Askos

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An askos with a globular body, a flat base and a straight neck ending in a slightly everted lip. A flat handle in the form of a strap runs from the body to the base of the neck. Three small platforms, which would have supported decorative appliqués or statuettes, rise from the upper area of the body. Two splendid masks of the mythical monster Medusa, or gorgoneion, are to be seen, one on either side of the vessel. The Hellenic prototype tried to soften the grotesque features of the creature. However these are still present to some degree with the serpents wound in the hair and the wings emerging from the head. The Medusa was a female monster belonging to the underworld and to Greco-Roman mythology. She could turn anyone who looked directly into her eyes to stone. She was beheaded by Perseus, who thereafter used her head as a weapon until he handed it over to the goddess Athena so that she could place it on her shield. It also became a symbol of protection of the peoples and armies under the protection of this goddess. This type of recipient has been given the name askos, as is ancient Greek this word refers to vessels made from an animal skin which was used to hold wine. The body is usual flat, although there are also bulbous prototypes with a pouring spout and a large handle. According to archaeologists, these vases were used as oil containers for filling lamps. However, the more decorated models would have lost this function and would simply have a decorative function. The globular askois were especially popular during what is known as the Daunia culture, which developed in northern Apulia (Puglia, in the south of Italy) between the 9th and the 2nd centuries BC. This culture had certain linguistic and cultural affinities with the their neighbours in Illyria and, as it was one of the zones in Italy nearest to Greece, it is considered to have been considerably influenced by Hellenic techniques. The city of Canusium (Canosa) in the 4th century BC was where a type of pottery was produced where decoration took precedence over form: the vases were usually globular and decorated extensively with appliqués and pottery figurines made from moulds. These, in turn, were painted polychrome over a white slip in bright shades (blue, red, pink, black) of soluble colour applied after the firing of the pottery. For this reason in many cases the colouring has been lost over time. This decoration with colour was not regulated in any way, but was improvised by the artists, with the result that the effect was quite spectacular. These vases were primarily for funerary use, as can be perceived from the predominantly apotropaic iconography: gorgoneion, monsters, centaurs, anguipeds, winged horses, erotes and nikai/victories. The figurine of greater size on the handle may possibly represent the soul of the deceased, who would be making offerings to facilitate his or her journey to the Other World. BIBLIOGRAPHY: - BURN, L., HIGGINS, R., WALTERS, HB. , BAILEY, DM. Catalogue of Terracottas in the British Museum. 1903. - COOK, R.M. Greek Painted Pottery. Psy. Press. 1997. p. 199. - HURSCHMANN, R. “Canosiner Vasen”, Der Neue Pauly, 2. 1997. pp. 965 y ss. - SWADDLING, J. Italian Iron Age artefacts in the British Museum. 1986. p. 215.

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