Ancient Greece, Hellenistic Period, ca. late 4th to 1st century BCE. A stunning bowl of a substantial size in the form of a mastos or mastoid, a drinking vessel shaped like a breast, shaped from near-pure (97%) silver. The vessel is conical in form with a rounded base, gradually expanding walls with a thin rim, a deep basin, and an incised band around the interior lip. 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: 5.75" W x 3.25" H (14.6 cm x 8.3 cm); silver quality: 97%; total weight: 256 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: private Colorado, USA collection, purchased in 2016 from C.J. Martin, London, UK; ex-London, UK collection, acquired in the 1980s
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Surfaces are professionally cleaned with bands of hairline abrasions visible across basin surfaces. The rim is slightly bent in several places, with some light indents on the body, and light encrustations scattered across exterior, otherwise intact and excellent. Great luster throughout.