Oinochoe (wine jug) with a caricature of Oedipus and the Sphinx

Greek, South Italian
Late Classical Period
about 350–335 B.C.


Place of Manufacture: Italy, Campania

Catalogue Raisonné

Vase-Painting in Italy (MFA), no. 081.

Dimensions

Height: 22.1 cm (8 11/16 in.)

Accession Number

01.8036

Medium or Technique

Ceramic, Red Figure

On View

Greek Classical Gallery (Gallery 215C)

Collections

Europe, The Ancient World

Classifications

Vessels

Caricature of meeting of Oedipus and Sphinx. Oedipus is nude except for a pilos, his cloak used only for padding as he leans on his staff to the right. His potbelly recalls the padded costume of comic actors. The Sphinx crouches to the left on an irregular pile of mottled rocks. Her body is more human than feline, although somewhat dwarf-like, and she has talons and a large pair of wings. The two protagonists eye one another with insouciant detatchment. Tall plants grow between them and behind Oedipus, and in the field above is what may be a stylized bucranium.
Large palmettes occupy the sides and back. A tall band of unframed black tongues circles the lower neck, and there are two reserved stripes around the lower body and another around the lower edge of the mouth.

ITALIAN VASE PAINTING in ITALY, #81 (01.8036)
Oinochoe (shape 8)
about 350-335 B.C.

Caricture of Oedipus and the sphinx. Oedipus is nude except for a pilos, his cloak used only for padding as he leans on his staff to the right. His potbelly recalls the padded costume of comic actors. The sphinx crouches to the left on an irregular pile of mottled rocks. Her body is more human than feline, although somewhat dwarf-like, and she has talons and a large pair of wings. The two protagonists eye one another with insouciant detachment. There is a light wash on the bodies, and on the sphinx are touches of brown shading. Tall plants grow between them and behind Oedipus, and in the field above is what may be a stylized bucranium.
Large palmettes occupy the sides and back. A tall band of unframed black tongues circles the lower neck, and there are two reserved stripes around the lower body and another around the lower edge of the mouth.
Trendall, PHLYAX, 1967, notes that Oedipus does not seem to be wearing a mask and thus calls this a caricature instead of a stage performance. He is probably correct; however, the painter did give Oedipus the distended phallus of a comic actor and what may be the padded costume of one as well. The chest seems naturalistic, but there is a line on the right hip that may be the edge of a garment. The basic composition is traditional for scenes of Oedipus and the Sphinx, going back to the early fifth century (see Moret, Oedipe; reference below). Taplin (Comic Angels, p. 80, pl. 18.18) discusses the comic treatment of this subject on an Apulian chous (Taranto, Ragusa coll. 74: Trendall, Handbook, fig. 137), on which Oedipus and Kreon face a comic sphinx with pendulous breasts, who is perched on a pile of rocks similar to that on the Boston oinochoe; he notes that the faces are more exaggeratedly ugly than mask-like, suggesting macabre visual humor without the reflection of a comedy.

Provenance

By date unknown: Alfred Bourguignon collection; by 1901: with Edward Perry Warren (according to Warren's records: bought privately from the collection of Alfred Bourguignon. From Capri (No label [on the vase]: but Bourguignon was certain of this)); purchased by MFA from Edward Perry Warren, December 1901

Credit Line

Henry Lillie Pierce Fund