FRAME|WORK: A vessel in the shape of a lion from ancient Anatolia

FRAME|WORK is a weekly blog series that highlights an artwork in the Museums' permanent collections. This week, we feature an ancient terracotta drinking vessel in the shape of a lion from Turkey, currently on view at the Legion of Honor.


Rhyton in the shape of a lion, 1860–1780 BC
Turkey, Anatolia, Kültepe
Terracotta
7 1/2 x 7 7/8 x 2 3/4 in.
Gift of the Queen of Greece through Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, 1924.15

In north Mesopotamia between about 1920 and 1850 BC, Assyrian merchants from the city of Assur on the Tigris River (today in northern Iraq) traded with a network of multicultural colonies known as karum (or markers) in central Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). The Assyrians collected tin from the mountains of Afghanistan in the east and fine textiles from Babylonia in the south. These goods were loaded onto caravans that then traveled to the karum, where they were exchanged for silver and gold, a portion of which was sent back to Assyria.

This lion-shaped terracotta vessel is highly stylized, with a tall spout on its back and pierced nostrils that serve as spouts. The rhyton (an ancient drinking vessel) comes from Kanish (now known as Kültepe in Cappadocia), then foremost among the Assyrian settlements. During this extraordinary period, unique in the history of ancient Turkey, the Anatolians produced remarkable animal-shaped vessels at a time when these trading partners exchanged not only goods but also artistic conventions.

Quench your thirst for ancient art on your next visit to this outstanding charter piece of the collection at the Legion of Honor!

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