Anyone who has glanced through a gallery of ancient Greek art will know that nude figures were a popular theme that spanned multiple fields of artistry. From statues, to paintings, to coins and pottery, the nude (or partially-nude) profiles of men and women decorated it all. Ancient potters were especially creative in adorning their works with naked figures, painting them around the outsides, and, sometimes on the insides, of their products. Depending on the clientele, these pottery artworks could be quite risqué. Eventually, ancient Greek potters decided to show their love of the human anatomy by not only painting naked figures on the surfaces of their works, but by also shaping the pottery, itself, to look like a well-loved part of the female body—the breast.
Cue the mastos. It was similar in design to a skyphos or a mastoid cup—these were all tall cups or bowls with handles that protruded outward from up near the top of the vessel. Mastoid bowls and skyphoi also had somewhat conical shapes, but these vessels ended in a pragmatic footed base, which would give it stability if placed on a table. The mastos, however, sacrificed pragmatism for artistic design. Instead of having a footed base, most mastoi had a voluptuous shape and usually was graced underneath with a pointy nipple-like end. The majority of mastoi were created in the black-figure style (popular c. 7th-6th century BCE), but some mastoi in the white-ground style (common in the 5th century BCE) have also been discovered.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Attic Greek mastos (side 1 and 2), c. 520 BCE, by the potter Psiax, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).