Pictorial Style vase decorated with sphinxes and griffins

Mycenaean, 1300-1200 BC
From Tomb 48, Enkomi, Cyprus

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. Mythological creatures, such as griffins and sphinxes on this vessel, were relatively rare.

Large 'Pictorial Style' vessels - mainly bowls and kraters - were exported to the east Greek islands and to Cyprus, where they were particularly popular. They presumably had a domestic use - perhaps to contain foodstuffs or wine - but were often later placed in graves.

On one side of this vase a pair of sphinxes are depicted flanking a stylized tree in an heraldic manner. The sphinxes are winged and wear elaborate plumed headdresses. On the other side of the vase are griffins, one of which is pulling a chariot with a standing charioteer and passenger. Sphinxes, with lions' bodies and human heads, and griffins, with lions' bodies and birds' heads, are often shown accompanying a deity in Minoan and Mycenaean art. They may also have specific associations with death and burial, suggesting the possibility at least that this vase was made not for domestic use but for the tomb.

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More information


E. Vermeule and V. Karageorghis, Mycenaean pictorial vase paint (Cambridge, Mass.; London, Harvard University Press, 1982)

R.A. Higgins, Minoan and Mycenean art, new revised edition (London, Thames & Hudson, 1997)


Height: 24.000 cm
Diameter: 26.000 cm

Museum number

GR 1897.4-1.927 (Vases C 397)


Miss E.T. Turner Bequest excavations


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