Mixing bowl (calyx-krater)
Greek, South Italian
Late Classical Period
about 340–330 B.C.
Place of Manufacture: Italy, Apulia
Vase-Painting in Italy (MFA), no. 041.
Height: 63.5 cm (25 in.); diameter (rim): 58.5 (23 in.)
Medium or Technique
Ceramic, Red Figure
Greek Classical Gallery (Gallery 215C)
A: The exposure of the baby Aigisthos. The figures are arranged in two tiers; divine and semidivine figures above, mortals below. Thyestes (Greek) [inscription “THYESTES” above his head to the right], dressed in a long-sleeved tunic, a chiton cinched with a broad white belt, a chlamys pinned at the throat, and a pilos with two white dots, hands over his infant son, Aigisthos (Greek) [inscription “AIGISTHOS” above his head to the right], to a hunter to be exposed. His white staff has fallen by his legs. The baby has a red blanket, a bracelet, a string of white charms across his chest, and a fillet tying up his hair. He holds a yellow rectangular object with handle in his left hand. The huntsman wears a bordered chlamys pinned with a white brooch; his two spears stand at the left. Adrastos (Greek) [inscription “ADRASTOS” above his head to the right], king of Sikyon, stands at the center, gesturing at Thyestes, as though telling him not to hold back. He wears laced shoes and a himation and with his left hand holds a dotted scepter with a white eagle on top. His queen, Amphithea (Greek) [inscription “AMPHITHEA” above her head and to the left), comforts Pelopeia (Greek) [inscription “PELOPEIA to the right of her head], daughter of Thyestes and mother of Aigisthos, at the right. Both women wear chitons, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces. The queen has a radiate white diadem and white shoes, while Pelopeia wears a fillet, sandals, and a red belt. As is fitting, the queen’s garments are more richly embroidered. Behind Adrastos is an elaborate white (i.e., ivory) throne with a red cushion and a band of red ornament. At the right, between the king and Pelopeia, a necklace hangs from a laurel branch. At the far right, behind Amphithea, is a laurel branch.
From left to right in the register above are five divinities and personifications important to the entire saga. Artemis stands with a bow and arrows in her right hand and an arrow in her left. She wears a short chiton with a broad belt, a tunic with long, spotted sleeves, a white necklace, and a fillet that ties her hair in a chignon. A quiver hangs on her back. Facing Artemis is a little Pan, holding a raised white club in his left hand and a white shell in his right; a bow and quiver hang from the club. He has hairy goat’s legs and tall white horns that contrast with the curve of the yellow bow. Apollo is seated to left, his head turned toward the Fury standing at the right. The god holds a large white swan perched on his right thigh and a laurel branch in his left hand. Above him is a yellow sun symbol and below him is a leopard or cheetah. Apollo is wearing a wreath, high boots, and a cloak that cushions his seat and lies across his thighs. The winged Fury leans on the spear in her right hand, her legs crossed, as she looks down on the act of attempted infanticide. She wears a peplos, a broad belt with white circle, a cloak hanging over both shoulders, a tunic with long, spotted sleeves, a necklace, white fillet, embades with yellow liners, a sword and scabbard and crossed bandoleers with white spots. Yellow snakes twine about her hair. Beyond her at the right, Sikyon (Greek) [inscription “SIKYON above his head], personified by a nude youth, sits on a pair of white Doric columns and holds a scepter with a floral finial in his left hand. In the field above Sikyon and Pan are white bucrania with yellow horns. To the right of Sikyon is a yellow sun symbol. The names of Sikyon and all the figures in the lower register are clearly incised. Some of the larger white objects (the throne, Thyestes’ belt, Pan’s club) have yellow shading over the added white.
B: Five Dionysiac figures are standing or seated in two registers. Dionysos is seated at the lower center with a thyrsos in his left hand and a phiale on his outstretched right. He wears yellow shoes and a himation that has fallen about his waist. A thick, spotted, yellow fillet is braided in his hair. At the left is a maenad wearing a chiton, shoes, kekryphalos, earrings, bracelets, and necklace, and holding a thyrsos in her right hand and a wreath in her left. Her left foot rests upon a rock, before which grows a laurel bush. Next to this, by Dionysos’s legs, is a cylindrical cista with yellow-shaded stripes. At the right is a satyr with a blazing torch in his right hand and a thyrsos in his left. He wears a yellow fillet, and a fawn skin dangles from his left arm. A yellow fillet flutters from his torch. Seated above, at left, is a satyr with a yellow fillet and holding a tympanum in his right hand. He looks across at the maenad at the upper right, who holds a laurel branch in her right hand and a basket of offerings (including a tall cake) in her left. She wears a chiton, necklace, earrings, bracelets, a fillet of white beads, and shoes. Hanging fillets frame the sides of both registers and fill the center of the upper field. A white alabastron with yellow shading lies near the upper satyr. Dotted groundlines define the terrain throughout.
A wreath of laurel circles the vase below the lip. Above each handle is a large palmette. The lower frame on side A consists of alternating lotuses and palmettes above a band of dotted egg-pattern; the reverse consists of groups of maeanders to left alternating with cross-squares with small squares in each quadrant. Below the maeander band is a band of blank eggs.
The iconography of the primary scene has been explored by Emily Vermeule (PCPS 1987, pp. 124-133, 136-137, 146-148, fig. 1). The inspiration was probably a play, specifically Sophocles’ lost “Thyestes in Sikyon”. No other representation of the subject is currently known. The gods are not mere onlookers here, for Artemis seems to be instructing Pan to find a goat to suckle the baby Aigisthos, who derives his name from his goatish nurse. The Fury, according to Vermeule, “is a pictorial comment on the future of the House of Atreus if Aigisthos should survive to kill Atreus and seduce his cousin Agamemnon’s wife.” Apollo is present because it was he who told Thyestes that only a child incestuously got from his daughter could be the instrument of his revenge on his brother Atreus. The youth representing Sikyon (where Adrastos would later found the Pythian Games in Apollo’s honor) sits on columns that remind Vermeule of Pausanias’s statement that tomb monuments in Sikyon take the form of pillars and pediments (Paus. 2.7.2), a possible funerary allusion on a vase that was perhaps made to be a grave offering. A more ominous allusion may be provided by the object held by the infant Aigisthos, which Vermeule interprets as “the hilt of the famous sword Pelopeia took from Thyestes on the night of their reunion. The baby should not have it yet, but the painter signs to us that this is Thyestes’ own sword, and that it will be the true instrument of inheritance and revenge, the sword he will wear when sent by Atreus to kill his true father, the sword by which Thyestes will recognize him as his son, the sword Pelopeia will seize….to thrust it in her breast, the sword Aigisthos will take, still bloody, to kill Atreus…as Atreus sacrificed his brothers” (p. 127). The horrific sequel is represented on catalogue no. 42, a Panathenaic amphora by the Darius Painter.
For the childhood of Aigisthos and the death of Atreus, see Apollodoros Epitome 2. 13-24; and Hyginus Fabulae 87-88. See also L. Sechan, “Etudes sur la tragedie grecque dans ses rapports avec la ceramique” (Paris, 1926), pp. 199-213. For Aigisthos, see R. M. Gais, LIMC I, 1, pp. 371-179; for Adrastos, I. Krauskopf, LIMC I, 1, pp. 231-240; for Amphithea, C. Berger-Doer, LIMC, I, 1, p. 723.
Several stylistic and iconographic elements link the vase to other works by the Darius Painter; compare the Artemis and the Apollo-with-swan on a calyx-krater in a Miami private collection (Trendall, Handbook, fig. 205; RVAp, Suppl. II, p. 150, no. 18/65a, pl. 37, 2); and the Apollo-with-swan on the painter’s name-vase in Naples (inv. 3253: RVAp, II, p. 495, no. 18/38; Trendall, Handbook, fig. 203): The Pan on the Florida vase is in the same position and posture as Sikyon, and the ornament is also similar, as is the scene on the reverse. The little Pan on the Boston krater has a parallel on the painter’s calyx-krater in Matera (inv. 12538: RVAp, II, p. 501, no. 65), which also has the same subsidiary ornament; see F. G. LoPorto, MeditArch 4, (1991), pl. 2. For the turned legs and ornament of Adrastos’s throne, compare a pelike by the Darius Painter in the Macinagrossa collection, Bari (RVA, II, p. 491, no. 18/29, pl. 175.2).
For the relaxed Fury, compare the garb and posture of the one on Leningrad 4323 (RVAp, II, p. 487, no. 18/18, pl. 173, 2); for Furies in South Italian vase-painting, see H. Sarian, in Iconographie classique et identités régionales (BCH, Suppl. 14, 1986), pp. 25-35. For the grouping of Pelopeia and Amphithea, compare Hercuba and her attendant on London 1900.5-19.1 (RVAp, II, p. 489, no. 18/19, pl. 174. 1). For the necklace hanging from a branch, compare the Boston Alkmene krater, catalogue no. 43.
The Darius Painter was perhaps the most talented and literate of all Apulian vase-painters. Recent years have seen a host of new vases by the Darius Painter with rare or unique mythological subjects, many of them apparently inspired by lost works of the great Athenian tragedians. This vase and the two following it are among the most splendid of the new mythological works; others include a calyx-krater with the daughters of Anios in a Miami private collection (see ref. above); a volute-krater at Princeton with Medea at Eleusis (inv. y1983-13: RVAp Suppl. I, p. 78, no. 18/41a, pl. 12; A. D.Trendall, Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 43:1 , pp. 4-17); a loutrophoros at Princeton with the mourning Niobe (inv. y1989-29: Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 49:1 (1990), p. 47; RVAp Suppl. II, p. 149, no. 18/56b. pl. 36, 2-3; a loutrophoros in the New York (formerly Basel) Art Market (1992) with Kreousa at Delphi (K. Schauenburg, AA , pp. 633-635, figs. 1-3; RVAp, Suppl. II, p. 149. no, 18/59c, pl 37, 10; a volute-krater, also in the New York art market, with Dionysos in the Underworld (RVAp, Suppl. II, p. 508, no. 18/41a1); a large pelike in the Getty Museum, with the triumphant return of Andromeda (inv. 87. AE. 23: CVA, Malibu 4, pls. 198-200; RVAp, Suppl. II, p. 151, no. 18/69a, pl. 38, 2); three volute-kraters in Berlin, one with the raid on the camp of Rhesus (1984.39), one with the rape of Persephone (1984.40), the third with Phrixos, Helle, and the ram (1984.41) (L. Giuliani, Bildervasen aus Apulien [Berlin, 1988], pp. 6-15; RVAp, Suppl. II, pp. 146-147, nos. 18/17a, 18/17b, 18/41b, pls. 35, 1-2, 4); and several major works in Swiss public and private collections (Aellen, Cambitoglou, and Chamay, Peintre de Darius, pp. 111-175; RVAp, Suppl. II, pp. 145-153, pls. 35-38).
(text from Vase-Painting In Italy, catalogue entry no. 41)
From Left to Right
1986: published by A. D. Trendall in H. A. G. Brijder, et al., eds., Enthousiasmos (1986), p. 162, as: on the American market; 1986: with Fritz Bürki and Son, Zurich, Switzerland; purchased by MFA from Fritz Bürki and Son, February 25, 1987
Museum purchase with funds donated by Esther D. Anderson, Edith and Harvey Bundy, Suzanne Dworsky, Leon Levy, Josephine L. Murray, Maurice Tempelsman, Emily T. and Cornelius C. Vermeule, Shelby White, Florence and Leonard Wolsky and the John H. and Ernestine A. Payne Fund