Height: 41.500 cm
Room 13: Greece 1050-520 BC
Jug with a griffin-head spout
Greek, about 675-650 BC
Made on one of the islands of the Cyclades, Aegean Sea, perhaps Paros; found on Aigina, off the south-east coast of Greece, Aegean Sea
The Griffin Jug
The potting, the modelling of the griffin's head, and the painted decoration of this vase are all of the highest quality. The body of the vase is beautifully round and taut. The open beak of the griffin draws the eye up to the spout. The painting is meticulous, the animals shown in outline with painted inner markings. Both the subjects of the panels and the pattern-work show an eastern influence.
The griffin is an imaginary beast known first in various forms in the Near East. When the Greeks adopted it they developed their own distinctive version, which had the body of a lion, the beak of an eagle, the ears of a hare and a knob or spike on the brow. Griffin heads made of bronze were set on the rims of cauldrons, while painted versions are found in both eastern and mainland Greek pottery. Like sphinxes, griffins were seen as guardians and protectors of the dead, and so were sometimes carved on tombstones. This jug may have been thought to offer protection to the person in whose tomb it was placed. Several legends evolved around griffins: in one they guarded a hoard of gold in a country far to the north, and fought off a race of one-eyed men, the Arimasps, who tried to steal it from them.
L. Burn, The British Museum book of Gre (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)
J. Boardman, Early Greek vase painting: 11t (London, Thames and Hudson, 1998)
D. Williams, Greek vases (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)