Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Handle Attachment of a Hydria (water jar): Female Head and Gorgon Mask
Work Type
mid 6th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Laconia
Archaic period
Persistent Link
Level 3, Room 3400, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Ancient Greece in Black and Orange
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
10.9 x 8.2 x 3.8 cm (4 5/16 x 3 1/4 x 1 1/2 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Bronze:
Cu, 85.15; Sn, 11.03; Pb, 2.93; Zn, 0.02; Fe, 0.42; Ni, 0.07; Ag, 0.01; Sb, 0.13; As, 0.18; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.061; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001

J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina is green with areas of red and dark brown. There is a deep crack at the gorgon head’s hair at the proper right side, but the section is stable. Several holes (1 to 2 mm) in the gorgon face are casting flaws. Chisel cleaning of corrosion product has left small marks on most of the front surfaces that are visible under magnification. The handle above the kore head is broken off and lost.

The plate is unfinished on the back and appears to have been made by applying the wax model to an open mold. The handle portion, mostly lost, is finished on all sides, so the open mold for the plate must have had a connection to a closed mold for the handle above. The bottom of the handle at the back and the break in the handle at the top reveal that the handle was hollow, and a gray core with white inclusions is exposed. The back of the plate has crude, 5-mm wide chisel marks made in the back of the wax model to control and decrease the thickness of the bronze casting. Much of the detail in the relief decoration of the faces must have involved fine cold working with tracer tools, but the chisel cleaning of the corrosion products has obscured this work.

Henry Lie (submitted 2012)

[B. Zoumboulakis, Geneva, (by 1962)], sold; to Frederick M. Watkins, (by 1962), gift; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1962.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Frederick M. Watkins
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
The Harvard Art Museums encourage the use of images found on this website for personal, noncommercial use, including educational and scholarly purposes. To request a higher resolution file of this image, please submit an online request.

Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
This handle fragment originally belonged to a large and elaborately decorated bronze hydria; only a wide-eyed female head placed atop a horned gorgon is preserved. The handle is broken off horizontally just above the female head. The back of the attachment is concave, and the base of the handle is recessed.

The woman’s face is oval, dominated by large eyes framed by curving eyelids and larger eyebrows. Her small nose sits high between the eyes. Her mouth curves downward farther at the proper right side than the proper left. Three curving waves of hair, arranged symmetrically on her forehead, project in relief from beneath her hair band. At the base of her neck, the upper hem of a garment is incised with tiny vertical grooves.

The massive squarish Gorgon face has huge oval eyes, framed by relief eyelids and larger ridge-like eyebrows. A triangular nose with parallel, incised wrinkles extends upward to the bridge of the nose. The grinning mouth displays well-modeled teeth, a protruding tongue, and overlapping pairs of canines. Above each ear, a stumpy horn projects diagonally outward on either side of a row of spirals representing hair or a snake. A large relief spiral or volute, the upper end of which is smooth, projects on the proper left side of the gorgoneion. There is no corresponding spiral on the proper right side. A close parallel is the female head at the base of the vertical handle of a fragmentary bronze hydria in Mainz, identified by its inscription as a dedication by Telesstas (1). A closely similar vertical handle with a kore protome is in Olympia (2). The gorgoneion belongs to a group of horned Gorgons (3), but the juxtaposition of a female bust and a gorgoneion is unique. The curling spiral at one side suggests that the handle was originally intended to be cast with two reclining animals, perhaps rams, projecting outward to serve as side brackets with which to secure the handle to the vessel, in a fashion similar to an intact hydria handle at Harvard (4). The unfinished state of the outer side of the handle and the break at the top suggest that the casting of this handle was unsuccessful.

The attribution of this remarkable fragment to a Lakonian workshop seems certain. Its date was originally placed around 550 BCE, despite the almost “Daedalic”-looking curls of the woman’s head. However, C. Stibbe has recently pushed its date back to the first quarter of the sixth century BCE.


1. W. Gauer, Die Bronzegefässe von Olympia: Mit Ausnahme der geometrischen Dreifüsse und der Kessel des orientalisierenden Stils, Olympische Forschungen 20 (Berlin, 1991) 99-103; C. M. Stibbe, The Sons of Hephaistos: Aspects of the Archaic Greek Bronze Industry (Rome, 2000) 76 nn. 83-86; id., “Archaic Bronze Hydriai,” Bulletin antieke beschaving: Annual Papers on Classical Archaeology 67 (1992): 1-62, esp. 12-15, figs. 17-18; id., “The Goddess at the Handle: A Survey of Laconian Bronze Hydriae,” Bulletin antieke beschaving. Annual Papers on Classical Archaeology 79 (2004): 1-40; and G. Hafner, “Die Hydria des Telestas,” in Charites: Studien zur Altertumswissenshaft, ed. K. Schauenburg (Bonn, 1957) 119-26, esp. 120-26, pl. 17.1.

2. Gauer 1991 (supra 1) 258, no. HY12, pl. 86.1 (inv. no. B175).

3. Identified as Lakonian; see T. G. Karagiorga, “Λακoνικά γoργóνεια” [Lakonika Gorgoneia], Aρχαιoλoγικóν Δελτίoν = Archaiologikon Deltion 19 (1964): 116-22 [in Greek]. For additional examples, see Stibbe 2000 (supra 1) 72-76, with comparanda in bronze and ceramic; and C. Rolley, ed., La tombe princière de Vix (Paris, 2003) 1: 134 and 136, fig. 92.1.

4. See 1987.131; D. G. Mitten and S. F. Doeringer, Master Bronzes from the Classical World, exh. cat., The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University; City Art Museum of St. Louis; The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Mainz, 1967) 75, no. 70.

David G. Mitten

Publication History

"Accessions of American and Canadian Museums", Art Quarterly (Summer 1963), Vol. 26, No. 2, 249-277, p. 249, repr. p. 251.

David Gordon Mitten, "A Gorgon at the Fogg", Fogg Art Museum Acquisitions, 1962-1963 (1964), 11-16.

Dr. Dietrich von Bothmer, Review of Erika Diehl, 'The Hydria: Formgeschichte und Verwendung im Kult Altertums', Gnomon (1965), Vol. 37, 599-608, p. 600.

Hans Jucker, "Bronzehenkel und Bronzehydria in Pesaro", Studia Oliveriana (1966), Vol. 13-14, 1-128, p. 47, 111-12, pl. 37.

David Gordon Mitten and Suzannah F. Doeringer, Master Bronzes from the Classical World, exh. cat., Verlag Philipp von Zabern (Mainz am Rhein, Germany, 1967), p. 76, no. 71.

The Frederick M. Watkins Collection, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1973), p. 16-17, no. 2.

Claude Rolley, "Deux gorgons, deux problems: A propos de deux bronzes grecs du Louvre", La revue du Louvre et des Musees de France (1981), Vol. 30, No. 5/6, 323-330, p. 326, fig. 9; 330.

David Gordon Mitten and Amy Brauer, Dialogue with Antiquity, The Curatorial Achievement of George M. A. Hanfmann, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1982), p. 13, no. 33.

Claude Rolley, Les vases de bronze de l'archaïsme récent en Grande-Grèce, Centre Jean Bérard (Naples, 1982), p. 39, 41-42, 44-45, 63, pl. 31, fig. 147.

Marlene Herfort-Koch, Archaische Bronzeplastik Lakoniens, Archäologisches Seminar der Universität (Münster, 1986), p. 19, no. 72.b.

Werner Gauer, Die Bronzegefässe von Olympia, Walter de Gruyter and Co. (Berlin, 1991), p. 100.

Conrad M. Stibbe, "Archaic Bronze Hydriai", Bulletin Antieke Beschaving (1992), Vol. 67, 1-62, p. 29 and 56, no. G10.

Conrad M. Stibbe, "Between Babyka and Knakion", Bulletin Antieke Beschaving (1994), Vol. 69, 63-102, p. 93, fig. 15.

Conrad M. Stibbe, "Lakonische Bronzene Hopliten: Die erste Generation", Antike Kunst (1995), Vol. 38, 68-80, p. 73.

Conrad M. Stibbe, The Sons of Hephaistos: Aspects of the Archaic Greek Bronze Industry, L'Erma di Bretschneider (Rome, 2000), p. 72, no. 4; 74.

Claude Rolley, "Le Cratère", La Tombe Princière de Vix, Picard (Paris, 2003), Vol. 1, 77-143, p. 134, fig. 92, no. 1; 136.

Conrad M. Stibbe, "The Goddess at the Handle: A Survey of Laconian Bronze Hydriae", Bulletin Antieke Beschaving (2004), Vol. 79, 1-40, p. 23, 34, no. 39.

Conrad M. Stibbe, Agalmata: Studien zur griechisch-archaischen Bronzekunst, Peeters (Dudley, MA, 2006), p. 60-61, 236, 246, no. 39

Amy Sowder, "Greek Bronze Hydriai" (2009), Emory University, (Ph.D. diss.), p. 497, no. 7.16.

Exhibition History

Dialogue with Antiquity: The Curatorial Achievement of George M.A. Hanfmann, Fogg Art Museum, 05/07/1982 - 06/26/1982

Master Bronzes from the Classical World, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 12/04/1967 - 01/23/1968; City Art Museum of St. Louis, St. Louis, 03/01/1968 - 04/13/1968; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 05/08/1968 - 06/30/1968

The Frederick M. Watkins Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 01/31/1973 - 03/14/1973

32Q: 3400 Greek, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

Ancient Bronzes

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