Mixing bowl (bell-krater) with comic athletes in a palaestra

Greek, South Italian
Classical Period
about 400–380 B.C.

Place of Manufacture: Italy, Apulia

Catalogue Raisonné

Vase-Painting in Italy (MFA), no. 013.


Height: 28.6 cm (11 1/4 in.); diameter: 33 cm (13 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Ceramic, Red Figure

On View

Greek Classical Gallery (Gallery 215C)


Europe, The Ancient World



VASE PAINTING in ITALY, # 13 (69.951)
Compared to the McDaniel Painter
about 380-370 B.C.
A: Two actors wearing masks and padded tights stand on a low stage. The taller, at the left, is a youth, who points accusingly at the old man at the right, whose white hair is rendered with a reddish cream slip. The youth’s staff is held vertical by the extended finger of his left hand. Behind him, at the left, is a herm, on which the youth has placed his clothes and an aryballos. The herm has a black beard and erect phallus and wears a pilos. The old man pours oil from an aryballos into his left hand. Behind him, at the right, is a carrying-stick with a basket at each end and a goose tied by the neck. In each basket is a small animal, probably a goat’s kid.
B: Two youths are running to the right, the one at the left carrying a chous and staff, the one at the right nude and gesturing back at his friend (or pursuer?). Both wear cream-colored fillets. The one at the left wears a himation; the one at the right has a cloak over his left arm.
A wreath of laurel circles the vase under the lip. The groundline consists of groups of stopt maeanders to left alternating with cross-squares. Tongues surround the roots of the handles, which have palmettes and spiraling tendrils beneath them.
C: Vermeule (Burlington Magagazine 112, pp. 628-629, figs. 103-104; MFA AnnRep. 1969-70, p. 40) identified the subject of the obverse as a scene from the same phlyax play illustrated on an earlier bell-krater by the Tarporley Painter, New York 24-97.104 (J. D. Beazley AJA 56 [1952], pp. 193-195, pl. 32; Trendall, Phlyax, 1967, p. 53, no. 84; RVAp, I, p. 46, no. 3/7). On the New York krater, a youth with a stick accosts an old man, who holds his hands up as though he were suspended from a post and about to be whipped. At the right, on a tall platform, representing a stage, is an old woman next to a dead goose and a basket containing a live kid. Watching the scene at left is a fourth figure, labeled “Tragoidos.” Further inscriptions provide what may be actual dialogue from the play, with the old man saying “He has bound my hands up high,” and the old woman crying ” I shall supply,” perhaps meaning that she will give testimony to the old man’s thievery. Beazley interpreted the nonsense syllables uttered by the youth as indicating that he is a foreign-born policeman, about to use his stick on the miscreant. The goose and the basket with the kid are clear links with the Boston krater, as are the youth with the stick and the old man. Dearden notes that both protagonists wear the same types of masks as their counterparts in New York: type ZA for the youth (“clean shaven, longish hair”) and type E for the old man (“scanty white hair, short beard, short nose”). Clearly, the same play, “The Punishment of the Thief,” inspired both vase-painters. On the Boston krater, the God of thievery himself is present in the form of the herm. Taplin suggests that because the goose is alive on the Boston krater and dead on the New York vase, the former represents an earlier scene in the play, and “the demise of the goose may have been a significant event in the plot” (Comic Angels, p. 32).
The use of Attic rather than Doric letter forms in the inscriptions on the New York krater suggests that the play was an Attic comedy produced or revived in Taranto (A. D. Trendall, in Rasmussen and Spivey, Greek Vases, p. 164). For Dearden, this is further proof that the phlyax vases reflect performances of “sophisticated” Attic comedy in permanent theaters, many of which had wooden stages, rather than the informal and impromptu farces they are often said to be. He is answered by Trendall, who believes the vases “reflect in some measure contemporary Middle Comedy in Athens, but also, no doubt, local productions,” by itinerant actors with their own stages and properties, “without the need for a formal presentaion in a theatre” (in Rasmussen and Spivey, Greek Vases, pp. 168-169). Taplin (Comic Angels) believes that the importance of imported Attic comedies has been underrated and that many of the vase scenes are misidentified as phlyax plays.
For phlyax vases, see A. D. Trendall and J. R. Green, “Phlyax Vases,” 3rd ed. (forthcoming). See also Trendall, “Phlyax,” 1967; idem, in Rasmussen and Spivey, “Greek Vases,” pp. 151-182; idem, BClevMus 79 (Jan. 1992), pp. 2-15; C. W. Dearden, in “Studies Webster,” II pp. 151-182; O.Taplin, PCPS 213 (1987), pp. 92-104; idem, “Comic Angels”; J. R. Green, “NumAntCl 20” (1991), pp. 49-56. For the carrying-stick and baskets, see J. Chamay, AntK 20 (1977), pp. 57-60, who compares the stick with one carried by a phlyax on an oinochoe in a Geneva private collection (pl. 14, 1), where it is used to support a bundle, a basket, a situla, and a haunch of venison. A similar stick and bundle apperar on stage on a phlyax krater in London (F 151: RVAp, I, p. 100, no. 5/252) which Trendall associates with the style of the Boston krater (Trendall, “Phlyax,” 1967, p. 35, no. 37). For types of comic masks on phlyax vases, see Trendall, “Phlyax,” 1967, pp. 12-13; and Webster and Green, “Old and Middle Comedy,” pp. 13-26.
Alan Hughes considers the idea that theatre scenes on South Italian vases represent phlyax plays to have been “exploded.” He too believes them to be Attic Middle Comedy and local plays in the Attic tradition (email, 22 Jan 02).


By date unknown: with Robert E. Hecht, Jr. (said to be from Pisticci); purchased by MFA from Robert E. Hecht, Jr., June 11, 1969

Credit Line

Otis Norcross Fund