The oldest Greek, Cretan, and Mycenaean ceramics were made on the potter’s wheel. Yet the Greek vessels differ markedly from these others in their decoration. While Cretan-Mycenaean vessels are characterized by vegetal decoration, the earliest Greek vessels are adorned with abstract ornament and, in later periods, figures. Their strict linear designs gave rise to the name “Geometric,” used since 1877 not only for the ceramics of this period but for the early Greek artistic style in other media as well – and, consequently, for the entire historical period leading up to the formation of the Archaic city-state. The painted decoration on this vase emphasizes its division into parts, including lip, neck, belly, and foot. Simple striations alternate with bands of short, quivering brushstrokes. A meander filled with hatching and a frieze of water birds, arranged in a typical row, mark the vessel’s widest point. The shoulder and neck of the vase, by contrast, are highlighted by figural painting. The shoulder contains hunt scenes with dogs, hares, and foxes. Although the drawings are schematic, they faithfully reproduce certain traits that allow an accurate identification of the animals: the fox has a bushy tail, the hares long ears, and the dogs short ears. On the front and back of the neck are rectangular spaces reminiscent of metopes, each of which contains two horses facing each other over a tripod. Filling the background are linear patterns that link these panels with the decorative system of the vase as a whole. This decoration – with its shimmering surface effect, division into registers, and reduced figural scenes featuring only a few motifs – are typical for the final phase of the Late Geometric period.
The tripod motif alludes to sanctuaries and athletic competitions. Bronze tripods up to 3.5 m tall were used in sanctuaries as instruments of cultic ritual or as votive offerings. They also served as prizes for the victors in athletic games. Horses, meanwhile, were closely connected to the world of the nobility as valuable pieces of property. Numerous votive statuettes of horses were likely dedicated in the hope that they would bring strength and wealth to the offerer.