©J. Paul Getty Trust

Causey, Faya. Cat. 27, Roundel: Animal, Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum
Ed. Faya Causey. Los Angeles: Getty P, 2012. museumcatalogues.getty.edu. Web. 15 December 2018.

Cat. 27, Roundel: Animal

Etruscan, 700-600 B.C.
Diameter: 44–50 mm; depth: 16 mm; Weight: 6 g
Cat. 27 - Animal
700-600 B.C.
Diameter: 44–50 mm; depth: 16 mm
Weight: 6 g


The piece has a severely degraded and friable surface. A large fragment on the lower edge of the animal’s head has been reattached. The surface has altered to an opaque light-tan degradation layer that is flaked and chipped overall, and there is a corresponding loss of surface detail. In ambient light, the pendant is yellow-orange. It is not translucent, and there are no visible inclusions.


The disk-shaped amber is carved in high relief on the obverse and is plain and completely flat on the reverse. The sides are tapered inward slightly from the bottom. The animal’s head is depicted in top view, with the chin, throat, and neck ventrally flush with the base. The left flank of the body is presented in profile view, with only one each of the fore- and hindlegs shown. The large head is paddle-shaped, rather flat on top, and wide through the ear area. The lower jaw is narrow and flat, the mouth an engraved line that extends as far as the outer canthus of the eye. The neck is thin. The bulges and indentations on each side of the head at the point of its greatest width must represent the ears. There is no legible evidence of eyes. The long tongue is extended, touching the rear hoof. Flush with the curve of the pendant’s edge, the animal’s back is rounded with a slight indentation just above and before the curve of the haunch, and just behind it is the tiniest indication of a tail. The chest and abdomen areas are approximately the same size as the head. The front leg is long and thin from knee to hoof and is bent at the ankle, as in nature. The powerful back leg and haunch curve forward. The nonfigured area in the middle of the roundel is recessed below the animal. There are two sets of holes: a perforation between the rear hoof and the tongue, and a lateral perforation from one side of the animal’s neck to the other. Along the dorsal ridge, equally spaced from the neck to the ankle, are six 3.5 mm-deep, tapered stopped bores.


Unique in form and subject, the roundel is unlike any other amber object. The round, thin form, with its flat reverse, beveled edge, perforation, and stopped bores, suggests that 82.AO.161.2 was originally the lid of a small, round pyxis. If that is the case, the perforations, the through-bore in the neck area, and the hole between the foot and the tongue may have been used for attaching a lid to a container. Alternatively, the lateral bore through the top of the animal may have been drilled to allow for hanging, perhaps as an ornament. This may have been a secondary use.[1]

One of the best parallels for the roundel is not an amber object but an ivory lid from the Idaean cave, Crete, published as North Syrian by J. A. Sakellerakis.[2] This beveled-edge lid is decorated with an overall geometric pattern and has a similar system of stopped bores, or mortises, on its edge. 82.AO.161.2 might also be compared to a group of Roman-period amber pyxis (or perfume pot?) lids, three of them in the British Museum: a nonfigured lid (BM 115), turned with a series of convex and concave moldings, engraved lines, and narrow fillets (very close in size to 82.AO.161.2),[3] and two slightly larger figured lids, one of a sleeping swan with putti on his back (BM 117), and the other, a satyr face (BM 118).[4]

The placing of an animal, resting or in movement, within a circular format is age-old. A contorted animal within a tondo is a distinct subset of the schema.[5] As John Boardman notes, compositions with contorted animals, whose form is characterized by the dislocation of the legs or another portion of the body, imply movement and allow the circular field to be filled more symmetrically.[6] Even though the contortion in 82.AO.161.2 only extends to the twisting of the animal’s head into top view and the body and legs into profile, the composition still calls to mind the whirling compositions of Cretan seal stones, which

express the old Minoan feeling for torsion and for spreading designs which own no top or bottom or sides. But these contorted animals are not simple essays in the grotesque as they are often described, but the artist’s rendering of a novel but natural viewpoint, top three-quarter of a reclining animal with his legs before him, the hindquarters twisted to one side.[7]

A group of stone seals from the Greek islands, dating to the second half of the seventh century B.C., appear to be the only comparable post–Bronze Age Mediterranean objects decorated with the “old Minoan” type of contorted animals. Boardman considers a group from Melos to be dependent on actual Bronze Age seals found on the island, noting they “are of an importance and interest far beyond their intrinsic merit, because they show us how artists could be influenced by the arts and artifacts of a past civilization, otherwise remembered only by the poets.”[8]

It may be that 82.AO.161.2 is a comparable seventh-century response—although there is no Bronze Age object with a comparable representation of a quadruped. The tongue extension, too, is unusual. Does the animal lick its hind leg, or is the tongue extended in exertion?[9]

The condition of the amber and the schematic depiction of the animal do not allow for a sure classification of the quadruped. However, the salient physiognomic characteristics, and the position of the tongue, lead me to think that it is a fawn. This identity is posited despite the lack of a close comparison and despite some resemblance to a number of seventh-century ivory and amber dogs.[10] However, the feet of 82.AO.161.2 are entirely different from the wide, multitoed feet of these dogs: they are tiny and undifferentiated.

An isolated fawn is an infrequent subject in ancient art, uncommon as the subject of a pendant, and exceptional in amber.[11] The morphological characteristics of the animal depicted in 82.AO.161.2 compare well with those of a number of Greek Late Geometric fawns, does, or groups of a doe and her suckling fawn. Two bronze statuettes and a pair of bronze amphora handles assure the identity of the amber animal. The bronze of a standing fawn on a rectangular base in the Harvard collections has a similarly paddle-shaped head and nubs of ears set far back on the head.[12] A standing fawn in the Menil Collection, Houston, which has a shorter, blunter head and huge ears and a dappled coat suggested by tiny concentric marks, is another schematic representation.[13] More naturalistic are the early-fifth-century pairs of fawns (deer?) of two nearly identical Etruscan (Vulcian?) bronze amphora handles, one in Boston and the other in a private collection.[14] On each handle, at the base, squats a syrinx-playing satyr. The connection of a satyr playing panpipes and sleeping fawns may be relevant for the amber roundel.

The subject of an animated fawn in amber, especially if it were an ornament, calls to mind the most famous brooch of ancient literature, a daidalon, the cunningly fashioned gold pin worn by the disguised Odysseus:

Godlike Odysseus wore a purple cloak of wool, double thick; but on it was fashioned a pin of gold with double clasps, with a daidalon in front: a hound was holding in its forepaws a dappled fawn, preying on it while it struggled. All were marveling at it how though they were [of] gold, the one preyed on the fawn throttling it, but the other struggled with its feet as it tried to flee. (Odyssey 19.225–31)

Because 82.AO.161.2 may have been an ornament, a rare image of a figure wearing a fawn pendant should be recalled: this is the fawn’s head worn by the bronze youth in the Guglielmi Collection of the Vatican.[15]

The only other amber fawn known to me is in the center of a large pendant in London (British Museum 35), a representation of Bacchic revelers.[16] From between the two dancers, leaps up a fawn, a scene from the Dionysian thiasos.[17] The fawns and satyr of the Etruscan bronze amphora handles link the vessel, wine, and Dionysos. The fawn of 82.AO.161.2 may have been intended to refer to a nature divinity other than Dionysos. In the Geometric period in Greece, deer (and fawns) are associated with the Olympians Hera, Athena, and Apollo. In Archaic and Classical Greece, deer and fawns are most commonly associated with the children of Leto, although they are important in depictions of Dionysos and Herakles and hunting generally. There appears to have been a special association of deer with weddings and cultic activity in Attica.[18] Fawns are held in the arms of many Archaic terracotta images of Artemis or her votaries, and images of fawns are found in sanctuaries of Artemis.[19]

Not only did young girls imitate she-bears for Artemis at the Attic site of Brauron, in Thessaly, girls performed a ritual in which they played the part of fawns. Both rituals were considered preparatory for pregnancy and childbirth.[20] By the end of the sixth century B.C., the fawn is pictured on Attic vases as a love gift between older and younger men, a custom that introduces Aphrodite into the picture.[21]

Whether lid or pendant, dog or deer, the ultimate use of 82.AO.161.2 was funerary. The animated creature embodied in the amber tondo, eternally circling in a whirling composition, a design without beginning or end, might signify the cycle of life. Here, the idea of regeneration would be perfectly synthesized in material, subject, and form.


  1. Theoretically, a filament strung through the through-bore in the neck area would cause the pendant to hang perpendicular to the ground, with the animal head downward. When suspended from both perforations, the animal would have hung with head upward, as if trussed for carrying.

  2. J. A. Sakellerakis, “The Idean Cave Ivories,” in Fitton 1992, p. 114, pl. 8.

  3. Strong 1966, p. 93, no. 115, pl. XLI.

  4. Strong 1966, p. 94, nos. 117–18, pls. XLII–XLIII. Might the dormant swan be a direct connection to the Ligurian prince Cygnus, who mourned Phaethon?

  5. For an illuminating study of whirling animals in early Etruscan art, see L. Donati, “Rappresentazioni etrusche della capra e del cervo di tipo ‘sciita,’” in Staccioli et al. 1991, pp. 919–38.

  6. Boardman 1967, pp. 33–34.

  7. Boardman 2001, p. 25; and Boardman 1967, p. 105.

  8. Boardman 1967, p. 105.

  9. If the animal of 82.AO.161.2 is a running dog whose tongue is extended, the subject finds many comparisons in ancient art from the Bronze Age onward. The running dog may specifically refer to the hunt. If the animal is licking its hind foot, this action may have been considered a medico-magical technique, as it was in Mesopotamia and Egypt. As Ritner 1993, p. 93, notes, “The magical transfer of health or blessing by saliva reflects such naturally observable phenomena as the licking of wounds. As a magical technique, licking represents a ritualized extension of such instinctive acts.” Licking could be equated with a solar blessing and solar “licking” with the rays of the early dawn, as Ritner 1993, p. 94, points out. For licking imagery in Mesopotamian magic, Ritner refers to J. and A. Westenholz, “Help for Rejected Suitors: The Old Akkadian Love Incantation MAD V 8,” Orientalia 46 (1977): 215 (“Then the ewe licked [literally ‘took good care of’] her lamb”). The composition might also be compared to the motif of a trussed ibex licking its hind foot on Egyptian toilet articles in the shape of ibexes.

  10. These include the single dog from Tomb VI at Satricum (see Waarsenburg 1995, passim and pp. 452–53), and three from Narce (a pair from the Monte Cerreto necropolis, Tomb 103, and a singleton from the Pizzo Piede necropolis; for references, see Negroni Catacchio 1999, p. 283, n. 16. Three other unpublished dogs that also have collars are Louvre Bj 2124–2126. Bj 2124 has large circular inlays; Bj 2125 is plain; and Bj 2126 is complete and retains fragments of a gold collar. These dogs are all close in style and conception and are very like the ivory dogs from Cameiros, also noted by Waarsenburg 1995, p. 452 (citing D. G. Hogarth, Excavations at Ephesus: The Archaic Artemisia of Ephesus (London, 1908), pl. 30. The Italian amber dogs are from the same family as the confronted pairs embellishing identical ivory roundels from the Tomb of the Ivories at Marsiliana d’Albegna in Grosseto; see M. Benzi, “Gli avori della Marsiliana d’Albegna,” Atti dell’Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rendiconti 21 (1966): 253–92. The importance of the dog in early Etruria is indicated by the trios of dogs on the ritual tripod-basins from the Barberini and Bernardini (Praeneste) tombs. However, if 82.AO.161.2 does represent a dog, the iconography would match well with the roundel’s material, since the dog is associated with female goddesses, including Hekate, Artemis, and Eileithyia; see Waarsenburg 1995, pp. 452–53, nn. 1268–73. Waarsenburg underlines the importance of the dog in Italy, indicating key comparanda in art, and shows that it “played a key role in religious and magical-superstitious beliefs. Popular beliefs connected the dog with ghosts, death, fertility, and childbirth.… As was expressly declared by Pliny NH.39.58, and evidenced by the nature of the mentioned rites, the dog’s sacral association was very old … and the meaning of the rites related to dogs was not understood anymore, not even by the priest performing them.” The origin of the amber dog must lie not in Egypt but in the ancient Near East. The early Italian amber and ivory dogs are probably associated with healing and specific goddesses. As Black and Green 1992, p. 71, summarize: “The sitting dog first occurs as a divine symbol in the Old Babylonian Period and continues through to the Neo-Babylonian. Inscriptions on kudurrus identify it as the symbol of Gula, goddess of healing.… King Nebuchadnezzar II records the placing of statuettes of gold, silver and bronze dogs as deposits in the gates of Gula’s temple at Babylon.… In the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Periods, the dog, sitting and standing, was also used as a magically protective figure, not attached to any individual deity.” On dogs as large-scale talismans in the ancient world, see Faraone 1992. See also Waarsenburg 1995, n. 1099, for a list of relevant examples.

  11. Although it represents a deer instead of a fawn, the unique amber seal from the Vetulonian Tomb of the Trident should be noted; see Massaro 1943, pl. XXVI, 1ab.

  12. Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, David M. Robinson Fund 1966.108: Langdon 1993, pp. 21–67, no. 86.

  13. Boeotian, Late Geometric bronze fawn, formerly in the collections of Captain E.G. Spencer-Churchill and George Ortiz: Langdon 1993, pp. 21–45, no. 85.

  14. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, H. L. Pierce Fund 99.464, E. P. Warren Collection: Comstock and Vermeule 1971, pp. 360–61, no. 507 (with reference to the related handle in a Haverford, Pennsylvania, private collection, includes bibl.).

  15. J. D. Beazley and F. Magi, La raccolta Guglielmi nel Museo Gregoriano Etrusco (Vatican City, 1939), vol. 2, pls. 47–49 (cited by Brown 1960, p. 106).

  16. Strong 1966, pp. 61–62, no. 35, pl. XV.

  17. As is noted in the introduction, many other pre-Roman ambers from southern Italy, especially those of fifth-century date, are also carved with Dionysian subjects, such as satyrs, vintagers, and maenads. Roman amber objects—rings, perfume containers, boxes, small figures, or small figural groups—are often carved with Dionysian subjects. All of these survived because they were ultimately grave furnishings. On Roman amber pyxides (or perfume pots?), Dionysian themes are the most common of subjects. There are many reasons for the tie between amber and Dionysos, among them amber’s age-old association with fecundity, regeneration, and healing, its role in averting danger, its chthonic importance, and its winelike optical properties. An Etruscan stone sarcophagus lid of an older woman who is joined by a fawn suggests the presence of Dionysos.

  18. See S. Klinger, “An Attic Black-Figure Pyxis in Athens and Some Observations on Deer Escorting Chariots,” AA (2003): 23–44 (with earlier bibl., including S. Klinger, “A Terracotta Statuette of Artemis with a Deer at the Israel Museum,” Israel Exploration Journal 51 [2001]: 208–24). See also Y. Morizot, “Autour d’un char d’Artemis,” in Agathos daimon, ed. P. Linant de Bellefonds (Paris, 2000), pp. 383–91; and Bevan 1986, pp. 389–93, where she records the deer remains found in sanctuaries of Artemis.

  19. Ibid.

  20. Cole 1998, p. 33, cites inscriptions from Demetrias (Pagasoi) in Thessaly and three from near Larisa of women who had served Artemis or “played the fawn” for Artemis; Barringer 2001, p. 246, n. 110, cites P. Clement on the cult of Artemis Pagasitis in Thessaly, in which young girls of marriageable age were identified with deer rather than bears, as they were at Brauron (P. Clement, “New Evidence for the Iphigeneia Legend,” ArchCl 3 [1934]: 393–409).

    Scanlon 2002 (see cat. no. 4, n. 15) discusses girls’ running in the Brauronia and the Munichia, concluding that the race was a chase based on the analogy of the hunt. See also C. A. Faraone, “Playing the Bear and Fawn for Artemis: Female Initiation or Substitute Sacrifice?” in Initiation in Ancient Greek Rituals and Narratives: New Critical Perspectives, eds. D. Dodds and C. A. Faraone (London, 2003).

  21. The fawn’s vulnerability (and corresponding need for protection) may have been inherent in the image. For the fawn as a love gift, see Barringer 2001, esp. pp. 88–98. She emphasizes that ancient Greek authors use the hunted fawn as a metaphor for the pursued eromenos in the amatory activity of an erastes and shows how the fawn is also a metaphor for unwitting prey in contexts expressive of betrayal and entrapment (pp. 54–55).

Cat. 27, Roundel: Animal

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. Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles: Getty P, 2012. museumcatalogues.getty.edu. Web. 15 Dec. 2018.


. In Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum, last modified August 1, 2012, accessed 15 Dec. 2018. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2012. museumcatalogues.getty.edu/amber/.

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