth.

Weight 624 g
Dimensions W 13.7 x H 16.5 cm

Greek Mythology

Pottery and Porcelain



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