Pottery jugs from Cyprus dating to the period 700–600 BC are typically ovoid in shape with a pouring lip and the body decorated with a single motif. This vessel, however, is unusual in form and also in the quality and subject of its painted decoration. It was found in 1884 near Larnaca, the site of the ancient city of Kition, by the German archaeologist Max Ohnefalsch-Richter, and sold to the Ashmolean in 1885.
The elaborate decoration in black and red covers the entire body of the vessel and repeats a number of motifs in a careful, symmetrical arrangement. On the font of the jar, opposite the handle, is a highly stylised tree with curling branches and palmettes flanked by stags and crested birds (perhaps ibis). A simpler version of this scene, without the birds, is repeated on either side. Many of these motifs, especially the stylised tree, are known from the art of the ancient Near East and their appearance on this jug reflects the close trading and diplomatic relationships between Cyprus and the civilisations of Anatolia, the eastern Mediterranean, Syria and Mesopotamia.
It is possible that that the jug was made in Kition. The settlement had been founded by people from the city of Tyre on the coast of modern Lebanon – a region known to the ancient Greeks as Phoenicia. Like much of its imagery, the barrel-shaped body and trumpet-shaped neck and mouth of the jar were inspired by Phoenician pottery and artistic traditions.
Near Larnaca, Cyprus
c. 700–600 BC
Height 28.5 cm
Bought in Larnaca by subscription, 1885