Wit & Wine: A New Look at Ancient Iranian Ceramics

February 23, 2002–May 19, 2002

Head and Neck of Bull, 1000–600 BC, Height, 12.875 in.
Globular Jar, 1000–650 BC, Height, 13.5 in.
Spouted vessel with handle and painted decoration, 800–600 BC, height, 8.5 in.
Spouted vessel in the form of a bull, 1200–800 BC, height 11.125 in.
Beaker with goats, ca. 3500 BC, Height, 6.31 in.
Boot-Shaped Drinking Cup
Stag-head Rhyton, 1000–550 BC, height, 13.25 in.
Spouted Stag Vessel, 1000–550 BC, height, 12 in.
Camel Vessel, 250 BC–AD 224, height, 8.25 in.
Twin-Spouted Vessel, 250–100 BC, height, 13.125 in.
Vessel with two human-like feet and two handles, 1000–800 BC, height, 19 in.

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Wit and Wine: A New Look at Ancient Iranian Ceramics, from the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, is the first major exhibition of ancient Iranian ceramics in over a decade. The exhibition features forty-five extraordinary pieces that illustrate the 5,000-year ceramic tradition that flourished in ancient, pre-Islamic, Iran until 100 BC.

The beautiful, technically sophisticated, and often-amusing ceramics of ancient Iran demonstrate a rich yet little known tradition comparable to pre-Columbian, Chinese and Greek achievements, establishing ancient Iranian pottery as one of the great ceramic traditions.

The jugs, jars, beakers and spouted and shaped vessels in the exhibition were used for holding, pouring and drinking liquids, especially wine. Wit and Wine explores how ancient Iranian potters made and decorated these vessels with high quality of craftsmanship and design, and often with a unique sense of humor. Many pieces are shaped like animals or are painted with animal motifs. Interpretations of wild and domesticated animals show elegant deer, powerful rams and amusing goats. Some pieces were created to serve specific functions, such as cosmetic containers, some vessels were made to look like metal, and others are purely sculptural forms.

Included in the exhibition are an extraordinary ceramic head and neck of a bull, a vessel in the form of a seated camel, a stag head rhyton (drinking horn), a vessel with a deer’s head spout, a vessel in the form of a stag, a spouted vessel in the shape of a bull, and a delightful vessel with two feet.