Cypriot large flagon with stags.: Early Bonze Age (2450-2000 BC)
Red polished ware large flagon with round bottom and relief decoration including 4 stags - (or possibly 3 stags and a goat, seen in this photo). The deer in ancient Cyprus were fallow deer, which were a popular motif in pottery along with male goats of the Bezoar type (a kind of ibex with long, swept-back horns) and (most commonly) bulls. The erect genitals are emphasised on all three of the readable animals on this piece, in keeping with the presumed male fertility symbolism of these animals, which is similar to that in a number of cultures at the time.
The flagon is in a bad state with many breaks and crude in-filling in 2 places. Large areas of the relief modelling of the stags have broken off, leaving clear traces of where they used to be. In one place a groove has been made in the pot fabric to key-in the stag body (it continues under the still existing part, and some original clay still fills the other end). The scar, where all but the head of the third figure was, has been painted over, presumably last century. This will have to be stripped off before a museum style restoration can begin. However I am unclear how much restoration I should do since I do not want to cover up archaeological information which the Cyprus Museum might wish to pursue.
The place where a 4th animal once was can be faintly made out, but it is painted over to imitate red slip, like the body of the third stag. Almost certainly this is modern overpainting to hide how much original figuration was missing, but acetone does not touch it so it was probably done pre- the use of acrylic paints. I don't know if there is any chance it is an ancient change, to cover up a fault in making.
[I am now informed the slightly different red colour on the site of the missing stag and part stag does not come off with white spirit or acetone so must be original. If this is so was it re-fired in antiquity after a first firing caused those parts to detach? Or were those stag parts put on over the slip and somehow the slip did not come off with them? Or is there an overpainting material which does not respond to these solvents?]
Size: 52cm high
(Ex collection of David Read, bought between 1966-1969 while working as a government official in Cyprus. He explored the ancient sites and museums and got to know local collectors and historians.I have photos of the piece in his house from 1971.)
(Aquired Bonhams 28th November 2017, lot 54)