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Greco-Roman Terracotta Askos in the Form of a Recumbent Ram - X.0106
Origin: Mediterranean
Circa: 1 st Century BC to 1 st Century AD
Dimensions: 12.75" (32.4cm) high
Collection: Classical
Style: Greco-Roman
Medium: Terracotta

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Molded in clay and fired, this terracotta figure of a ram is in the form of a vase, anciently termed an askos which originally designated a goat skin, and hence any leather bag-like container, in which liquid was stored. Our example relies on the profile view which reveals the majestic forms of our ram. He is depicted seated on an integral base with all four of his legs drawn up under his body. His head, slightly lowered, is focused straight ahead and the artist has paid particular attention to every detail from the horns encircling the ears to the eyes and snout. The fleece of the ram is rendered as a series of raised, rounded rectangles each incised with linear ornament.

The liquid which this askos contained was poured into the body of the ram through its mouth which appears to one side of the vessel’s curved handle. When held and tilted with that handle, the liquid within would decant through the opening in the ram’s mouth which served as the spout.

Our ram holds a particular interest because it is one of a handful of terracotta askoi which is provided with an inscription, here in the form of a personal Greek name, “Philamon.” It is difficult to decide whether this name belongs to the artist or to the owner of the vessel. There are also traces of red pigment indicative of the original color once exhibited by this object.

Such examples are attested during the late Hellenistic to early Roman Imperial Period, as an example of an askos in the shape of a lion, excavated on the island of Cyprus, reveals. The function of our askos is difficult to ascertain, but one recalls that the Greek hero, Odysseus, trapped within the cave of Polyphemos, the one-eye giant, escaped by clinging to the belly of just such a ram, after Polyphemos became thoroughly intoxicated by the wine which Odysseus forced upon him.

References: Vassos Karageorghis, Ancient Art from Cyprus. The Cesnola Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York 2000), catalogue number 444, page 275.

Description and interpretation kindly provided by Prof. Robert S. Bianchi. - (X.0106

 

 

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