Rhyton in the Shape of a Fawn's Head

  • the region of the Black Sea
  • 4th Century B.C.
  • Gilded silver
  • H-22.5 D-14 W-14.8
Catalogue Entry(Bac#019)

4th century B.C.
Gilded silver
H. 22.5 cm
This vessel was beaten from a single sheet of metal to form the deer head, and then the ears and handle were attached to that form. Thin hairs and eyelashes are carved on the face, and black pigment made in the niello technique of silver surface was then applied to the grooves of these incised lines. The eyelashes are the most visibly extant example of this technique. Recent research shows that the nostrils on similar vessels were also blackened through this technique. The eyes would have been inlaid with some material, but that inlaid material is now missing. The center of the forehead is decorated with a gilt curl of hair, and small horns protrude from a bit above and on either side of the curl. On the top of the head an ornament that is curled in the middle seems to link the two ears in rope-like fashion, and this too has been gilded. A palmetto design decorates the connection between vessel and handle. Wine would have been poured into the opening of this vessel, and then wine would have been drunk from directly from a small hole opened in the deer's mouth.
Hercules wrapped in a lion skin is shown on the side of the mouth of the vessel, along with an image of a centaur wrapped in a deerskin. These figures were beaten out of the sheet metal and then gilded. Hercules has his club placed next to his side and is seated, and is taking off short boots. The boots show that Hercules is on a trip, and the myth of Pholus of the centaurs entertaining Hercules enroute to his labor of capturing a live boar from Mt. Erymanthus. The centaur on Hercules's right is wielding a tree branch, suggesting an image of Pholus entertaining Hercules, while the centaur on the left holds a club with long spikes, showing a centaur that is not as gentle as Pholus. This story is closely linked to wine, and hence is a suitable tale for the decoration of this rhyton.
The proportions of the images, the expression of Hercules's feet, and the depiction of the short boots which look like basketball shoes, all reveal a sensibility like that found in the workshops of eastern Greece, such as those in Thrace. Some examples of this type of vessel are said to have been made by these eastern Greeks for the Scythians.