This very rare and fine alabastron takes the shape of a leg protected by a greave. The greave is outlined in black slip and tapers towards the ankle area. The foot emerges beneath with carefully incised details for the sandal and toes, the details of the sandal and lines of the greave are added in brown slip. On the reverse there is an incised and painted figure of a bird.
American private collection, acquired from the above in 1991
Oils and balms made with botanicals were intended to heal the body as much as the soul; their first use was as a conduit to communicate with the divine. Precious oils were often gifted to the gods as poured offerings and as votives left in temples and at sanctuary sites. Such vessels were often shaped to represent parts of the body or objects from nature, and are known as ‘plastic’ vases and were especially popular in the Greek world during the middle of the 7th century BC to the mid 6th century BC.
A terracotta vase in the shape of a greaved leg would have almost certainly been filled with scented and precious oil. Perhaps it was left as a gift to the gods in thanks, or the oil it housed was specifically for use on the aching muscles of warriors and athletes.
Although Rhodes was the leading manufacturer of plastic vases during this period, the creamy clay body suggests this vase may have been produced in Corinth. For another, identified as being from Rhodes cf. the Museu da Farmácia, Portugal, inv. no. 10892. For further discussion of plastic leg vases in particular see, W.R. Biers, ‘A Group of Leg Vases’, American Journal of Archaeology, vol.84, no. 4, 1980, p. 522-524.