Three oil bottles (Lekythoi)


I spent Sunday afternoon at Cardiff museum where I stumbled across these stunning earthenware vessels dating from the 5th century BCE. They each stand about 25cm high and were made in Attic, the region of Greece that surrounds Athens. The clay there contains lots of iron which explains the vibrant red colour of many ancient Greek vases. These jugs would have been used to store olive oil for religious ceremonies and funerary purposes as well as for use domestically and in baths (olive oil was used instead of soap). Something about the elegance of these forms appeals to me. The long, narrow necks taper up from almost flat shoulders and the wide feet make the cylindrical bodies look like they’re sitting on plinths. The bottles would have been thrown on a wheel low to the ground, probably in sections, with the neck thrown from separate coils of clay stuck to the shoulder. While the red and black slips would have been applied before firing, the one on the left has had a white paint (kaolin clay) applied after the firing to about 950 degrees Celsius.

I’ve been practicing throwing bottles after seeing a beautifully minimal and quiet ‘still life’ by Gwyn Hanssen Pigott at the V and A. I like the way bottle forms have a particular character. In contrast to more open froms they can look upright and proud but also shy and aloof.

Watch a lekythos being made on a kick wheel

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