Greece, Hellenistic Period, ca. late 4th to 1st century BCE. A lovely bowl in the form of a mastos or mastoid, a drinking vessel shaped like a breast, cast from 86% silver. The vessel is perfectly rounded to fit nicely in two hands, with a very slightly infolded rim, with a delicate, flat base, and a deep basin. During the Hellenistic period, wealthy Greeks used silver as a marker of wealth more commonly than they had in the past. During the 5th century, a new silver source was discovered in the Laurium Hills in Attica, which was mined extensively soon thereafter. The profits from the mines enriched several Athenian families and created a greater pool of silver with which artisans could produce fine goods like this cup. Size: 5" W x 2.7" H (12.7 cm x 6.9 cm); silver is 86%; total weight is 184.8 grams
The mastos form seems to be deliberately breast-shaped, based on archaeological findings suggesting ritual functions for these cups. Mastoid cups and ceramic votive representations of breasts have been found at sanctuaries to Diana and Hercules - two figures in classical religion associated with birth, nursing, and rearing children. Fascinatingly, some of these even have dedications made by wet nurses. Some scholars theorize that the drinking of breast milk from a vessel like this one by an elderly or deathly ill adult symbolized rebirth in the afterlife.
Provenance: ex-private Rhode Island, USA collection, acquired in London, UK, before 1989
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Intact with pretty iridescence and deposits on surface. Light surface wear including a few small abrasions and nicks commensurate with age.