The Fertility Vase

February 14, 2013 / Art & Archaeology
Piombino. Tuscany
SAFI266aThis 5th century BC Greek vase, known as The Fertility Vase is unique with its suggestive figures of Pan or Dionysius with his satyrs hard at work with their farm implements digging the earth, rewarded by the Goddess rising, the female figure with arms uplifted. It has been suggested that the Goddess might be Persephone, Pandora or Aphrodite. A vase of celebration, the Bacchic figures seem to be dancing as the female figure emerges from the tilled earth. In pre-Christian times it was Pan leading with his panpipes who celebrated and rejoiced the harvest and the fruitful life.

The cratere, or kylix, is a classic bowl used to hold wine during symposia. The wine was mixed with water, spices and honey and even a bit of cheese and a sieve was used to filter the drink. The Dionysian theme is particularly relevant to Greek dramatic stories since Dionysius is the god of love and wine and sacred to the festivals of Greek theatre. He was the God of inspiration thus well loved by poets.

SAFI266The vase has been donated to the Archaological Museum at Piombino by Barbara Golini, heir of the Desideri – DeStefano Family which has itself deep roots in the history of Populonia and its fertile surroundings.
Perhaps it is uncannily appropriate that the fertility vase should be in this museum as Populonia was sacred in Etruscan times to Fufluna, the Etruscan equivalent to Bacchus or Dionysius.

What is particularly intriguing about this unusual vase is the mystery of who the Goddess might be? Persephone or Pandora or Aphrodite were young gracious Goddesses yet the figure on this vase seems a more matronly figure. Might it be Demeter? Perhaps you Italian Notebook readers might have an idea? Send your suggestions!

Many thanks to Barbara Golini and to Cinzia Murolo curator of the Archaeological Museum in Piominbino for sharing their time and to Giulio Cianchini for photographing the vase.




Pat Carney

by Pat Carney

Pat Carney-Ceccarelli ( happily divides her time between Campiglia Marittima and Cambridge, UK.

7 Responses to “The Fertility Vase”

  1. Brava Pat – Bella,

    It could only be you writing this ‘Note’ – I sensed you with every word carefully/lovingly placed on paper / spoken.

    Aptly presented on this day of Love flooding the Ethers!
    Blessings upon all the hearts of humanity throughout time…

  2. Grazie, Pat…so interesting! The Getty Museum in Malibu has an extensive collection of these gorgeous vases but provide little in the way of the “story” of each which is what makes them even more fascinating.

  3. Goodness, Pat, a real story about these vases.Thanks for getting us the “skinny” on these beautiful pieces of antiquity.

  4. Not to seem deprecating in any way, I have to say that matronly is right. She is built like my Italian grandmother. Perhaps this fertility goddess has “roots” in the fertility goddesses/earth mothers of the distant past whose statuettes are found throughout Europe…all bosom and belly.

  5. Pat Carney Ceccarelli
    Pat Carney Ceccarelli

    I loved doing this post- it was such a great adventure- with Carolina Megale of Archeodig first suggesting it, then meeting with Barbara Golini and her husband, then off to the museum to meet Cinzia Murolo, curator of the Archaeological Museum in Piombino with Giulio Cianchini who did the photograph, then off to the villa Giulia in Rome to chat with Nadia and then back in Cambridge to the Fitzwilliam Museum. Would love to hear your ideas about who (or what) is emerging on the Vase. thanks to italiannotebook for encouraging these journeys!

  6. I feel that the figure is of Demeter, the harvest goddess growing up from the soil with arms outstretched like wheat and corn growing in the fields. Demeter, mother of Persephone who is sent to the underworld for half the year, remains linked to her daughter with with her roots/legs in the earth, but her head and upper body on and above it. She is an earthly fertility goddess waiting in this case to be harvested by her satyrs.

    Looking at a different image of Demeter on wikipedia I can see a resemblance to the lady on the vase, her hair and stature. “”

  7. Pat Carney Ceccarelli
    Pat Carney Ceccarelli

    Great research Amy!! Quite right, I looked on your wikipedia link and sure enough Demeter is a well built Mother Goddess!! Many thanks.
    Greetings to Jill in Hawaii- thank you for your words and for the reminder that italiannotebook published the Fertility Vase on Valentines’s Day! Our Editor is wise.
    I like to think that the emergence of life giving harvests from the well-tilled earth might be for our food and general nourishment as well as for our hopes and projects.


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