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Monday, 4 July 2016

Greek Vase

          This week I had been tasked with researching the Greek vase, pictured, at the Roman Baths. With most of the work on it having been lost or never fully completed, and with original documentation on the vase being brief, it is safe to say I appreciated the challenge!
            The vase is Attic (i.e. from Attica, the principality surrounding Athens) and its shape suggests that it was a small container for oil, or more likely a funeral gift or grave offering – it is called a lekythos (λήκυθος). It was made between the late 6th century BC and early 5th century BC, and the painter has used the black-figure technique, where details are painted in black paint onto a red surface, and later highlighted (incised) using the nib of a sharp tool (this is called incision). Potters and painters could become very well-renowned in ancient Greece, and painting of this kind was considered a form of high art.
            It depicts a four-horse chariot (quadriga) and four figures around it: two are riding the chariot, whilst two others flank it. This lekythos is unusual insofar as it features a red-coloured background, when we would usually expect a white-coloured background for a lekythos from this period and location. Increasingly, white-ground lekythoi were used as grave offerings and commonly featured scenes of death or ‘final farewells’.
            You can just about make out one figure playing the lyre (cithara). Sadly, much of the design is worn and therefore many details are lost. However, the horse and figures are clearly visible. Traces of purple paint are visible on the neck, and there is a geometric pattern just below the mouth of the vase, where the handle has also been lost.
            The figure playing the lyre has formerly been identified as Orpheus. However, I think that they are probably better identified as Apollo, who, as a god of death and music (an unlikely pairing!), would better suit a vase which was probably dedicated as a funerary gift—music might have been played at the funerary procession.

Chris Gallacher
University College, London

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