Skip to Content

Bowl with Griffin Attacking a Doe

Middle Byzantine
12th century
24.2 cm (9 1/2 in.)

Not on view


Additional Images
Click an image to view a larger version
Additional Image Obverse
Additional Image Reverse

There is a charm and beauty to this piece that represents a contrast with the violence of its image. A griffin—the mythological animal with the body of a lion and the wings and head of an eagle—attacks a doe. The attacker seems to have plucked its prey’s eye right out of its socket, even while the hapless doe nibbles on the end of a branch. Animal battles are popular motifs in ceramics, mosaics, textiles, metal work, carving in ivory and bone, and all the decorative arts from ancient times and into the Christian period.

We call the method of decoration “sgraffito,” or “scratched,” for the fine lines the maker engraved into the surface before glazing. The bowl was made from red-yellow clay. When leather-hard, it was painted just on the interior with a fine fluid white clay called slip. So, the lines scratched by the potter created both a surface relief and a darker color, as they revealed the darker clay beneath. A transparent glaze was applied over the design after the first firing. The losses in the glaze and slip around the edges, as well as the solid white accretions on the left edge, may be the result of the bowl’s survival in a marine context, as it is said to have been found in the Sea of Marmora.

- J. Hanson

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 88, no. 306.

Survival of the Gods: Classical Mythology in Medieval Art: An Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, David Winton Bell Gallery, February 28-March 29, 1987, (Providence, R.I., 1987), 160, no. 45.

H. C. Evans and W. D. Wixom, The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 11-July 6, 1997, (New York, 1997), 263, no. 185.

M. Tranovich, Melisende of Jerusalem: The World of a Forgotten Crusader Queen (London, 2011), 87, fig. 3.14.

Exhibition History
Survival of the Gods, Brown University, February - March 1987.

The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, March 11 - July 6, 1997, no. 185.

Acquisition History
Said to have been found in the Sea of Marmara (Turkey).

Purchased from J.J. Klejman, New York by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, September, 1966.

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