A Roman opaque white mould-blown 'Ajax' glass amphoriskos

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Lot 97
A Roman opaque white mould-blown 'Ajax' glass amphoriskos

Sold for £ 39,600 (US$ 54,324) inc. premium


29 Apr 2009, 11:00 BST

London, New Bond Street

A Roman opaque white mould-blown 'Ajax' glass amphoriskos
Mid 1st Century A.D.
With rounded rim and everted mouth, the neck with traces of a pale aquamarine 'floating' handle remaining, the body blown in a two part mould, the mould mark showing down each side and across the flattened base, mythological scenes depicted in relief on both sides, side (a) showing a ship with a high prow and stern, the central mast with furled sails to reveal the latticed rigging descending from the top spar to the hull from which six oars project, in the stern to the right the diminutive figure of a helmsman and in the prow, to the left, a larger standing figure wearing a helmet and holding a shield identified as Ajax, by a vertical retrograde inscription to his left, ‘AIAC’, with waves and fishes below the ship; side (b) showing Ajax seated on a rock beneath an olive tree with a wineskin hanging from the branches, the figure naked except for a cloak, leaning forward to slaughter a sheep, 3¼in (8.3cm) high, both handles missing, rim chipped


  • Provenance:
    From a private UK collection, acquired prior to 1968, when it passed by descent from father to son.

    The scenes on this amphoriskos were originally thought to represent two episodes from the story of Jason and the Argonauts and their voyage to bring back the Golden Fleece, cf. S.B. Matheson, Ancient Glass in the Yale University of Art Gallery (New Haven 1980), pp.49-50, no.127. More recent research by Özet (1993), however, has identified the man in the prow of the boat on side (a) as Ajax from a clear reading of the inscription to the right of the figure, which is discernible on this piece, on the Constable Maxwell example and on the one in The Corning Museum of Glass, cf. D.B. Whitehouse, Roman Glass in the Corning Museum of Glass, Vol.II, (Corning 2001), pp.49-51, no.523. Ajax, the son of Telamon of Salamis is shown here leading the island’s contingent of twelve ships that sailed to Troy. After the death of Achilles, according to one version, Ajax went mad after being refused the former’s weapons as his share of the spoils in favour of Odysseus. During the night he slaughtered the flocks that were to feed the Greeks (the scene of side (b)) and then killed himself in the morning when he realized the consequences of his actions.

    This amphoriskos is more crisply moulded than the parallel example sold at Bonhams, Highly Important Antiquities, 14 July 2004, lot 13, Ex Constable-Maxwell Collection and Ex British Rail Pension Fund Collection. There are eight published examples of this type of amphoriskoi, six of which were made in opaque white glass, the other two were made in transparent purple, although one of these has opaque white handles (cf. Whitehouse 2001, p.51 for a full list with further bibliographical details). Only three have known find-places: an opaque white example in the National Museum, Damascus from Tell Nabi-Mind, cf. S. & A. Abdul-Hak, Catalogue illustré du Départment des Antiquitiés Greco-Romaines au Museé de Damas (Damascus 1951), p.113; a purple example with white handles in the Museo Vetrario, Murano that was found in the necropolis at Dalmatia, cf. G.L. Ravagnan, Vetri antichi del Museuo Vetrario di Murano, Corpus delle collezioni archeologiche del vetro nel Veneto 1 (Venice 1994), p.34, no.28, and a transparent purple amphoriskos in the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, Bodrum, Turkey, that was discovered at Statronikeia, A. Özet, An amphoriskos in the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, Journal of Glass Studies 35 (Corning 1993), 142-5.

    Glasses from this mould also belong to a group of ten different mould-blown vessels that have been attributed to a specific workshop, known as the ‘Workshop of the Floating Handle’ because of the distinctive way in which the handle was applied to the rim and drawn downwards towards the shoulder but not re-attached to the vessel wall, cf. E. M. Stern, Roman mould-blown Glass: The First through the Sixth Centuries (Toledo 1995), pp.88-90 for a full discussion. Stylistic similarities and technical details suggest that the workshops of Ennion, Aristeas, and the 'Workshop of the Floating Handle' were connected but the exact nature is not clear. The workshops of the first two produced only tablewares, while the third produced only bottles to hold scented oils. This has led Stern to suggest that this workshop concentrated on the production of bottles with the same function and that the source producing the scented oil was probably located nearby (ibid. pp.89-90).
A Roman opaque white mould-blown 'Ajax' glass amphoriskos
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