Storage jar (neck amphora) with Orestes and Elektra at the tomb of Agamemnon
Greek, South Italy
Classical or Hellenistic Period
about 335–320 B.C.
The Boston Orestes Painter
Place of Manufacture: Italy, Paestum
Vase-Painting in Italy (MFA), no. 105.
51.3 cm (20 3/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Ceramic, Red Figure
Greek Classical Gallery (Gallery 215C)
VASE PAINTING in ITALY, #105
Neck-Amphora, with twisted handles
The name-vase of the Boston Orestes Painter
A: The meeting of Elektra, Orestes, and Pylades at the Tomb of Agamemnon. The tomb is represented by a white Ionic column topped by three eggs; two more eggs sit at the base of the column. At the right is Elektra, standing on the beige platform supporting the column and wearing a spotted himation and a black chiton with incised pleats. Incision is also used for the strands of her black hair, which makes a bold contrast against the white of her skin. Her cheek has a touch of yellow, and her hair is cut short in mourning. She carries a yellow hydria of water in her left hand and a red fillet in her right. The water is for cleaning and purifying the tomb, and the fillet will be tied around the column shaft. Standing at the left, beside the platform, are Pylades and Orestes. Both youths wear chlamides and shoes (Orestes’ are intricately cut and laced). Each carries his spear in one hand and his pilos and sword in the other, the latter in a red scabbard. The chlamys and pilos of Orestes are yellowish beige, while those of Pylades are white. Orestes and Elektra have not yet recognized each other, for he is looking back at Pylades, and she is busy decking the column. In the upper corners, marked off by rows of yellow dots, two Furies observe the scene below, their lower bodies concealed. Both wear yellow snakes in their hair, and the one at the right winged and brandishes snakes in both hands.
In a panel on the obverse neck is a Siren standing on a dotted terrain. She holds a white fillet and a tray of offerings in her left hand and gazes into the yellow mirror held in her right. She wears a kekryphalos and a beaded fillet. Her nude torso is complete to the waist, where the bird’s body begins; the latter is spotted, with a striped tail and black and white wings. Before her, at the lower left, is an altar with a pile of white eggs on it.
B: A youth wearing a yellow wreath, shoes, a bordered himation, and a bandoleer of white beads stands facing a woman in shoes, bordered peplos, kekryphalos, and beaded fillet. The youth holds a yellow staff in his right hand and a yellow fillet and egg in his left; the woman has a mirror in her right hand, and a fillet and a “skewer of fruit” in her left (all yellow). A white rosette floats in the field between their feet. In the upper corners are the heads bound with white fillets of a woman and a youth, who peer from behind a continuous groundline, like the outline of a hill. The contrast with the snake haired Furies on the obverse is hard to miss, but these more benign observers can hardly be the Eumenides.
On the neck of side B, a youth in a bordered himation stands to the left between two framing palmettte-scrolls.
A band of wave-pattern circles the lower neck. Above the Siren on the obverse neck is a band of egg-pattern. On the obverse shoulder is a wreath with a flower in the center; a broad band of tongues fills the reverse shoulder. In framed panels under each handle are palmettes, flowers, and spiraling tendrils. The goundline circling the lower body consists of wave-pattern.
Episodes from the Oresteia of Aeschylus inspired many South Italian vase-paintings. This and similar scenes obviously are based on the recognition scene in the Choephoroi; see Trendall and Webster, Illustrations, pp. 41-44; Kossatz-Deissmann, Dramen, pp. 92-102, pls. 13.2-18; and I. McPhee, LIMC,III, 1.pp. 709-719. Many elements - Ionic column, eggs, hydria, and winged Furies - appear in other versions. Kossatz-Deissmann notes that the short hair and black dress of Elektra are repeated on a Campanian hydria with this subject: Würzburg L. 874 (Trendall, LCS, p. 408, no. 318; Kossatz-Deissmann, Dramen, p. 94, pl. 14.2). The version on a contemporary Campanian neck-amphora by the Danaid Painter shows the eggs on the top of the column and has remarkably similar ornament on the shoulder. Hamburg, Termer collection (Trendall, Handbook, fig. 307;idem. LCS, Suppl. III, p. 20, no. 3/495a; Kossatz-Deissmann, Dramen, frontispiece). On a calyx-krater by the Aphrodite Painter, where the scene has shifted to Delphi, the Furies peer from windows and are identified by inscriptions as Poina and Teisiphone: Tampa, Zewadski collection (Trendall, RVP, p. 245, no. 2/971, pl. 150). The Siren on the neck is included on another Paestan version, a neck-amphora by the Painter of th Geneva Orestes: Geneva HR 29 (RVP, p. 57, no. 2/1, pl. 15). Asteas put a Siren on the neck above a scene of Orestes at Delphi (San Antonion, Denman collection: RVP, pp. 96-98, no. 2/133, pls. 53 and 54a), and one wonders whether in these instances these death-daemons may be more than ornamental.
By 1898: with E. P. Warren (according to Warren's records: Bought by a friend at Nola where it was said to have been found. Bought April 24, 1898.); purchased by MFA from E. P. Warren, 1899, for $ 32,500.00 (this is the total price for MFA 99.338-99.542)
Henry Lillie Pierce Fund