Spouted Vessel

  • Northern or northeastern Iran
  • Late 2nd - early 1st millennium B.C.
  • Ceramic
  • H-16.2 D-21 W-52
Catalogue Entry

This spouted bowl has a high, rounded shoulder, a wide mouth with a narrow, sharply everted rim, and a flat base. A long beak-spout with a cylindrical section juts horizontally from the shoulder and tapers to a pointed tip. Two thick round bands encircle the spout, the second band marking the beginning of the long open trough of the spout. A rounded rib-like flange tapers from the neck to the base opposite the spout. The fine dense ceramic fabric has a dark burnished surface, giving the vessel a metallic appearance. The influence of metal vessels on ceramics (skeuomorphism) is also seen in the thin rim of the neck, the sharp angle at which it joins the body, and the round bands or ribs near the base of the spout. It is intact except for oval break, 9 cm x 6 cm, on one side of bowl.

The vessel's general fabric, proportions, and burnished surface indicate production in northern or northeastern Iran, a region where the visual dialogue between ceramic and metal vessels was pronounced,1 in the late second or early first millennium B.C.,2 The horizontal beak-spout known from excavations at Ghalekuti in the Caspian region3 appears to antedate the curving and often bridged beak-spout that has been well documented in the Hasanlu area.4 But it is not clear whether this applies to other areas.
The distinctive bands on the lower portion of the spout and the flange on the opposite side directly link the Shumei vessel to a small group of elegant burnished ceramics whose spouts display the same mimicry of metalwork joining techniques.5 Unfortunately none has an archaeological context. Fragments of related spouts excavated at Shah Tepe in the northeast6 indicate production of vessels with this form in the Gurgan region. More archaeologically documented examples are needed to confirm this tentative possibility.

The function of these vessels, with their long fragile spouts, appears ceremonial rather than practical. Their lack of handles suggests that they were held in front of the bearer with both hands and that pouring was carefully executed. The long spout produces a showy, wide-arching stream, hinting at elaborate pouring rituals. The occurrence of these and other elaborately spouted vessels in tombs points to funerary rites involving the offering of liquids. The elegance of form and scarcity of these vessels suggest that they were produced by a master potter working for an elite clientele.

1. Kawami 1992, pp. 19-20, 23-24, 27.
2. OXTL ref. no. 581y32 indicates that the piece was last fired between 2400 and 3700 years ago.
3. Kawami 1992, p. 26, fig. 31.
4. Ibid., p. 24.
5. New York, Arthur M. Sackler Foundation no. 70.2.33; Toledo Museum of Art no. 87.200: Kawami 1992, no. 34, pp. 102-4; Amsterdam, Allard Pierson Museum, no. 9177: see Crouwel 1976, p. 36 center; Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, D.C. (LTS 1992.8.11), formerly in the collection of Joy and Frank Mount.
6. Arne 1945, pp. 222-23, 238, pls. LI.386, LX.478.