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NCMA Explore: Bull’s Head Rhyton (NCMA Explore Resource)

Attributed to the workshop of the Darius Painter, Greek, South Italian, Apulian, Bull’s Head Rhyton, circa 340–320 bce, terracotta, red-figure with added white and yellow paint

About the Culture

Apulia is a region in southeastern Italy, located on the heel of the boot-shaped country. In 706 bce the Apulian city of Taranto was settled by Greek colonists who brought their ceramic traditions with them.

About the Object

This is a rhyton, a drinking vessel, in the shape of a bull’s head. It is decorated in the red-figure style, meaning the background is painted black while the figures and details are left in the natural red or orange color of the clay.

Look Closely

  • What do you notice about this object? Describe what you see.
  • What do you see that gives you clues to the purpose of this object? What does the shape tell you? What does the decoration tell you?

Discuss

Rhytons evolved from the ancient practice of drinking from animal horns and were used in multiple ancient cultures. They had many purposes: as part of animal sacrifice practices or symbolic animal sacrifice, funerary use, or use in social gatherings such as the symposium.

  • What symbolic meaning do you think the bull had in this culture?
  • How might the symbolic meaning of the bull change depending on how the rhyton was used?

Reflect

Researchers think this rhyton probably had a funerary purpose. The figure of the woman holding a bowl resembles those on Apulian funerary vases. There isn’t a hole in the bull’s nostril for liquid to flow through when drinking at a party. Most surviving rhyta found in Apulia come from grave sites.

  • How might this rhyton’s appearance be different if it had another purpose?
  • If you made your own rhyton, what would you use it for and how would it look? Make a sketch or write a description.

Learn more

Visit the “Learn More” sidebar to find more information about the object and culture.

Bull's Head Rhyton