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Bilingual Eye-Cup with Hermes and Nereids

An eye-cup is a specific variation of a stemmed drinking cup (kylix) that was popular in the second half of the 6th century BC. The name comes from its decoration: two large eyes are painted on the exterior of the cup. The eyes are apotropaic (they were meant to ward off evil), but they are also whimsical, because, as the cup was used, it would appear to be a mask in front of the drinkers face. Other figures often appear between the eyes on the exterior; in this case two nereids, nymphs of the sea, are depicted. Hermes, the messenger god, appears in the interior of the cup.

During the same period in the sixth century, artistic tastes began to shift from black-figure (black figures on a red ground) to red-figure painting (red figures on a black ground). This cup is identified as being “bilingual” because it represents both techniques—black-figure on the interior, red-figure on the exterior. It allows the drinker (or viewer) to compare the visual effects of the two techniques.

Greek, made in Attica (Greece); found in Vulci (Italy)
Attributed to Oltos
Bilingual Eye-Cup with Hermes and Nereids
Archaic period, ca. 520 BC
Terracotta with added color
H. 5 1/4 in. (13.3 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 80.73