Water jar (kalpis)

Greek, South Italian
Classical Period
about 445–430 B.C.
the Pisticci Painter

Place of Manufacture: Italy, Lucania

Catalogue Raisonné

Vase-Painting in Italy (MFA), no. 003.


Height: 44.5 cm (17 1/2 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Ceramic, Red Figure

Not On View


Europe, The Ancient World



(text from Vase-Painting in Italy, catalogue entry no. 3)

The figures on the shoulder are organized in three facing pairs. At the left, a woman reaches out to receive casket being offered by another woman approaching from the right. Between the two is a kalathos. The woman at the left wears a peplos with belted overfold and a chlaina. She is barefoot, like all the figures on the vase. The top of her head is missing, but its rear contour is preserved; the compact silhouette suggests that her hair was covered with a sakkos. The woman facing her is clad only in a chiton. A ribbon wound repeatedly around her her head supports her chignon. The central group is formed by a woman seated on a rocky outcropping, who is offered an exaleiptron by a standing woman. The seated woman wears a chiton and himation, and her hair, which hangs down her back, is bound on her head by a ribbon, into which three olive or laurel leaves are inserted. The rocky outcropping is darkened with a wash of dilute glaze. The standing woman with the exaleiptron wears a peplos with belted overfold and a chlaina, which is draped over her left shoulder and held with her outstretched left hand. A ribbon, into which four smal leaves are inserted, is wrapped around her head and supports her chignon. Between the central and the right pair of figures, a piece of dotted fabric with borders at either end is hung, apparently over two pegs. In the right hand group, a woman spinning wool faces Eros across a wool basket. The woman again wears a peplos and a headband, which this time is embellished with a continuous row of nine leaves. She holds the distaff in her raised left hand, and a line of yarn is guided by her lowered right hand to the hanging spindle, which appears to be completely wrapped in yarn. There is some ambiguity in the representation since the “distaff” is crosshatched as if it were wrapped with yarn rather than rougher, unfinished wool or flax. The “spindle”, moreover, is an amorphous shape like a roving of wool. A break passing through the lower part of the spindle may have destroyed the spindle-whorl, which would have identified the object with certainty. Eros holds a small pyxis-like basket in his left hand. Details of his anatomy are sketched in with dilute glaze.

At either end of the figured zone on the shoulder is a palmette springing from and encircled by a long, vine-like tendril. Two small tendrils spring from the groundline below the palmette. An inverted palmette, enclosed in a heart-shaped band, decorates the base of the vertical handle.

The lip is decorated with a dotted egg-pattern. The neck is embellished with a network of black lotus buds on a reserved ground. Below the figures is a band of dotted egg-pattern, and below this is a broader band of lotus and palmette. The handle roots are surrounded by tongue-pattern on the outer two-thirds of their circumference. The zones under the side handles are reserved. A reserved band circles the base of each step of the foot.

The vase was long considered a forgery of an Attic vase and published as such in an exhibition in Minneapolis on fakes, with a comment on the hydria’s “unbelievably perfect” condition. In 1990, Arthur Beale, director of conservation research at the Museum of Fine Arts, questioned the condemnation. On examination by the Research Laboratory, it was revealed that a heavy surface coating concealed breaks and gaps and gave the surface its disturbingly slick appearance. There had been an effort to deceive, but it was directed toward concealing the true condition of an ancient object rather than creating an entirely modern imposture. Even after cleaning, however, the body clay still has a dark, dull surface, undoubtedly resulting from the penetration of the resins used in the original deceptive treatment. The vase was then recognized as Lucanian by Michael Padgett.

The figures, moreover, are clearly the work of the Pisticci Painter. Many can be connected with his early phase. The Eros can be perfectly paralleled in nude males on the squat lekythos in Palermo (999) and the oinochoe in Adolphseck (170) (Trendall, LCS, p. 15, nos. 5, 8, pl. 2). The wool baskets are virtually identical with one on the Palermo lekythos. The women, however, find their best parallels in the painter’s developed style. Not only the heads but also the chitons with belted overfold and a multitude of fine pleats are repeated on the bell-krater in Denver (AN 108) and a Panathenaic amphora in Taranto (I.G. 8001: LCS, pp. 17 [no. 14], 22 [no. 57], pls. 3, 5; Giambersio, Pisticci, pp. 16 [fig. 2], 61). Long, straight lines of dilute glaze continue to be used to sketch the leg muscles of nude youths, as on a developed-style fragment with athletes in Taranto (12562: LCS, p. 21, no. 45; Giambersio, Pisticci, pp. 121, 122 [fig. 32], 123-125, color pl. 9).

The hydria is something of an anomaly in the work of the Pisticci Painter, who rarely presented compositions with more than four figures. Rocky outcroppings and specific vignettes from daily life like the spinner are also rare or unique. His women normally wear a simply detailed himation over their chiton. The hydria with figured shoulder is apparently otherwise unknown in his work. This lotus-and-palmette is more elaborate than that on his hydria in Taranto (I.G. 6997: LCS, p. 18, no. 25; Giambersio, Pisticci, pp. 22 [fig. 3], 102 [fig. 25], 103, color pl. 5) and much richer than his usual simple and stereotyped ornament. The black lotus-bud chain is rare in South Italian vases in general. The lines of drapery folds are denser than usual in his work, and their movement is more natural. In general, this hydria must be accounted one of his most ambitious works.

Hydriai with a band of lotus-and-palmette at the level of the handles and women in domestic or musical scenes on the shoulder are fairly popular in mid-fifth-century Attic workshops. Several such hydriai were produced in the circle of Polygnotos (A. Greifenhagen, CVA Braunschweig, pp. 30-34, pls. 23-27; CVA British Museum 6, III, 1, c, pl. 83; Beazley, ARV, p. 1060, nos. 138-140). An unattributed Attic hydria of about 450 B.C. in Berlin even has a woman (a Muse?) seated on a rock, as on this vase (Berlin F. 2388: P. Jacobsthal, Ornamente griechischer Vaser [Berlin, 1927], pp. 86, 97, 90, 152, 183, pl. 64b); M. Denoyelle, Attic or non-Attic?: The Case of the Pisticci Painter, in J.H. Oakley et al., eds., Athenian Potters and Painters, Oxbow Monograph 67 (Oxford 1997), pp.403,


By date unknown: Edward Jackson Holmes Collection; gift of Edward Jackson Holmes to MFA, December 11, 1941

Credit Line

Gift of Edward Jackson Holmes