Red Figure: Middle Phase
The majority of the red-figure masterpieces come from the beginning of the Middle phase (450-445 B.C.) and are found on large shapes, particularly calyx-kraters. A recently published calyx-krater in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu 77.AE.44.1
is perhaps the finest, although its fragmentary state detracts from one's first impression of it. As on many of his most exquisite vases, the subject matter is unique. Athena is shown in the center of the obverse giving Herakles' arms to Philoktetes on the left, while Herakles looks on from the right. Breathtaking in execution are the details, such as Athena's griffin diadem and earring, and the figures' hands. Compare Athena's eye and ear to Achilles on the namepiece in the Vatican. The individual delineation of some of the strands of her hair and the added clay bits for part of Herakles' hair are details found on other of the painter's masterpieces.
During his Middle phase (450-435 B.C.) the Achilles Painter started to develop several new stock themes that he continued to use into his Late phase (435-420s B.C.). One of his favorites is Oedipus's confrontation with the Sphinx. On the obverse of a Nolan amphora in Boston (Boston 06.2447
; CB no. 51
the Sphinx sits atop a column at the left looking at Oedipus whose hand gesture indicates he is in the process of solving the riddle. Dressed as a youthful traveller, he wears a chlamys over a chitoniskos, holds a spear in his left hand, and has a petasos hanging from his neck and a sword in scabbard at his side. Simple, balanced, two-figure compositions like this are the hallmark of the later Achilles Painter and one of the reasons he is considered the most "classical" of all vase-painters.
The mantled youth holding a staff on the reverse of this Nolan amphora is a stock figure that is repeated with variations on many of the reverses of the painter's vases. Because these figures were quickly drawn and used repeatedly by painters, they are one of the most useful details for attributing vases to an artist.3
Compare this figure to the ones on the back of a Nolan amphora in Japan4
and a pelike in London (London E 385
A bearded man is shown instead of a youth on the latter, but this is just one of several variations to the stock type. The pose of the figures and delineation of the mantle — note particularly the manner of rendering the overfold — are identical. These figures are so repetitious that it is easy to see why fragments, such as one in North Carolina,6
can be securely attributed to the artist.