Mixing bowl (volute krater)

Greek, South Italian
Late Classical Period
about 340 B.C.
Style resembles the Varrese Painter


Place of Manufacture: Italy, Apulia

Catalogue Raisonné

Vase-Painting in Italy (MFA), no. 038.

Dimensions

Height: 124.6 cm (49 1/16 in.); diameter: 56 cm (22 1/16 in.)

Accession Number

03.804

Medium or Technique

Ceramic, Red Figure

On View

Greek Classical Gallery (Gallery 215C)

Collections

Europe, The Ancient World

Classifications

Vessels

Connected with the work of the Varrese Painter; it is a possible link between the works of the Gioia del Colle Painter and the Painter of Copenhagen 4223 and those of the Darius Painter.

A: The death of Thersites. All the principal figures are labeled with incised inscriptions. Rows of white and yellow dots indicating groundlines run throughout the scene on several levels. Achilles (Greek) and the aged Phoenix (Greek) are shown at the center within the pavilion of Achilles, an airy structure with a pediment, palmette akroteria, and slender, fluted Aeolic capitals. In the center of the pediment is a slender figure with upraised arms, like the kouros-handle of a patera. The side of the pavilion’s floor is decorated with a labryinthine maeander and saltire-squares. The row of squares above the architrave resembles a Doric frieze but may represent the ends of the ceiling joists. Achilles is seated on a luxurious kline, his cloak beneath him, holding a spear in his right hand and leaning on a pile of cushions, which, like the mattress and coverlets, are elaborately embroidered. Long ringlets frame the hero’s face, drawn in three-quarter view. A sword, presumably that just used to decapitate Thersites (Greek), hangs at his side from a white baldric. Phoenix leans on his staff and holds his head in worry. His himation is pulled up over his head; his legs are crossed. The front of the couch is painted white, perhaps to indicate ivory. Its vine decoration is yellow, as is the broad footstool, decorated with egg-pattern. Two chariot wheels, a pair of greaves, a sword, a shield with a gorgoneion device, and a plumed piloshelmet, all yellow, hang from the ceiling of the pavilion. The decapitated body of Thersides, in shoes and disheveled himation, lies in front of the pavilion.

The eyes in the liberated head are shut in death; the grizzled beard shows that Achilles has killed an older man.

Other heroes and divinities are on either side. Agamemnon (Greek) approaches from the left, holding a scepter with an eagle finial in his right hand. He wears an embroidered, long-sleeved tunic, embades, and a swirling himation. Agamemnon is followed by the younger Phorbas (Greek), who wears embades, a chlamys, and a yellow pilos, and rests a spear on his left shoulder. To the right, Diomedes (Greek), the cousin of Thersites, wearing a chlamys and a white pilos, rushes up to avenge his kinsman. He is accompanied by an Aetolian warrior (Greek) with a spear, sword baldric, and yellow shield. Diomedes starts to draw his sword, but is restrained by Menelaos (Greek). Menelaos wears a chlamys and has a sword slung at his left side.

In the upper tier are four figures. At the left of the pavilion are Pan (Greek) and a seated, winged figure like a Fury, labeled Poina (Vengeance). The Fury wears an embroidered chiton with a white belt, crossed bandoleers, tall boots, and a necklace. White snakes twine in her hair. Her face is in three-quarter view. In her right hand she holds a sword; in her left, a scabbard and spear. Pan is leaning against a tree, a spotted animal skin over his shoulders and a wreath on his horned head. He holds his yellow-brown pedum in his right hand. In the field above is a rosette.

To the right of the building Athena (Greek) sits on a round, yellow shield, wearing chiton, himation, yellow shoes, and white diadem, aegis, bracelets, earrings, and necklace. In front of her, Hermes (Greek) stands with his legs crossed, wearing winged shoes, chlamys, and wreath. He carries his yellow caduceus and petasos in his left hand and a tall branch with a pendant fillet in his right. At the lower left, the helmeted Automedon, wearing a chlamys, kneels with a shield on his left arm and a spear in his right hand, as if guarding the mutilated Thersites. In the foreground and around Automedon (Greek) and the dead man are objects testifying to the violent action: a broken lustral basin, a tripod, a staff, a footbath, and a variety of metal vases, including two phialai, a kantharos, an oinochoe, and a volute-krater.
To the right, a slave or commoner (Greek), wearing boots and a cloak over his left arm, runs off in horror. Many of the larger yellow objects, like shields are toned so that more of the white underpainting shows through at either the forward or
upper edge to suggest the play of light.

As told in the “Aethiopis”, Thersites was slain in a fit of temper by Achilles, for teasing him about his ill-fated love for the Amazon queen Penthesilea. The Greeks were angry and divided as a result of this brutal act, and Achilles had to sail to Lesbos and sacrifice to Apollo in order to appease his fellow leaders and warriors. The reaction of the character labeled Demos may allude to the revulsion among “hoi polloi”. The emotions aroused are well portrayed by the painter, who represented the anger of Agamemnon, the chagrin of Phoenix, the anguish of Diomedes, and the haughty nonchalance of Achilles. It is interesting that the Fury Poina, a character who turns up in several Apulian mythological scenes where bad business is at hand (cat. no. 42), has her sword drawn; in this context, she must represent the slashing vengeance of Achilles, the personification of his wrath. Trendall and Webster (“Illustrations”, pp. 106-107) suggest the scene may be based on the “Achilles Thersitoktonos” of Chaeremon, a fourth-century dramatist; this may be correct, but if so, the vase-painter has enlarged and elaborated on the stage version, with more protagonists than would be in any single scene.

B. A young man in a chlamys and holding a spear in his left hand stands beside a horse within a white-painted naiskos with a pediment and palmette akroteria. The naiskos has an elaborately decorated plinth (maeanders, lesbian cymatium, key-pattern, scrolling rendrils). There are three figures on either side, in two registers. At left, a seated woman with a phiale is offered a wreath by a wreathed youth leaning on a staff. Below them, a woman runs to the right with a yellow “xylophone” and a basket of offerings. On the right, a wreathed youth seated on his cloak and holding a staff and phiale faces a woman with a wreath in her left hand and a branch in her right. Below them, a wreathed youth with a basket of offerings in his left hand leans on his staff. He holds a flower in his right hand and has shoes and a cloak. All three women wear shoes, chiton, kekryphalos, earrings, bracelets, and necklace. Among the offerings in the baskets are alabastra painted yellow and white. Fillets and rosettes float in the upper field.

The similarity between the pavilion of Achilles on the obverse and the funerary naiskos on the reverse invites comparison between the dead horseman and the greatest of Greek heroes. Achilles was the very embodiment of “arete”, and that is the quality celebrated by the youth’s monument. He has joined the heroic dead and, like Odysseus, will see Achilles and the other Homeric heroes in the Underworld. For horsemen as heroes, and demigods, seee A. Cermanovic-Kuzmanovic et. al., “LIMC”, VI, 1, pp. 1019-1081, especially p. 1025; VI, 2, pls. 673-719.

On the obverse neck, in three-quarter view to the left, is the quadriga of Helios, surrounded by a white, yellow, and red nimbus. The god holds a whip in his right hand and is dressed in a long chiton. His presence is an appropriate symbol of renewal and re-birth on a funerary vase; if he is to be associated with the scene below, it may mean that the action there takes place in the morning, with the first rays of the sun revealing the body of the murdered man.

On the reverse neck, Eros is seated on a flower, wearing bracelets, shoes, anklets, necklace, and sakkos; he holds a phiale in his left hand. Elaborate floral ornament and scrolling tendrils, high lighted with added white and yellow, surround both Helios and Eros. The composition with Eros recalls similar scenes on vases of the Alabastra Group and others associated with it; see “RVAp”, II, pls. 232 (5 and 8) and 233 (1-3). For the floral ornament, see the comments on cat. no. 21.

There are two registers of elaborate palmettes under the handles. The latter have plastic female masks on the volutes and black swan’s heads on the shoulders. Springs of white laurel decorate the obverse handle flanges. A wreath of grape leaves and clusters runs around the foot.

Above both pictures is a double band of egg-pattern. A band consisting of groups of stopt maeanders to left alternating with cross-squares circles the lower body. A band of egg-pattern circles the lip. Below the obverse lip are an ivy vine, a yellow bead-and-reel molding, and a laurel wreath with a central rosette. Below the reverse lip are a laurel wreath, a row of dots, and a band of rosettes.

Excerpted from Padgett, ITALIAN VASE PAINTING in ITALY, #38

Provenance

By date unknown: said to be from Ceglie del Campo near Bari; by 1903: with Edward Perry Warren; purchased by MFA from Edward Perry Warren, March 24, 1903

Credit Line

Francis Bartlett Donation of 1900