St. Louis WU
Class G: London Class of Head Vases
Early Fifth Century B.C.
Lent by the Washington University Gallery of Art; gift of Messers.
Brookings and Parsons, donated after the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair (WU 3284).
h. 17.5 cm; d. of mouth
12.5 cm. Mended and restored, small repairs. Portions of cup and right side of
head restored. Surface worn and chipped in several places, particularly on the
This vase is formed of
a wheel-made lip attached to a mold-formed lower portion in the shape of the
head of a black female. She is depicted with her mouth partially open and her
hair, wrapped in a sakkos, protrudes in a roll over her forehead. The whole vase
is covered with a shiny black glaze of good quality, with the exception of the
lips which are reserved. Incision was used to indicate the pupils of the eyes,
the ears, and, by parallel undulating lines, the forehead hair. Added white:
now mostly faded or partially missing, was
used for the whites of the eyes, the outline of the sakkos behind the forehead
hair and the teeth. The lip is encircled by a white wreath made of long leaves
(perhaps a myrtle wreath shown tied in front). Added red:
preserved only in traces on the tongue between the teeth,
and probably applied in the nostrils as well. Although no traces survive, the
lips may also have been red.
Attic plastic head-vases of the sixth and fifth centuries have been
classified by Beazley on the basis of their molded portions. This example
belongs to the London Class, named after a kantharos in London in the form of
white women's heads. The class also includes oinochoai and mugs. Dionysos is a
common subject, as well as both black and white women, sometimes arranged back
to back (janiform).
The significance of the subjects chosen by the artist for a head-vase
is still unclear despite numerous suggestions. The religious significance of the
vessel type is now generally de-emphasized and the popularity of Dionysos and
his female followers is seen as appropriate rather than cultic. There were
relatively few head-vases and they were no doubt novelty and luxury items,
probably of some snob value. The use of the head of a black for the body of many
of these plastic vessels may be have no more significance than that of a topical
reference, as souvenir-mugs in the form of human faces have today. There is no
doubt, however, that, as Beazley pointed out, the nature of the Attic black
glaze was particularly suited to the rendering of this subject.
Head-vases represent a marriage of the technique of the potter to
that of the clay modeller, or coroplast. Although apparently never a truly
successful union, it was tried out in this form throughout history in many
; Beardsley 1929, 28, no. 48
; J. D. Beazley, "Charinos," JHS 49 (1929) 49, no. 11
; Mylonas 1940, 202, fig. 18
; ARV2, 1534, no. 19
; K. Herbert & S. Symeonoglou, Ancient Collections in Washington University
(St. Louis 1973) 24, fig. 31
William Biers, University of Missouri-Columbia