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Bowl with Lioness

Late Byzantine
13th century - 14th century
12 x 21 cm (4 3/4 x 8 1/4 in.)

Not on view


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Animals were by far the most popular décor on dinnerware in the middle and late Byzantine periods, partly out of fascination and partly because wild beasts such as the lion still lurked in known regions of the Empire. As a symbol, as in modern times, the lion was a formidable and noble beast associated with King David, imperial hunt imagery, and the hero Digenes Akrites.

This technique is called “sgraffito,” or “scratched,” for the fine lines the maker engraved into the surface before glazing. The bowl was made from dark red-yellow clay, and then, when leather-hard, painted, usually just on the interior, but in this case inside and out with a fine fluid white clay called slip. Lines scratched by the potter created both a surface relief and a darker color, as they revealed the darker clay beneath. After the first firing, the potters applied colored glazes, typically olive green (copper oxide) and yellow-brown (iron oxide) selectively, and then dipped the whole in a transparent glaze which, because of its lead content, caused the colors to run in the second firing. The result is an exciting, if sometimes surprising, mixture of distinct linear designs and informal splashes of color. Bowls were fired in stacks, separated from each other by small three-footed stilts. In this case, the points of contact with the stilts is clear from three gaps in the glaze, on the animal’s right shoulder, left hind thigh, and back.

- J. Hanson

D. T. Rice, "Late Byzantine Pottery at Dumbarton Oaks," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 20 (1966): 207-19, esp. 216-217, 219, no. 11, fig. 13.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 89, no. 309, pl. 309.

Acquisition History
Said to be from Mytilene.

Purchased from George Zacos by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Sept. 1958.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.