Main panel: Hermes

Main panel: palmette on left

Main panel: Iris

Main panel: Hermes's kerykeion

Main panel: Hermes, lower half

Overview: handle rear

Collection: University Museums, University of Mississippi
Summary: Hermes and Iris.
Ware: Attic Red Figure, White Ground
Painter: Attributed to the Diosphos Painter
Context: From Attica
Date: ca. 495 BC - ca. 480 BC

H. 0.271 m., D. 0.098 m.

Primary Citation: ABV, no. 67.
Shape: Lekythos
Region: Attica
Period: Late Archaic


The glaze is worn in areas, and the vase is discolored by fire.

Decoration Description:

On the body of the vase, Hermes and Iris are depicted flanked by palmette complexes. Iris is on the left of the composition, shown in profile to the right. Depicted as winged, she wears a chitoniskos and winged boots. She carries a box in her left hand and a kerykeion in her right. Hermes at the right also is depicted profile right but he looks back over his shoulder and gestures at Iris with his right hand. He carries a kerykeion in his left hand. Hermes is shown wearing a chitoniskos, mantle, petasos, and winged boots. Nonsense inscriptions appear in the field surrounding the figures. On either side of this scene, the Diosphos Painter placed an elaborate palmette design. The scene on the body is surmounted by a key meander between lines. The neck of the vase is reserved, and the shoulder is decorated with a lotus bud chain. The join of shoulder and neck is marked by bars. The mouth, handle, lower body of the vase are glazed, as is the top and the lower part of the side of the foot.

In literature, Iris' role as messenger of the gods is established in the Iliad (Hom. II. 2.786-787). Depictions of Iris in the visual arts, however, are rare in the sixth century, but increase in frequency in the fifth and fourth centuries. Since there are no specific myths connected with Iris, she is sometimes shown in her role as messenger, as a subsidiary figure in various mythological scenes where appropriate. Most frequently, however, Iris is shown with Hermes, the other messenger god, in non-narrative scenes such as the one on this vase. The attributes of Hermes and Iris on this vase are typical for the period.

In the early fifth century, when most vase-painters in Athens were using the red-figure technique, a group of painters continue to practice the black-figure technique. The Diosphos Painter, who specialized in decorating lekythoi and small neck-amphorae, is one such late black-figure painter. The Diosphos Painter and the Sappho Painter were the main painters in what is known as the Diosphos Workshop. The Diosphos Painter probably invented the compositional scheme of side-palmette lekythoi, on which a limited central scene is framed by palmettes. The use of the side palmettes appears to represent a compromise between the encircling compositions found on black-figure lekythoi and the frontal compositions found on red-figure and white ground lekythoi. Side-palmette lekythoi were first produced around 500 B.C., and most preserved examples date to the first quarter of the fifth century. Side-palmette lekythoi are almost all white ground, decorated with figures executed in an outline or semi-outline technique, rather than black-figure or silhouette. The semi-outline technique is a frequent characteristic of the Diosphos Workshop. This lekythos completely in the black-figure technique on white ground is unusual for Diosphos Painter, who generally uses a combination of black-figure and semi-outline for his lekythoi. However, features of this vase, such as the use of the lotus bud chain on the shoulder and the nonsense inscriptions in the field on the body, are typical for the Diosphos Painter.

Shape Description:

The "standard cylindrical shape" lekythos develops at the end of the sixth century and continues to be produced until the beginning of the fourth. The Diosphos Painter favors the "DL" type of cylindrical lekythos. The DL lekythos is a black-figure shape, characterized by the reserved neck and shoulder, and a foot in two degrees, partly reserved partly glazed.


Nonsense inscriptions, combinations of *T, *X, and *I, as well as "near-letters" appear in the field between the figures on the body of the vase. This use of nonsense inscriptions is characteristic of the work of the Diosphos Painter.


Shapiro No. 5

Collection History:

Once in the Robinson collection. Harvard Inv. No. 176.

Sources Used:

CVA, Robinson I, pl. 38, 7; Haspels 1936, 94-130; Kurtz 1975; Beazley 1938; Mertens 1977; Haspels 1972; LIMC, V, Iris I no. 87 and 758-760; LIMC, V, Hermes no. 737; Shapiro 1981a, no. 5