Art History Lab

Minoan - Harvester Vase ca. 1500 B.C.E.

Brian Wildeman

a Kamares ware jug featuring bold geometric patternsa photo of the Harvester Vase in its stand

Harvester Vase ca. 1500 B.C.E.

Carved in two pieces from a stone called steatite, the Harvester Vase is not actually a vase, but a ritual vessel for dispensing libations. It has a small hole at its pointy bottom that would be kept closed by hand when not dispensing liquid. Other vessels like this one have been discovered, but none have as fine of carving on them as this one does. There are frescos in the Palace of Knossos depicting people walking in procession and using both hands to carry similar looking vessels. This type of vessel, that must be emptied before it can be set down is called a rhyton. Some rhytons are used in religious rituals to dispense libations, and others are used in drinking rituals to produce inebriation. The Harvester Vase is believed to be a religious rhyton. Carved in bas relief on the top half of the vase just under its neck are men marching and singing and carrying what look like pitchforks. A particular man wearing a cap and shaking what is thought to be a rattle leads the others in song through what is probably a religious ritual of some kind. The relief carving is especially fine and ahead of its time in terms of depicting anatomy, emotion and the illusion of spatial depth. Overlapping each other, and diminishing in size and detail from front to back, the harvesters comprise a more complex and convincing figure ground relationship than any artwork prior to this. The small figures also have detailed anatomy and their faces seem to express joy or excitement as they sing and march.