Water jar (hydria-kalpis)

Greek, South Italian
Late Classical Period
about 345–335 B.C.
Painter the Whiteface-Frignano Painter

Place of Manufacture: Italy, Campania

Catalogue Raisonné

Vase-Painting in Italy (MFA), no. 085.


Height: 49 cm (12 13/16 in.); diameter: 35 cm (10 7/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Ceramic, Red Figure

Not On View


Europe, The Ancient World



Kadmos and the serpent. In the upper register is a gabled structure, possibly a heroon or a temple, its doors ajar to reveal the foreshortened roof timbers. In the pediment is a female face flanked by tendrils, perhaps an unusually tame gorgoneion. Yellow and black dots represent the nailheads and bosses on the doors. Two white-skinned females are seated on either side of the structure: the one on the left wears a chiton and a red himation and holds a yellow phiale in her left hand; the right one is nude to the waist, where her himation has fallen. Both women wear earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, and the one at the right has a bandoleer of charms. Both wear beaded stephanes of white, and the left one also wears a kekryphalos. The woman at the right looks down at the scene below where Kadmos and a companion battle the coiled serpent, whose white body is tinted with brown dilute glaze. Kadmos is at the left, holding a white spear and a white pointed amphora, both in his left hand. He moves to the left but looks back to the right, his face drawn in three-quarter view. He is naked save for an apicate fillet, a white sword and baldric, and the cloak over his left arm. He leans back with his right hand raised to throw a white stone at the snake, while his companion attacks it with a spear from the right. The companion is nude save for a white pilos and scabbard and the cloak over his left arm. Quadrated philai float in the field to his right and to the left of Kadmos.

Wave-pattern circles the outer rim, and a laurel wreath circles the lower neck below a band of dotted egg-pattern. The groundline circling the lower body consists of stopt maeanders to the right, with two checkerboards at left and right. The reverse is covered with large palmettes and scrolling tendrils, which extend to the areas below the handles. White dots and bars are used to highlight many points within the florals.

The amphora held by Kadmos was to be filled at the spring guarded by the serpent, the offspring of Ares. Though not visible, the spring is what gives life to the white flowers behind the serpent; their twisting stems are rendered by incising directly into the black glaze. In most such cases, Kadmos carries a hydria instead of an amphora, but the latter appears in two Paestan versions: a calyx-krater by Python (Louvre N 3157: Trendall, RVP, p. 143, no. 2/241, pl. 90), and a bell-krater by Asteas (Naples 82258: RVP, p. 85, no. 2/132, pl. 52). In Asteas’s version, the woman is seated above is identified as Thebe, the personification of the city Kadmos will found. Athena is present to guide the stone flung by Kadmos, and watching from above are the heads of the river god Ismenos and the fountain nymph Krenaia. In her comprehensive publication of the Boston vase, Emily Vermeule (in Festschrift Hanfmann, pp. 177-188) speculates that the two women might be Thebe and Dirke. M. A. Tiverios (LIMC, V, 1, p. 869) suggests Harmonia as another possibility. In the absence of inscriptions, attributes, or closer parallels, it is not possible to assign definite identities to these women, but some combination of the names that have been proposed is likely.

In addition to Vermeule’s discussion of the myth of Kadmos and its treatment in art and literature, see Trendall, PP, pp. 23-25; idem, RVP, pp. 95-96; F. Vian, Les Origines de Thebes: Cadmos et les Spartes (Paris 1963); and Tiverios, LIMC, V, 1, pp. 863-882.

The vase was originally attributed to the White-face Painter alone. Trendall has now recognized that this artist and the Frignano Painter are the same (Trendall, LCS, Suppl. III, p. 182). This vase is the artist’s most ambitious work, for he normally eschewed mythology for a monotonous series of languid youths, women, and Erotes. Compare the snake and Hesperides on his hydria in the Ros collection, Zurich (Trendall, LCS, p. 381, no. 3/139, pl. 147, 1; idem, Handbook, fig. 295).

(text from Vase-Painting in Italy, catalogue entry no. 85)


By date unknown: with Hesperia Art, 2219 St. James Place, Philadelphia, PA. 19103; purchased by MFA from Robert E. Hecht, Jr., October 15, 1969

Credit Line

Helen and Alice Colburn Fund