Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Beak-Spouted Pitcher
Work Type
9th-8th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Asia, Iran
Iron Age II-III
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
18.5 x 33 x 18 cm (7 5/16 x 13 x 7 1/16 in.)
Private collection.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Anonymous Gift
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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The vessel has a shallow foot with flat base. A slight edge marks the transition of shoulder to neck, which opens in a flaring mouth. A flat strap handle connects lip and shoulder. Opposite the handle is a spout terminating in a long, trough-shaped and tapering beak (the very tip appears to be missing). It is linked to the vessel’s lip by a small bridge of clay. The bird-like appearance of the vessel is reinforced by a crop on the “neck” of the spout, below the “beak.” Two raised points towards the rear of the vessel, one on each side of the handle, were perhaps inspired by bird anatomy or by the bosses covering rivets on metal vessels of similar shape.

The body of the vessel is fired buff to light reddish brown. Its surface is polished and painted with dark reddish-brown decoration. The most elaborate patterns occur at the transition to the spout, where a row of elongated triangles is reminiscent of a bird’s breast feathers. Other motifs include checkerboard and crosshatching. A large diamond filled with checkerboard decorates each side of the vessel, elongated triangles run along the beak-shaped spout, and wavy bands encircle the vessel’s mouth. The handle bears zigzag decoration with interspersed dots, the handle base is framed by volutes, and there is a diamond filled with dotted crosshatching below. On the vessel's interior, the lip is lined with dots, which also appear on the exterior at the transition from shoulder to neck and above the foot. The unpolished underside of the foot shows a sloppily painted cross with a dot in each quadrant, as well as smudged paint.

The vessel’s mouth and spout are reassembled from a number of fragments; some 40% of the lip are restored. The painted decoration is abraded where the vessel’s circumference is the largest.
Beak-spouted vessels of clay or bronze were a regular occurrence in Iron Age Iran. Their shape tends to be assimilated to that of a bird by the addition of a crop at the neck and often also eyes. Buff examples with reddish-brown painted decoration comprising geometric motifs as well as animal figures are known from "Cemetery B" at Tepe Sialk, near Kashan on the Iranian plateau (for a recent publication discussing this site, see
Exhibition History

32Q: 3440 Middle East, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 07/31/2018

Animal-Shaped Vessels from the Ancient World: Feasting with Gods, Heroes, and Kings, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/07/2018 - 01/06/2019

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at