Etruscan Bucchero Kantharos

Object: 45
JIAAW, van Heusen Collection

This small cup is a beautiful example of a quintessential Etruscan vessel: a drinking cup of a Greek type made in the typically Etruscan bucchero sottile. As a drinking cup, it is very much associated with the symposium or feasting banquet that became very prominent in Etruria (Central Italy, roughly modern Tuscany and Lazio) during the 7th and 6th centuries BCE.

The shape is that of a typical kantharos, defined by the two vertical loop handles that rise well above the rim of the cup, and which obviously served to hold the vessel. While this particular cup is rather small at just under 5 cm high, that doesn’t make it a miniature or leave it without parallels (cf. below). It is most likely handmade, possibly with the help of a mold and/or a slow turntable. The most defining feature is its pitch-black appearance, achieved through firing in a well-controlled environment without oxygen (reduced firing), and the careful polishing, which gives the vessel its characteristic shiny look – and which is captured by the Italian term bucchero; the qualification sottile indicates that it is thin-walled, which is characteristic for older, mostly Archaic products. Both the shape (classifiable as Rasmussen 3A) and the bucchero production suggest a date in the later 7th century BCE.

This cup finds a practically identical match, including its size, in a specimen held in the British Museum, which is recorded as coming from Vulci, in southern Etruria (Lazio, north of Rome). Our cup is without provenance, but the close parallel and the highly characteristic bucchero product make it very likely that our cup may also be attributed to southern Etruria. Such cups typically come from funerary contexts, which would be chamber tombs constructed under mounds, which have long been looted for their contents. The fact that our cup had been broken and restored before being donated to Brown suggests that this is how it found its way to the US before it was donated to Brown*.

-Peter van Dommelen, Director of the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World

See other examples of Kantharoi:

kantharos | British Museum

Black burnished and polished kantharos, Bucchero ware, Rasmussen Type 3a, with a ring foot, two handle and marked on the exterior of the body with a ridge, level with the lower juncture of the handles, one handle has been broken and rejoined, worn and chipped in places.

Kantharos | Etruscan | Archaic | The Met

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*While the provenance of many of the objects in our collection is unclear, the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World is committed to upholding the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970).