SOUTH ITALIAN RED-FIGURE VASE (Krater) Probably Campanian, circa 330 B.C. Click on any thumbnail to see a larger image (opens in new window)

Pottery vase of ‘bell krater’ form in pale reddish clay, painted in rather uneven brownish slip with, on one side, a figure of a young woman running left, looking back over her shoulder, snapping her fingers (or perhaps beckoning) with the right hand while the other balances a tray (or perhaps two trays, one on top of the other) on the fingertips; she wears a loose belted chiton and her hair is gathered in a chignon. On the other side is a standing figure of a youth, facing left, wearing a voluminous cloak. Each figure is flanked by bold scrolls, and palmettes are painted beneath each handle. Occasional traces of added white pigment (scrolls, woman’s jewellery and contents of trays). Circle of laurel-leaves (as usual in this form of vessel) under rim. Horizontal handle on each side. Tapered circular foot. Section of rim neatly reinstated after being broken away, with small area of unobtrusive retouching affecting two of the laurel-leaves.

Height approx. 18cm. campanian_vase_01.jpg campanian_vase_02.jpg campanian_vase_03.jpg campanian_vase_05.jpg campanian_vase_06.jpg campanian_vase_07.jpg

From the seventh century B.C. onwards much of southern Italy was colonised by emigrants from mainland Greece, whose language and culture became so deeply rooted that even today there are localities where a form of Greek is spoken. Figure-painted pottery was produced here from the early fifth century until the beginning of the third, initially following Attic techniques but soon developing a looser and more romantic style with much use of white and yellow pigments added after firing. The main centre of production was Apulia (now Puglia), the south-eastern corner of Italy, but Campania (the region extending inland from the Bay of Naples) was also prolific, and the use of scrollwork as a frame for the principal subject on each side is typical of this area. The ‘black’ slip used to outline the figures is often less intense in colour and gloss than it had been in Attica; here it is decidedly muddy and, below the figures and on the foot, scratchy. On the other hand, the plump but graceful female figure, with her flowing dress suggestive of rapid movement, shows a highly skilful hand.

The girl is probably taking part in a kômos, a kind of processional dance which was the usual culmination of a Greek party. (Imagine something like the modern ‘conga’, except that the participants do not hold onto each other.) Kômos-figures are not uncommon subjects; sometimes they hold blazing torches, while others carry various objects in what seems to be a deliberately precarious manner, as here. Probably the idea was that if the participant dropped her burden she would have to pay some kind of ludicrous forfeit. The subject is well suited to the kind of vessel called a krater, used as a mixing-bowl for wine and water and placed in the centre of the supper-table. This krater is a fairly small example. The young man on the back looks as if he is quizzically observing the girl, but this would probably be a misinterpretation, since ‘B-side’ subjects were usually taken from a fairly limited range of standard motifs unconnected with the principal image on the other side.

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