My fascination with ancient Greek vases started decades ago as a frequent visitor to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Greek vases are not only beautiful forms which have been admired for over 2,500 years, they tell important stories about the construction of social and personal norms and behaviours that, arguably, are also relevant to modern life. Below are some images of vases studied in museum and other collections in Australia and overseas over the years.
Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge Massachusetts
Getty Villa, Malibu California
Apulian red-figure loutrophoros
Attributed to Painter of the Louvre
Greek (South Italian, Apulian)
C. 330 BC
According to the J. Paul Getty Museum, the image shown 'like so many Apulian vessels made for funerals, depicts a grave monument (naiskos). Within stands a young woman—presumably the deceased—holding a ball of thread, surrounded by visitors bringing gifts to the grave. Given this explicit funerary context, the depiction of Zeus and Leda on the front is more than a simple representation of the myth. Images of individuals being carried off or seduced by gods often served as consolatory metaphors for death in Apulian vase-painting, and here the depiction of Eleusis, with her association to beliefs about fertility and the afterlife, further support this reading.'
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
National Gallery of Victoria
Italy, Sicily, The Lentini Painter (associated with)
(Sicilian red-figure ware)
Hellenistic Period 350-340 BC
According to the National Gallery of Victoria, 'Sicilian vase painters favoured the portrayal of women and aspects of women's lives on their vases. The main scene on this vessel shows two women standing either side of a seated youth while the reverse scene depicts an intimate scene from daily life - two women bathing. Naked women are rarely portrayed outside myth as they are here. The louteron, or washbasin, in the scene stands on a pedestal base with fluted shaft and is similar to known marble washbasins found at Hellenistic archaeological sites. The bathing scene may indicate ritual bathing before marriage, in which case the scene on the front may also refer to marriage.'
Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney
Apulian red figure lidded pyxis
The Darius Painter
Red figure lidded pyxis featuring the head of Hephaistos. The god depicted in profile, bearded and wreathed, looking left. In front of his face is a pair of tongs, the god of metallurgy and craftsmen's tools.
Body: Interior and exterior: glazed. Underside: reserved with glazed band around inside edge of foot.
Lid: Raised ridge on upper surface: reserved. Interior: reserved.
Added Colour: White/yellow: tongs, dotted details of wreath (berries?), dotted ground line.
Museum of Fine Art, Boston Massachusetts
The Gallitin Painter
Water jar (hydria)
Late Archaic period, about 490 BC
Greece (Athens). Said to have been found at Gela, Sicily.
Front: Danae and Perseus as the chest is made.
Shoulder: Theseus capturing the Marathon bull.
Ceramic; red-figure technique.
Destined to be killed by his grandchild, Akrisios set his daughter Danae and her child Perseus adrift in a wooden chest. Perseus survived and became a hero, slaying the Gorgon Medusa as well as his grandfather.
From Museum of Fine Arts Boston MA
A private collection, Canberra Australia
Greek (Boeotian) black-figure footed kylix (drinking cup) with palmettes
Early 5th century BC (ca. 500-475 BC)
A terracotta black-figure kylix from the region of Boeotia on the northern border of the Attic peninsula. The black-figure technique was practiced well into the 5th century BC in Boeotia.
It features D-shaped handles and a low pedestal foot. Both handles and foot are covered in black slip. The centre of the vessel is unglazed with a small black dot with the circle.
The rest of the interior and the external rim are glazed in black. Below the rim is a band of black palmettes, separated by tendrils. Under the palmettes is a wavy border going all around the kylix. The motifs on these cups were drawn with diluted glaze. This type of vessel was the most common type of drinking cup in ancient Greece.
See a similar kylix in the Metropolitan Museum of Art here.
Greek (Apulian) red-figure lekanis
Late 4th century BC (ca. 325-300 BC)
On the lid, two coiffured female heads in profile between palmettes.
According to Oakley (2013, p. 21), the lekanis was ‘used by the father of the bride to send gifts to his daughter on the day after her wedding night.’ (Oakley, J.A. 2013. The Greek Vase. Art of the Storyteller. The British Museum Press, London). The Israel Museum refers to the lekanis as a lidded bowl for trickets.
See a similar lekanis in the Israel Museum here.