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Updated on August 23, 2010

Vases are decorative vessels of various shapes and materials, generally with one or more handles and variously embellished and ornamented by means of relief work, incising, pigments or otherwise, and used for many purposes. The vase form usually consists of the following parts or members: rim, neck, shoulder, body or belly, stem and foot, any part of which, however, may be absent. Attachments to vases are handles and covers. Vases without feet are known as apode vases. Vase body forms are: spherical, cylindrical, oviform, pear-shaped (piriform), hemispherical, etc. Vases used by the ancients as receptacles for human ashes when the bodies of the dead were disposed of by cremation and known generally as "incinerary vases" are usually classified as urns. The ancient Egyptians used a peculiar form of vases in their funeral ritual; they are known as canopic vases because manufactured at Canopus (now Aboukir). They are found composed of clay, alabaster, limestone, etc.

The early ones had flat lids (5th and 6th dynasties), but later the lids assumed the form of human and animal heads. These canopic vases are in sets of four and are dedicated to the Four Children of the god Horus, namely, Tuamut (jackal-headed) ; Qebhsennuf (hawk-headed) ; Mestha (man-headed); Harpe (dog-headed). They were placed at the four corners of the sarcophagus and protected the viscera of the embalmed apportioned as follows: Heart and lungs; liver and gall; stomach ; intestines, dedicated respectively to the aboye deities. The Etruscans adopted these canopic vases but attempted to fashion the lids as a likeness of the deceased. The Greeks and Romans dedicated certain fancifully-made vases to the gods in their temples- these are known as ex voto vases.

he ancient Greeks and Romans made drinking vases out of rock crystal and other semiprecious stones which they termed diatreta because the outside ornament was pierced and reticulated, in order, it is said, to enable the drinker to handle a cool outer surface while the contents were hot. Very interesting examples of such are extant. Greatly admired by the Romans were the murrhine vases for which they paid their weight in gold; they were so-called from the substance of which they were made (an Oriental precious mineral termed murra) and of which we have a very indistinct knowledge. Nero paid for his cup of murra, with a handle, over $50,000.

A nourishing industry in vase production was carried on by the Romans about the 1st century A.D. at Arretium (present Arrezzo) ; these Arretine clay vases with their red varnish found much appreciation in their day. But the most wonderful vases dating from classical times in our possession are, probably, the Sarfcartni-glass vase (see portland vase) with its variegated layers beautifully worked into cameo carving; the vases in the excavated silver ''treasure of Hildesheim" and the "treasure of Bernay" (see silver-ware) with their beautifully executed repousse ornament; the Orsini coupe, etc. In the catacombs of the early Christian era are found small glass vases containing a red sediment, which analysis proves to be blood, and canonically pronounced by the Roman Church to be that of the early Christian martyrs in whose tombs they have been found. They are known as sanguinolentez.

From the 16th century we come across beautifully turned and decorated vases of rock crystal; noted Italian artists doing such work are Valerio Vicentino, Jacopo de Trezzo and the Misseronis. Vying in renown for vase making with the classic Greeks were the Chinese with their fictile vases. Their forms are equally numerous, chiefly rectangular, octagonal, hexagonal, cylindrical, and those known to the auctioneer as single, double and treble gourd shape, beaker form, baluster form, lance shape, gallipot form. The inverted-pear form was a favorite with the Celestials. Lovely vase forms as well as odd were produced in bronze by the Chinese; many decorated beautifully with cloisonne enamel, etc., are of very distant date and fetch great prices. Other wonderful vase makers of the Orient are the Indians and Persians with their slender, long-necked bottle forms done in lovely intricate arabesque damascening in silver, gold, etc. Coming back to Europe we find fictile vases of artistic form and decoration of great originality in the earthenware of the Moors of Spain, the most noted being the great lustred "Alham-bra" vase with its quaint flat wing handles and decoration in Arab script and painted polychrome enamel. Other quaint vase forms are found in the German Siegburg (16th century) stoneware, such as the Ringkriige (annular vases) with the open centre leaving only a circle of hollow pottery to serve as a body; the Eulen (candelabra vases) utilizing the arms and mouth for candle sockets.

Coming to the 18th century we find true originality and oddity in the Sevres vaisseau a mat (masted vessel) a vase consisting of a conventionalized hull, mast and rigging. Vases in precious metals entering into the ecclesiastical service of the altar are the ciborium and the ostensorium. (See ecclesiastical art). Perhaps the strangest use to which vases have been put is found in the "acoustic" vases found in the walls of the old Roman theatres and public halls, which are supposed to give the room better acoustic (or hearing) value.


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      Justin Drew Bieber 

      7 years ago

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