Mixing bowl (calyx-krater)

Greek, South Italian
Late Classical Period
about 340–330 B.C.


Place of Manufacture: Italy, Apulia

Catalogue Raisonné

Vase-Painting in Italy (MFA), no. 043.

Dimensions

Height: 56.8 cm (22 3/8 in.); diameter: 50.2 cm (19 3/4 in)

Accession Number

1989.100

Medium or Technique

Ceramic, Red Figure

On View

Greek Classical Gallery (Gallery 215C)

Collections

Europe, The Ancient World

Classifications

Vessels

Side A: Alkmene on the pyre, with rainbow. She is seated on the altar her husband Amphitryon tried to make her pyre. The altar is rectangular with a Doric frieze. Amphitryon and two boys bring wood. Kreon watches at right. An eagle flies to the right above the altar. To the right of the eagle, Hermes is seated with his caduceus in his raised right hand and his petasos in his left. Facing him is Aphrodite. At the upper left is the blind seer Teiresias, apparently the foreteller of Herakles’ greatness. A youthful attendant is standing in front of him; he gestures toward Teiresias and with his other hand points toward Amphitryon’s attempted sacrilege.

Side B: The nude Dionysos seated on a cloak between two maenads and a young satyr. Dionysos holds a phiale full of offereings in his right hand, which he raises toward the maenad at the left, who holds a tambourine in her lowered left hand.

It is likely that the action and personae are based ultimately on Euripides’ lost play, Alkmene, a further echo of which may be seen in the elaborate costume of Teiresias. Zeus had sired Herakles by coming to Alkmene in the guise of her husband, Amphitryon. Accused of adultery, Alkmene took refuge on the altar in their house. Zeus heard her supplications and sent Hermes to tell the clouds to bring the rain that put out the fire and formed the rainbow around Alkmene. Shortly thereafter, Alkmene gave birth to her children, Herakles and his half-brother Iphikles (the child of Amphitryon). Aphrodite and Eros represent the passion of Zeus, who in this version apparently comes in the guise of an eagle to rescue his love.

(from Vase-Painting in Italy, no. 43)

A: The rescue of Alekmene, mother of Herakles. Alkmene sits on the altar that her husband Amphitryon tried to make her pyre. The altar is a rectangular structure of white stone, with a Doric frieze and black spots on top, perhaps representing ashes. Alkemene is surrounded by a red, yellow, and white rainbow; she wears sandals, a white-dotted fillet, chiton, himation, and a third garment over her shoulders and clutched around her head like a veil or hood. Her bracelets, necklace, and earrings are in added white and yellow. Amphytrion, with lighted torch in his right hand and a long spear in his left, looks toward his wife. He wears a chlamys pinned at the throat and a white pilos and has a sword with a white hilt at his side hanging from a white baldric. Two young attendants bring wood to the altar; the one at the right has a cloak over one arm, the one at the left also carries a lighted torch. At the far right, King Kreon of Thebes looks on, his right hand raised in a questioning gesture, his left holding a white pilos and a spear. Kreon has a cloak around his shoulders and a white baldric across his chest. Zues is present in the form of a yellow-brown eagle, which flies to the right above the altar. Above the eagle, suspended from the upper border, are a pilos in added red and two yellow chariot wheels.

Joining the eagle in the upper register are five figures. To the right of the eagle, Hermes is seated to the right with his caduceus in his raised right hand and his petasos in his left; both are white with yellow shading. He sits upon his chlamys and in otherwise nude, save for elaborate sandals with yellow wings. A quiver with a white strap lies at his feet on the dotted groundline. Facing him, at the upper right is Aphrodite, who sits to the left, holding a branch in her right hand. Eros leans against her right leg and holds a yellow hoop in his right hand; he wears white bracelets, anklets, earrings, and necklace, as well as shoes and a sakkos. Aphrodite wears chiton, himation, kekryphalos, and white shoes. Her bracelets, earrings, and necklace are white. In her left hand she holds the string of an iynx-wheel. At the upper left is the blind seer Teiresias, apparently present as the foreteller of Herakles’ greatness. He is seated to the left, wearing shoes, a himation, a red fillet, a belt with white circles, an embroidered chiton, and a tunic with long, red sleeves. he holds a long staff topped by a figured pinax, perhaps the Kaiberic shrine of Thebes, in his left hand. The shaft of the staff is decorated with white dots and tied with a beaded fillet. A youthful attendant, wearing himation and wreath, is standing in front of him; he gestures toward Teiresias and with his other hand points toward Amphitryon’s attempted sacrilege. On the ground around the altar are logs and a bovine skull in yellow: a previous sacrificial victim. A tree grows near Teiresias, apparently laurel, and a branch and beaded fillet or necklace fill the field before Aphitryon. Grounlines of white and yellow dots indicate the terrain throughout the picture. Alkemene, Amphitryon, Teiresias, and Kreon are identified by incised inscriptions.

B: The nude Dionysos is seated on his cloak between two standing maenads, all three holding thyrsoi, the one in the god’s left hand also being grasped by the maenad at right, who holds another in her left hand. Both her thyrsos and that of the god have long fillets attached. This maenad looks to the right at a satyr advancing with a torch in his right hand and a situla in the lower left. The satyr wears a white fillet; a yellow fillet hangs above him. Dionysos holds a phiale full of offerings in his right hand, which he raises toward the maenad at the left, who holds a tambourine in her lowered left hand. Both maenads wear chitons, shoes, kekryphaloi, and white earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. Dionysos wears a yellow wreath. A rossette floats in the upper field, and a bunch of grapes, yellow and white, hangs from the upper border. Flowers grow from the lower border, one large one interrupting the dotted groundline.

A laurel wreath with large berries circles the underside of the rim. Between the handles on side A is a band of rosettes over a narrow band of dotted egg-pattern. The ornament on side B is identical to that on the reverse of cat.no 41, with groups of stopt maeanders to the left alternating with cross-squares, with smaller squares in each quadrant. Below the maeander is a band of blank eggs.

It is likely that the action and the personae are based ultimately on Euripides’ lost play, Alkmene, a further echo which may be seen in the elaborate costume of Teiresias. Zeus had sired Herakles by coming to Alkemene in the guise of her husband, Amphitryon. Accused of adultery, Alkemene took refuge on the altar in their house. Zeus heard supplications and sent Hermes to tell the clouds to bring the rain that put out the fire and formed the rainbow around Alkmene. Shortly thereafter, Alkmene gave birth to her children, Herakles and his half-brother Iphikles (the child of Amphitryon). In the play, Hermes probably spoke the prologue and Zeus the epilogue. Kreon is present because he and Amphitryon have just returned from their campaign against Teleboans. It is Kreon’s daughter Megara who will become Herakles’ first wife ( see Apollodorus The Library 2.4.6-11) Aphrodite and Eros represent the passion of Zues, who in this version apparently comes in the guise of an eagle to rescue his love.

On Alkmene in ancient art, see A.D Trendall, in LIMC, I, 1, pp. 552-556; I, 2, pls. 413-416; and K. Schauenburg, AuA 10 (1961), pp. 87-88. For the necklace hanging from a branch, compare the Boston krater with the baby Aigisthos (cat. no. 41). For Kreon, see K. Birte Poulsen, LIMC, VI, 1, pp. 112-117; VI, 2, pls. 49-50. For a close parallel to the figure of Kreon on this vase, compare Menelaos on a krater in the Paul collection, Miama (Trendall, Handbook, fig. 205; RVAp, Suppl. II, p. 150, no. 18/65a, pl. 37,2) For the group of Aphrodite and Eros, compare the group from the east frieze of the Parthenon (F. Brommer, The Sculptures of the Pathenon: Metopes, Frieze, Pediments, Cult-Statue [London, 1979], pl. 105) For the nimbus around Alkmene, compare that surrounding Poseidon and Amphithea on a loutrophoros by the Darius painter in the Brailard collection, Geneva ( Aellen, Cambitoglou, and Chamay, Peintre de Darius, pp. 124-136; RVAp, Suppl. II, p. 149, no. 18/56a). The motif handed down by the Darius Painter to his successor, the Underworld Painter, who used it to envelope Eos and Kephalos on a lekythos in Richmond (inv. 81.55: M.E Mayo, in Mayo, Magna Graecia, pp. 133-136, no. 51; RVAp, Suppl. I, pp. 83 [no. 18/281b], 219) For the boy with the blind Teiresias, compare a chorus by the Darius Painter in Basel (inv. BS 473: RVAp, II, p. 503, no. 18/73a; Schefold and Jung, Argonauten, p. 66, fig. 46). Compare also a lost vase-painting that M. Schmidt identifies as Teiresias before Oedipus (M. Schmidt, in Festschrift Hausmann, p. 241, fig. 1)

Provenance

1986: published by A. D. Trendall in H. A. G. Brijder, et al., eds., Enthousiasmos (1986), p. 162, as: on the American market; 1987: published by A. D. Trendall, Red-figured Vases of Paestum (1987), p. 140, note 3, as: on the U.S. Market; by 1989: with NFA Antiquities, 10100 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90067; purchased by MFA from NFA Antiquities, April 26, 1989

Credit Line

Gift of Harry J. Denberg, Jerome M. Eisenberg, and Benjamin Rowland, Jr., by Exchange; Gift of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, and Classical Department Curator's Fund