This very small vase, only 7 cm high, is the Macmillan Aryballos. It was made around 630 BC. Its name is from its former owner, Malcolm Macmillan, who gave it to the British Museum in 1889, where it can still be seen today. An aryballos is a small vase made to contain perfume or oil, mostly used by athletes after the palaestra.
The top part of the aryballos takes the shape of a lion’s head. The open mouth, with painted teeth and a red tongue, serves as the lip of the vase. On the shoulder, there is a frieze of lotus flowers and palmettes. Then, there are three levels adorned with figures. The bottom one depicts passing animals, where hares are chased by a dog. On the next level, we can see a parade of horsemen (or a horse race). The top level shows seventeen hoplites. They are in diverse positions but they are all wearing a helmet, a spear, and an emblazoned shield. The base of the aryballos employs the motif of wolf’s teeth. This vase was influenced by Oriental styles (friezes, wolf’s teeth), but it also show a style proper to Greece (hoplites). The way the wolf’s teeth and friezes are set together is typical of Protocorinthian workshops. The Macmillan aryballos is attributed to the Chigi Painter.
© Trustees of the British Museum
During this period, the most famous workshops were in Corinth, and the knowledge of Corinthian production helped us date the different archaeological levels of the early archaic period because Corinthian vases were exported. These vases were known for their small dimensions and the characteristic beige clay (Athens had a orange-red clay). Corinth was the first place to adopt curvy motifs and animal style. They used black-figure technique (figures in black, incised details, added red and white) which can be seen on this vase. The production period for the Protocorinthian pottery is from 725 BC to 625 BC. This period declined because workshops produced too much, with a corresponding decline in artistic quality. This decline occurred when Athens started to use black-figures for mythological scenes. Corinth tried to copy Athens, in particular by adding a reddish coat on their pottery, pretending to have the same clay. However, this wasn’t enough to bring back success to Corinth and Athens became ascendant in pottery.