Height: 6.500 cm
Diameter: 7.500 cm
Gift of Professor John Ruskin; Funded by Sir Alfred Biliotti
GR 1872.3-15.136 (Vases A 846)
Room 12b: Greece: Mycenaeans
Ialysos cup with swans and fishes
Mycenaean, 1350-1300 BC
From Tomb 38, Ialysos (modern Triánda), Rhodes, Aegean Sea
Pottery cup decorated with swans, fishes and sacred horns
Mycenaean 'Pictorial Style' vases were produced between about 1400 and 1150 BC, mainly in the Argolid (the area round Mycenae that was the heartland of Mycenaean culture). Chariot scenes, birds, bulls and fish were favourite subjects. They were painted in a lively style in red or red-brown paint on a buff background.
Large 'Pictorial Style' vessels - mainly bowls and kraters - were exported to the east Greek islands and to Cyprus, where they were particularly popular. This cup, from a Mycenaean tomb on the island of Rhodes, is unusual for its small size. The decoration is interesting, though, because it seams to show a Mycenaean vase-painter's view of the realms of sea and sky. Below the central encircling band fish swim, while above it are birds.
Amongst the birds are stylized bull's horns. These were a sacred symbol in Minoan Crete, where bulls were clearly important in a religious context. The motif was adopted by the Mycenaeans of the Greek mainland, whose culture was much influenced by the older Cretan civilisation.
The cup was placed in a tomb, and while it may have had earlier use the religious imagery perhaps shows that it was made specifically for this purpose.
E. Vermeule and V. Karageorghis, Mycenaean pictorial vase paint (Cambridge, Mass.; London, Harvard University Press, 1982)
D. Williams, Greek vases (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)