Greeking out with the Pyxis

Greeking out with the Pyxis


Since last October, I have been working off and on with the conservation of an earthenware vessel called a pyxis. The Foundation’s pyxis was made in Greece and dates to c. 750 BCE. I’m happy to say that the project is almost complete. 

When I started, the pyxis was in many pieces; previous restorations were failing, and it was difficult to reconcile the fragments in front of me with an archival photo showing it on exhibit in Room 17 in Merion. It was displayed there until 1951, and will be returned to Room 17 at the Parkway when the treatment is finished.

Room 17
Angelo Pinto/Photograph Collection, Barnes Foundation Archives, The Barnes Foundation.

A treatment like this gives conservators a chance to see detail that helps us understand how objects were made. For instance, the circular ridges on the inside of the box confirm that it was made using a potter’s wheel. The horses, though, were made by hand, as fingerprint ridges and whorls on their bellies show.

fingerprint marks

What I enjoy most about conservation projects like this is bringing objects back to a semblance of their original state, piece by piece. The last stage of reassembly on this project involves reattaching the four horses to the lid. When the horses were in separate fragments, the pyxis was an interesting object, but perhaps not remarkable. With the horses in place, the pyxis has the presence it likely had when it was first made. It’s very satisfying to see it come back to life. 

before and after

finished pyxis

As you can see, the project is almost complete, and I look forward to returning the pyxis to Room 17 for the first time in over 60 years. 

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