Category Archives: Virtual Vault

Object highlights from archaeological collections at Brown University.

Mycenaean Psi Type Figurine

Object: 14
JIAAW Collection

Figurines are one of the most celebrated artifacts in museums and digital collections. The human eye is attracted to figurines, whether because we think we are viewing a small version of ourselves or because we are drawn to the tactility of a small object.  

Mycenaean figurines are also common in museum displays and collections, representing the Mycenaean civilization. They were produced in a specific timeline, ca. 1420-1100BC (Late Helladic III). They are categorized into three main types, based on the gestures of their arms and were named by their resemblance to the letters of the Greek alphabet: tau (T), phi (Φ), and psi (Ψ). The tau figurines fold their arms into their chest, the phi figurines clasp their hands in their stomach, and the psi figurines raise their hands. There are many variations within these types, as well as some examples that cannot be included in these categories, such as the so-called kourotrophos, depicting a female holding a child in her arms, and group figurines, such as enthroned females, chariot groups, or horse and rider. Researchers agree that the figurines represent female bodies.

Object 14 is a Mycenaean psi figurine, probably dated in ca. 1330/15-1200/1190 BC (Late Helladic IIIB). It is freestanding and made of clay. The base is missing, but the lower body is tubular, ending on a high-waist, where the flat upper body begins. There is an indication of breasts. The face is pinched and dresses with an elaborate headdress (polos in Greek). The features and the dress are drawn with red paint.  

But, who was she? There have been many suggestions on the use of Mycenaean figurines, mainly affected by their associated archaeological context. One of the most long-lasting approaches considers them as a part of the religious sphere. Are they representations of goddesses? Some researchers believed that they represent the goddesses of the popular cult, and they function as votives or offerings. Another approach suggested their use as children’s toys, as many of them have been found in children’s tombs. However, figurines are also found in domestic spaces and palatial contexts, therefore, implying that their use was not restricted to certain social groups. Whatever the interpretation, researchers have noticed the association of the figurines with beads and a drinking vessel, the kylix. Recent studies try to move beyond function and focus on production, context, and the use-life of each artifact. They acknowledge that throughout the life of a figurine, its use could have multiple meanings, according to the context within which it was used. Therefore, figurines had a complicated life; this is even more obvious from their disposal. They were broken and discarded, like any other object that had fulfilled its purpose.

Nevertheless, figurines are our window to human representation. Even though we acknowledge that these are symbolic representations and products of miniaturization, they remain a depiction of female personhood and identity. Their posture, gesture, and dress accentuate the female performativity which had a specific meaning to the Mycenaean viewer. Her arms are raised upright; is she surrendering, praying, or dancing?

Can her clothes inform us of what she is doing? The red paint describes her clothing and at the same time accentuates her body movement. The body, the dress, and her gesture are parts of a cohesive whole. Her flat-topped headdress is decorated with a double festoon. At the back of her neck, three knobs represent a single plait of hair. The rippling, given by the wavy lines, gives the impression of a loose-fitting blouse, which permits her to move easily. A kind of belt fits the blouse and a long skirt into her body. She does not wear any jewelry, but her elaborate headdress suggests that she is dressed up for an occasion.  

Gerasimoula Ioanna Nikolovieni, Graduate Student, JIAAW

Read more about the Mycenaean civilization and see other examples of Mycenaean figurines:

Mycenaean Civilization | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Mycenaean is the term applied to the art and culture of Greece from ca. 1600 to 1100 B.C. The name derives from the site of Mycenae in the Peloponnesos, where once stood a great Mycenaean fortified palace. Mycenae is celebrated by Homer as the seat of King Agamemnon, who led the Greeks in the Trojan War.

3 Terracotta female figures | Helladic, Mycenaean | Late Helladic IIIA | The Met

Alexander, Christine. 1939. Early Greek Art: A Picture Book. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Alexander, Christine. 1945. “Early Statuettes from Greece.” Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 3(10): p. 241. Richter, Gisela M. A. 1953. Handbook of the Greek Collection. p. 15, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Mycenaean Triad | Louvre Museum | Paris

These figurines, called “phi figurines” for their resemblance to the Greek letter, belong to a series frequently encountered in the Mycenaean art of the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries BC. This group is however distinctive in its rare association of two female figures with a smaller one above.

Small Faceted Glass Bottle

Object: D24
JIAAW, Day Collection

Object D24, a small glass bottle, likely Islamic, is an example of glassware created using cold working techniques (techniques that don’t require heat – like grinding, carving, engraving, and polishing). Glassblowers and glasscutters worked together to create the facets, or flat surfaces, on pieces like this. First, a glassblower would create a hollow, thick-walled blank (plain object), adding de-coloring agents to transform the glass’s natural light green color to clear. After this, a glasscutter would create the facets on a lathe or by using handheld tools. Facet cutting could be used to alter the shape of glassware, as in the case of object D24, or could be conducted in a more decorative manner, producing delicate lines and curves to create an intricate design on the surface of the vessel. The facet cuts on D24 are clear, evident in the piece’s well-defined octagonal body and seven-sided neck.

-Jinette Jimenez ‘21, JIAAW Records and Collections Assistant

Corning Museum of Glass

The prophet Muhammad proclaimed the new religion of Islam in 622. Following his death 10 years later, Arab armies conquered much of what is now Egypt, the Near East, and Iran. Here the Muslims found flourishing glass industries, which continued to produce large quantities of objects for daily use.

bottle | British Museum

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Cut and Engraved Glass from Islamic Lands | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Cold-cut glass became the most prominent artistic form of decoration in the early Islamic period, especially in the ninth and tenth centuries. While this lapidary technique is as old as glassmaking itself, dating well before glassblowing was invented, Roman and Sasanian cut glass (from eastern Mediterranean and Iranian areas, respectively) provided immediate models.

beaker | British Museum

Description Glass beaker; semi-transparent light greyish green; almost cylindrical, tapering to a lightly rounded, possibly almost flat, base; cut facets in three registers; possibly showing a fire altar beneath two rows of arcading. Curator’s comments This has been previously described as a vase, phial, lamp or beaker.

Bowl with wheel-cut facets | Sasanian | Sasanian | The Met

Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1959. “Additions to the Collections: Near Eastern Art.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 18 (2), Eighty-Ninth Annual Report of the Trustees for the Fiscal Year 1958-1959 (Oct., 1959), p. 62. Corning Museum of Glass. 1960. “Recent Important Acquisitions made by public and private collections.”

Cup (Getty Museum)

Cup; Unknown; Eastern Mediterranean; 3rd-4th century A.D.; Glass; 8.1 × 11.2 cm (3 3/16 × 4 7/16 in.); 2004.38; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California; Rights Statement: No Copyright – United States

Painted Tanagra Figurine

Object: JI1716ab
JIAAW Collection

In celebration of National Color Day (October 22nd), we’re highlighting object JI1716ab. This object is an example of a Tanagra type figurine, named after the cemeteries in the Tanagra region of Greece in which figures like these were discovered in the 19th century. The object is a sitting woman draped in intricately folded garments, supported by a rectangular base.  

The colors of this figurine point to the production of Tanagra types, which were usually constructed out of terracotta, a dark red clay and, after firing, were coated in a white slip. The head in particular alludes to the coloring processes that took place after this white slip was applied, featuring slight hints of brown, white, blue, and red pigment around the woman’s hair, wreath crown, and face. 

The remnants of pigment found on this figurine brings up a wider conversation that is being had about the original colors of ancient statues. As Margaret Talbot writes in an article for the New Yorker, while the marble statues of ancient Greece and Rome were commonly thought to be purely white in color, archaeologists studying traces of pigmentation and evidence of tool marks on the surface of these statues have found that the ancient world was much more vibrant and colorful than we once believed it to be. 

Looking closely at the paint remnants visible on statues and examining them under infrared or ultraviolet light reveals that not only did ancient sculptors use pigment, but they also created elaborate and highly detailed designs using an array of colors. Recently, artists and archaeologists have worked together to recreate these works, this time focusing on the polychromy, or coloring, of the statues. 

Overall, this Tanagra figurine represents a central idea in archaeology: that we cannot fathom what we don’t know. The more technology and archaeological methods develop, the more we can question and reflect on the commonly held takeaways from previous archaeological work. In this way, object JI1716ab reminds us to be open to new interpretations, especially when they concern material culture that, like Greek and Roman statues, exists in the public consciousness. 

-Jinette Jimenez ‘21, JIAAW Records and Collections Assistant

Read more about current explorations of how color was used in the ancient world, including Margaret Talbot’s New Yorker article:

The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture

Greek and Roman statues were often painted, but assumptions about race and aesthetics have suppressed this truth. Now scholars are making a color correction. Mark Abbe was ambushed by color in 2000, while working on an archeological dig in the ancient Greek city of Aphrodisias, in present-day Turkey.

Gods in Color – Golden Edition

For many years the Liebieghaus has dedicated itself to unraveling the mystery of the original polychromy of ancient sculptures. Indeed, the museum has taken the lead in this area of research. Vinzenz Brinkmann’s reconstructions are made in collaboration with the archaeologist Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann and give current viewers a vibrant picture of the former polychromy of the sculptures.

‘Digging’ for color: The search for Egyptian Blue in ancient reliefs

A team of Yale researchers is working in the Yale University Art Gallery to map one of the long lost pigments – Egyptian Blue – on two reliefs from ancient Assyria that are located in the gallery. The team – Jens Stenger, conservation scientist at the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage; Carol Snow, deputy chief conservator and the Alan J.

Sherds from Bandelier National Monument

Objects: 1526, 1527, 1528
JIAAW, Old Department Collection

Having just celebrated Indigenous People’s Day (Oct 12), we wanted to take a look at objects 1526, 1527, and 1528 – sherds that bring up important discussions about Native American history, representation, survival, and continuance. While most objects in the JIAAW collection are Mediterranean in origin, these sherds were excavated from Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, a site that has significant ties to the Ancestral Pueblo people. Although it is named after a 19th-century anthropologist, Bandelier National Monument focuses much of its educational and promotional activities on sharing the history and lifeways of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Its website perpetuates the common narrative that the Ancestral Pueblo people suddenly disappeared in the late 13th century AD and that Bandelier is a place where one can step back into the past and explore ancient ruins. This particular telling of history situates the Ancestral Pueblo people completely in the past, despite the survival and existence of numerous Pueblo tribes today. A New York Times article offers an alternative view that explains that the Ancestral Puebloans did not vanish without a trace but, rather, their empire shrank and split off into the tribes that we see today, possibly as a result of deforestation, soil erosion, conflict with other tribes, drought, or a combination of these factors. 

Today, there are 19 federally recognized Pueblo tribes in New Mexico. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, an organization that was established to celebrate Pueblo heritage through archives, exhibits, programs, and writing, puts Pueblo continuance at the center of their work. The mission of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, which is “To preserve and perpetuate Pueblo culture, and to advance understanding by presenting with dignity and respect the accomplishments and evolving history of the Pueblo people of New Mexico,” directly responds to the narrative that places like Bandelier National Monument construct about indigenous peoples. It is important to recognize the stories attached to places like Bandelier, and even archaeological findings like these three sherds, and how they impact our understanding of Native American history and survival. 

-Jinette Jimenez ‘21, JIAAW Records and Collections Assistant

Check out the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center Indigenous Peoples’ Day programming:

Explore the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center website:

Read the New York Times article:

Visit Brown’s Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative website:

Browse the collection of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology to see more of the indigenous arts of the Americas, Africa, Southeast Asia, and other parts of the world:


Object: 98
JIAAW, Bishop Collection

Stamnoi are somewhat squat, wide-mouthed pots, usually with a low foot and two horizontal, often upturned handles. They are often depicted being used to mix or serve wine, but some examples have been found with lids, suggesting they were also used to store liquids. Stamnoi are frequently decorated with scenes related to Dionysos (the god of wine), a nod to the vessel’s intended use.

 -Jess Porter, JIAAW Operations and Events Coordinator

See other examples of stamnoi here:

Attributed to the Menelaos Painter | Terracotta stamnos (jar) | Greek, Attic | Classical | The Met

Richter, Gisela M. A., Marjorie J. Milne, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1922. Shapes of Greek Vases. New York. Richter, Gisela M. A. and Marjorie J. Milne. 1935. Shapes and Names of Athenian Vases. pp. 8-9, fig. 67, New York: Plantin Press. Bandinelli, Ranuccio Bianchi. 1958.

Jar with lid (stamnos) | RISD Museum

The images on this website can enable discovery and collaboration and support new scholarship, and we encourage their use. This object is in the public domain (CC0 1.0). This object is Jar with lid (stamnos) with the accession number of 35.791. To request a higher resolution file, please submit an online request.

Stamnos (Mixing Jar) | The Art Institute of Chicago

Show this image Show this image Show this image Related Content Stamnos (Mixing Jar) about 450 BCE Attributed to the Chicago PainterGreek; Athens Related Content This refined Athenian stamnos (pl. stamnoi) was used to mix water and wine.

‘Grand Tour’ Plaster Intaglio Casts

Object: JI1819a-c
JIAAW Collection

While the provenance of these particular objects is unknown, plaster reliefs such as these were popular souvenirs in the 18th and 19th centuries. A tradition for wealthy young European men and women was a Grand Tour of Europe, lasting for months or even years, with visits to major cities and cultural sites. Artisans took advantage of the popularity of carved gems by making similar objects out of less expensive materials, such as plaster, to be purchased by travelers as mementos of their tour. Plaster intaglio casts were often mounted into books or cases and usually depict historical and mythological figures and scenes. The theme of this set of casts is “Mitologia” (mythology).

-Jess Porter, JIAAW Operations and Events Coordinator

See other examples of plaster intaglio casts and learn more about The Grand Tour here:

Untitled Document

“As such it (the Grand Tour) fulfilled a major social need, namely the necessity of finding young men, who were not obliged to work and for whom work would often be a derogation, something to do between school and the inheritance of family wealthŠIt allowed the young to sow their wild oats abroad and it kept them out of trouble, including disputed with their family, at home.”

Italy on the Grand Tour (Getty Exhibitions)

Three exhibitions at the Getty explore the Grand Tour and its importance as an 18th-century artistic and cultural phenomenon.

From the Harvard Art Museums’ collections Collection of 114 Plaster Casts in a wooden box

Identification and Creation Physical Descriptions Medium Wooden box, plaster casts Dimensions 8.8 x 20.3 x 33.4 cm (3 7/16 x 8 x 13 1/8 in.) Provenance Dr. George E. Ellis, Boston, MA; [1] to the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA, gift; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1910.


Object: 19
JIAAW, Bishop Collection

The olpe is one of the earlier types of the oinochoe and specifically has no spout and a high handle above the lip. In English, its most equivalent term is the pitcher. During meals or drinking, it would serve as a measure of how much wine had been consumed. 

-Elaina Kim ‘21, JIAAW Records and Collections Assistant 2017/18

See other examples of olpe here:

Olpe (Getty Museum)

Olpe; Attributed to Painter of Malibu 85.AE.89 (namepiece); Corinth, Greece; about 625 B.C.; Terracotta; 32.8 × 17 cm (12 15/16 × 6 11/16 in.); 85.AE.89; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California; Rights Statement: No Copyright – United States


Penn Museum Object MS714 – Olpe


The information about this object, including provenance information, is based on historic information and may not be currently accurate or complete. Research on objects is an ongoing process, but the information about this object may not reflect the most current information available to CMA.

Ceramic Rim Sherd

Object: 132
JIAAW, Bishop Collection

Archaeologists classify sherds (pottery fragments) into three main categories: rim sherds, body sherds, and base sherds. In order for a sherd to be identified as a rim sherd, it must include at least a small piece of the lip of the vessel – like this sherd from the acropolis at Pergamon. Archaeologists use the angle of the rim sherd to determine what kind of rim the original vessel had (inslanting, flared, or vertical are some of the most common categories) and measure the curve of the rim sherd to determine the size of the vessel’s opening. These tiny fragments can tell us a surprising amount about the vessels they came from!

-Jinette Jimenez ‘21, JIAAW Records and Collections Assistant

See other examples of rim sherds:

alabastron | British Museum

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Jar rim sherd | Early Bronze Age | The Met

1968-69, excavated by Julian Reade, on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq; acquired by the Museum in 1972, as a result of its financial contribution to the excavations.

Rim Sherd

Penn Museum Object 64-37-2 – Rim Sherd

Lead Wreath

Object: 1550
JIAAW, Old Department Collection

This lead wreath was found in the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia in Sparta, Greece. The sanctuary was established in the 9th century BCE and was an important site for centuries – being rebuilt, expanded, and incorporated into new structures up until the 3rd century CE. The sanctuary was devoted to Artemis Orthia, likely a merging of the widely known Greek goddess Artemis and the local Spartan goddess Orthia, both of whom were known as goddesses of hunting and wilderness.

Excavations at the sanctuary have revealed that tiny lead figurines and miniature ceramic vessels were commonly left as offerings, and often in large numbers. More than 100,000 lead figurines depicting people, animals, and wreaths have been excavated from the site and they seem to have peaked in popularity around the second half of the 5th century BCE. Other offerings found in the sanctuary include terracotta figurines, brooches, pins, buttons, and trinkets made of bronze, ivory, gold, and silver.

-Jess Porter, JIAAW Operations and Events Coordinator

Learn more about the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia and see other examples of lead votives:

Who was Artemis-Orthia?

When most people think of ancient Greece, the Classical city of Athens usually springs to mind. Yet, Sparta in the Peloponnese, is known as the military state and is the total antithesis of the city of Athens.


VOTIVE OFFERINGS FROM THE SANCTUARY OF ARTEMIS ORTHIA, SPARTA, IN LIVERPOOL COLLECTIONS https://www. jstor .org/stable/44082091 Two museums in the city of Liverpool have material from the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, Sparta: the Garstang Museum of Archaeology in the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool, and World Museum, part of National Museums Liverpool.

Lead wreath of lotus buds | Greek, Laconian | Archaic | The Met

Small flat votive figurines of cast lead have been found in great quantities at the ancient sanctuaries of Laconia; over one hundred thousand, dating from the seventh century B.C. to the Classical period, were dedicated to the goddess Artemis Orthia in Sparta.

Lead wreath | Greek, Laconian | Archaic | The Met

Small flat votive figurines of cast lead have been found in great quantities at the ancient sanctuaries of Laconia; over one hundred thousand, dating from the seventh century B.C. to the Classical period, were dedicated to the goddess Artemis Orthia in Sparta.

Lead figure of a winged goddess, possibly Artemis Orthia | Greek, Laconian | Archaic | The Met

Small flat votive figurines of cast lead have been found in great quantities at the ancient sanctuaries of Laconia; over one hundred thousand, dating from the seventh century B.C. to the Classical period, were dedicated to the goddess Artemis Orthia in Sparta.

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).