In form and iconography, the South Italian rhyton (drinking horn, from the ancient Greek word for “to flow”) is related to examples of rhyta in the Freer and Sackler’s Ancient Near East collections (see S1987.31). Modeled in the shape of a bull’s head, the neck of the recently acquired drinking vessel is decorated in the so-called South Italian red-figure painting technique, with the head of a female facing left. The body of the rhyton was thrown on a potter’s wheel, but the bull’s head was made from a mold. The ears and the handle were shaped by hand and attached separately. The painters then sketched the designs on the firm, semidry surface of the vase. The highly expressive painted female head on the rhyton’s neck wears a spiked stephane, a hair ribbon, and an earring and necklace, painted in white and yellow. The vessel was made in three phases in a complex firing process that involved reducing and increasing heat so the red-figure technique could be fully utilized.
Initially, similar drinking vessels were imported into South Italy from Athens, where they were produced in great quantity. Only after circa 430 BCE did a tradition of distinctive southern Italian pottery emerge. The rhyton would have been hung against a wall or placed among other vessels on a table stand. It brilliantly demonstrates how ideas, forms, and shapes circulated in the Ancient Near East and Greece between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.