Polychrome terra cotta vase
58 x 37 x 22 cm
Date of entry at UNESCO
Country of origin Romania
Donating country Romania
© Photo : UNESCO/D. Roger
All rights reserved

This terracotta vase belonging to objects of cult or everyday use, comes from the "Cucuteni" culture. The Cucuteni-Trypollian civilization (between 4500 and 2850 BC) was the last great Chalcolithic civilization of Europe; it spread from south-eastern Transylvania to Ukraine (current-day Romania).The ceramics, many of which remain in quite a good state of conservation, are what there is of most representative of this civilization. They may be linked to Asian and southern Mediterranean polychrome pieces.

Different methods of making, firing and decorating the vases were used according to their function. The Trypillians, like most Neolithic and Chalcolithic communities of northern Europe, lived off of their agriculture and livestock; the large ceramics were therefore used for transport and storage of water, grain and other foodstuffs. Certain forms were more common, such as the bi-conical jars (whose shape evokes two cones joined together) destined for everyday use and comprising grips (protrusions found on the belly and used as handles), of which the object at UNESCO is an example. Domestic crockery, which is of smaller and more simplified shapes, presents less refined decoration and was crafted in less pure clay. Another type of small pottery was used as a lamp.

Around 3500 B.C., pottery underwent a revolution with the appearance of the wheel in the Fertile Crescent. This principle based on mechanical rotation allowed for the creation of regular, circular shapes. The thinness of the belly of this present ceramic certifies the use of this new tool, distinct from the more rudimentary and heavy methods, such as shaping a ball of clay by hand, working from inside-out,or coiling, where lumps of clay are superimposed and joined together. Before being fired at temperatures reaching 1200°C, the surface of the pottery is worked. During the first phase of development of the Cucuteni-Trypillian civilization (phase A, 4500-3900 BC), the vases were adorned with incised and fluted decorations. The decoration quickly became more sophisticated thanks to the use of color applied with a brush; these were initially white monochrome, before becoming bicolor, and finally tricolor (white, red and black) as is the case with this object.

The "Cucutenian" iconography has been governed by a generally symmetrical layout, but this was neither systematic nor characteristic of this culture. Indeed, certain potters deliberately chose to break the monotony of a symmetrical composition so as to favor a more liberal and lively layout with non-canonical motifs. Designs are here arranged in a balanced manner which covers all of the belly yet leaves the surface of the base and neck empty.Such works demonstrate a gradual shift towards a genuine “horror vacui” concentrated on the richly decorated belly, outlined by two painted lines. The harmony of the colors, the elegant spirals and combination of wavy, undulating lines and geometric patterns inherent to all primitive farming or herding civilizations, give this work all the singularity of an advanced civilization.

One should note that Cucuteni potters rarely represented, even in a simplistic way, animals and people. It is no coincidence that these representations were reserved for creation of mother-deities out of clay, bone or stone.

There is no doubt that the Cucuteni-Trypillian civilization, because of its technological advancement, was part of an archaeological and cultural area which spread beyond the boundaries of current day Romania; it presented the characteristics of an already complex society (production of surplus crops, large village settlements, specialized craft of great technical and artistic quality).


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