This Cypriot work, dating from the archaic period (6th century B.C.), is an amphora with a neck and two handles, very similar in shape to a “stamnos” (from the category of krater pottery). It would have been used for the storage or transport of merchandise, more specifically food commodities, and sealed by a stopper made of clay or a dried fig.
Thanks to the expansion of port cities, the island of Cyprus was trading with Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Crete and the Aegean as early as the Bronze Age (2000 B.C.). These exchanges intensified throughout the centuries and were founded on the diffusion of this type of pottery that would have been filled with provisions. The discovery of similar relics in Kilise Tepe (south-central Anatolia), Ras Shamra (northern Syria) and Ezbet Helmi (in the Egyptian delta), suggests a steady export of archaic Cypriot pottery to the continent. Due to its strategic position, Cyprus attracted Assyrian (709-560 B.C.), Egyptian (560-545 B.C.), and Persian conquerors for over two centuries, before being liberated by Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C. During the Archaic period, the island found itself at the meeting point of Oriental, Phoenician, Aegean, Syrian, Palestinian, as well as Egyptian cultures and techniques, through which an art specific to Cyprus would emerge. Most of the discoveries of this type of turned bi-chromatic ceramic occur in Cyprus.
Around 3500 B.C., pottery underwent a veritable revolution with the introduction of the pottery wheel, which first made its appearance in the Fertile Crescent. The wheel consisted of a disc fastened onto a pivot activated by the potter; the rotating movement allowed for the creation of regular, circular shapes. Finer household pottery, such as plates, bowls and jugs, were manufactured with the wheel, whilst the larger objects, such as kraters and amphorae, were more frequently made from a combination of mounting techniques. The finesse and regularity of the belly and linear decoration of this ceramic piece attest to the use of this new tool.
Before being fired at temperatures reaching approximately 1200 °C, a colored design was applied by brush to the pottery surface. In most cases the works are mono-or bi-chromatic, with a light background (white, black and red). Cypriot ceramic may consist of: a red pattern on a black background, a bi-chromatic pattern with black lines on a white background, a ring-shaped design on white background, a polished red done on the potter’s wheel, or a bi-chrome prepared on the wheel. The bi-chromatic style, characterized by ochre and black designs on a white background, is very well illustrated with this piece. Specialists place it in the “Free Field style”. The use of this style, originally from Phoenicia, was widespread in Cyprus and strongly popular from the Iron Age until the Archaic period (6th century B.C.), to the point of triggering mass production of nearly industrial scale of standardized amphora shapes. Potters from the Archaic period hence worked less meticulously; their designs becoming gradually homogenous and trivial in comparison to previous periods. Still, regardless of this, they participated in the development and defining of a Cypriot style.
This piece was painted with a brush that would have been held firmly by the potter while the amphora, placed on the wheel, was in rotation; this technique insured that the lines come out evenly and straight. One can observe on this amphora an alternation of red and black horizontal, parallel lines on the collar, as well as the top and bottom of the belly. In accordance with the “Free Field Style” characterized by a composition based on a central motif in black or ochre on a light background, the central section defined by the belly and the handles is decorated with black stripes; these are almost concave, perpendicular to the horizontal lines and laid out in such a way as to create a rhythmic composition.