A lekythos (plural lekythoi) is a type of Greek pottery used for storing oil (Greek λήκυθος), especially olive oil. It has a narrow body and one handle attached to the neck of the vessel.
The lekythos was used for anointing dead bodies of unmarried men and many lekythoi are found in tombs. The images on lekythoi were often depictions of daily activities or rituals. Because they are so often used in funerary situations, they may also depict funerary rites, a scene of loss, or a sense of departure as a form of funerary art. These drawings are usually outline drawings that are quite expressionless and somber in appearance. The decoration of these ceramic vessels consists of a dull red and black paint. These colors may have been derived from the Bronze Age, but were not used until 530 BC in Athens. Many artists of these vessels attempted to add more color to the figures, but later abandoned the idea, which provides more of a contrast. These vessels were very popular during the 5th century BC, however there are many that have been found dating all the way back to 700 BC.
Lekythoi can be divided into five types:
- the standard or cylindrical lekythos, which measures between 30 and 50 cm though there are much larger lekythoi, up to 1 m, which may have been used to replace funerary stele,
- the Deianeria lekythos which originates from Corinth, this form has an oval profile and a round shoulder and is generally of a small size (20 cm), it was produced from the beginning of the black figure period until the late 6th century,
- the secondary or shoulder lekythos, a variation on the standard type produced from the mid 5th century on, most are decorated with the white ground technique and measure around 20 cm,
- the squat lekythos, usually less than 20 cm in height with a rounded belly and a flat base,
- the acorn lekythos, a rarer form, which has an oval profile and a net of points at the base.
See also