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Iowa City 1971.273

Corinthian Alabastron Early Corinthian, ca. 610-600 B.C.

Lent by the University of Iowa Museum of Art; Museum purchase (1971.273). Ex collection James Finn, British Consul General to Jersusalem, 1845-1863.

The Vase: h. 11.7 cm.; d. of mouth 4.1 cm; w. 5.8 cm. Complete. Small crack to side of handle perforation; thin vertical crack below handle; some minor surface abrasion. Areas of added red, especially on the swan, enhanced in modern times. Standard Corinthian alabastron shape for the seventh century B.C., with broad, flat mouth, small, deep opening and a perforated-pinched handle. Typical ornaments painted in dark glaze on the mouth, neck and base. A zone of 15 solid rays radiate from the mouth; a row of 21 irregularly-spaced dots decorate the rim.. Six long rays enhance the neck with one, larger than the others, on the handle. Twelve rays, similar to those on the mouth, radiate from a small depression at the base. (These ornaments do not appear in the accompanying drawing.) Seven large and nine small incised rosettes occupy spaces between the figures.

Decoration: On the front of the alabastron, a large figure representing Typhon faces right. His hair and beard are long and wavy; he wears a small cap and a short-sleeved chiton decorated with borders of wavy lines at the waist and shoulder. His colorful sickle-shaped wings unfurl from his waist and back; a snaky tail emanates from the waist, curves to form a circle below, then spreads upward under his right arm and trails behind. The left arm and hand are held parallel to the waist; the right arm drops at an angle. On the back, under the handle, a large swan walks to the right. Incised lines indicate the beak, head and plumage. Added red: Typhon's neck, central portion of his snaky tail, his chiton, and alternate feathers of each wing. Most of the swan's body and alternate feathers on wing tip and tail.

Alabastra are among the most popular Corinthian vase shapes. The Iowa example is distinguished by its subject, not its shape. Hesiod (Hes. Th. 820 ff.) provides the earliest account of Zeus's struggle against the monstrous Typhoeus or Typhon, the offspring of Earth and Tartaros. The vivid literary descriptions of this bizarre hybrid would tax any vase painter's skill and, indeed, most showed a tamed, simplified creature compared to the prodigy imagined by the poets. A Chalcidian hydria by the Inscription Painter (Munich 596: Arias & Hirmer 1960, pl. xxv, pp. 55-56; AJA 38 (1934) 132, fig. 3) is one of the few vases where Zeus actually confronts Typhon. Typically, the latter combines human and animal elements. He has a man's torso, arms and bearded head (albeit with pointed ears) but the wings of a large bird. Two snake tails emanate from his waist. He is not to be confused with fish-tailed monsters such as Nereus: Athens, NM 12587, column krater by Sophilos, AthMitt 62 (1937) pl. 50,2; Okeanos; London dinos, London 1971.11-1.1, by Sophilos, Brommer 1978b, pl. 15.1; or Triton: E. Buschor, "Meermänner" SBMun [1941:2] 1ff.

The Typhon of Corinthian pottery is similar to that described above, except that he has normal human ears and only one snake-tail. The wings are almost always sickle-shaped. He never holds attributes (cf. London 88.2-8.1, an East Greek situla where Typhon brandishes snakes: CVA, GB 13, British Museum 8, pl. 1, 3). The motif itself appears in the Transitional Period but is most common in the Early Corinthian period among artists of the Delos Group (see Benson 1953, 29, 38). On alabastra, Typhon may appear with a lion (Louvre CA 62; CVA, France 9, Louvre 6, pl. 3, 5-6), a falcon (J. Dörig, Art Antique [Geneva 1975] no. 136), a dolphin (Brussels R 224: CVA, Belgium 1, Brussels 1, pl. 2, 11) or a swan (Würzburg 94: Langlotz 1932, pl. 10). The adaptability of Corinthian motives is evident when vase painters press into service Typhon's sickle-shaped wings and decorative chiton for figures of the Potnia Theron (e.g., Louvre E 588: CVA, France 14, Louvre 9, pl. 32, 8) and Boreas (e.g., Louvre E 586: CVA, France 14, Louvre 9, pl. 31, 13).

Perhaps the most refined depiction of Typhon is on an alabastron in the Scheurleer Museum (Scheurleer APS 715: CVA, Netherlands 1, The Hague 1, pl. 4, 2). Here the elegantly coifed and elaborately dressed creature is more dapper than frightening. The Iowa alabastron, like most, shows a less complex rendition, especially in the simple treatment of incised detail on the chiton. The most unusual feature of the depiction is the manner in which the tail curls into a circle; all other examples known to me are S or U-shaped.


Richard Daniel DePuma, University of Iowa

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    • Hesiod, Theogony, 820
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