The Portland Vase, £5.00
Terracotta antefix of a Gorgon's head
Italian, about 500 BC
From Capua in Campania, Italy
Temples and some secular buildings in ancient Etruria, Campania and Latium were often heavily ornamented with painted terracotta roof decoration. Antefixes like this were placed along the eaves, masking the open ends of the curved roof tiles which alternated with flat ones. Other examples represent female heads - perhaps deities - which may have been simply decorative, as well as satyrs' heads or a horned version of Juno (Juno Sospita or Protectress).
Gorgons often appeared in ancient art to ward off evil spirits: the projecting fangs and glaring eyes reinforce the menacing gesture of the stuck-out tongue. The hair is often formed of snakes but unusually this example has a beard.
According to Greek legend, anyone who looked upon the face of the Gorgon was instantly turned to stone. There were in fact three Gorgons: Stheno, Euryale, and the most famous, Medusa, whose head Perseus chopped off and gave to the goddess Athena to set in the centre of her shield.