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Furniture > Terms > Decoration > Amphora


The Greek or Roman amphora vase or pottery type often used in antique neoclassical furniture such as in the designs of Thomas Hope.

Defintion of Amphora.

A jar often seen among the decorations of Roman tombs. The definition of this term given by Gerhard and his followers, is "a two-handled vase of various forms and sizes, but generally tall and full-bellied", leads to considerable confusion, as it seems to set aside the usual acceptation of the word for the long thin vase with a pointed foot, seen in the Pompeian paintings, such as the pictures 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, which was sometimes let into the floor or into a stone disk, or it might either be surrounded by a wall, or be supported by a wooden frame: although generally placed upright, instances have occurred in which these jars have been found lying on their sides.

Amphora Diagram

Neither does the usual restriction of the meaning to "a wine vase with two handles", seem to be more correct, for several of the examples, such as pictures 6, 29, 30, in the accompanying diagram, have recently been found to contain portions of bodies; while some appear to have had only one handle, if any at all.

It is not difficult to imagine that the peculiar "alabastron" form, shown in picture 16, may have been the original type of this kind of vase: it is seen at the British Museum, in the Assyrian and Egyptian collections, as well as in those allotted to the Etruscan, Greek, and Roman departments of art. Most of those represented by figures 17 to 28, are painted; picture 9 is covered with ornament, and pictures 5 and 26 are in bronze.

Amphorae, as Roman and Greek measures, contained from seven to eleven gallons; but they have been found of all sizes, one being so large as 5 feet 6 ins. in diameter, and 5 feet in height, and another holding one hundred and fifty gallons.

Although made of gold (Iliad), of onyx (Pliny), of glass (Petronius), and of stone (Odyssey), the usual material was earthenware: those of Samos and Chios were thought the finest quality. A discovery made at Salona, in 1825, proves that amphorse were used for coffins, and they are mentioned as cinerary urns by Homer (Iliad.) xxiii, 91, 92) and by Sophocles (JFK, 303).

They were used also at Rome, until the time of Vespasian, for public conveniences, for which fact the reader may consult Propertius, iv, 5; Lucretius, iv, 1023, and Macrobius, Sat., ii, 12, The name of the maker and of the place of manufacture were usually stamped upon them, and they have been found inscribed with the names of magistrates, dates, etc.

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