Scenes of Daily Life: Women
Scenes of women, on the other hand, especially as represented on hydriai, become a virtual industry for some of the Polygnotan painters and account for a large proportion of the Polygnotan scenes of daily life. The Christie Painter was a special practitioner of such scenes, as were the Kleophon Painter and others working in his manner. Vases by the Christie Painter such as his hydria in Providence (RISD 22.114
and his krater in Würzburg (Würzburg L 521
are characteristic. The women are generally shown in groups, often with a seated central figure playing a musical instrument, performing some task related to woolworking, selecting jewelry, or occasionally reading. Other women stand by this central figure, participating in her activity in some way. Whether these scenes should be viewed as snapshots of the women's quarters or whether they are better interpreted as emblematic images of women's proper roles in life, or both, is debated.3
Numerous hydriai with such scenes have been found in tombs.4
Sometimes Eros is present, suggesting association with preparations for a wedding.5
Similar scenes, again often with Eros, appear on loutrophoroi and lebetes gamikoi, offering more direct associations with weddings through the functions of the vases themselves; both of these shapes are rare among the Polygnotans but common enough in the work of contemporaries like the Washing Painter.6
Babies or children are rare in such scenes, although an unattributed hydria in the Polygnotan style at Harvard University (Harvard 1960.342
) shows two women with a baby in a scene marked as a domestic interior by the loom behind the figures.
Occasionally the women are named, some as Muses, or Nereids, or poets, as the reading figure on a hydria by an unnamed Polygnotan in Athens, who is named Sappho (Athens 1260
When the figures are named as muses, the scene may be envisioned as outdoors, although on the most impressive of these, where Terpsichore plays for Mousaios on the Peleus Painter's amphora in London (London E 271
there is no indication of landscape. The Peleus Painter has shown remarkable attention to detail in the rendering of the musical instruments on this vase, as well as to the klismos on which Terpsichore sits while she plays her harp.
A man or men are occasionally present in these scenes, and the meaning of their presence is debated. Some have suggested that the presence of men in scenes of woolworking distinguishes these women as hetairai, in contrast to the respectable women in the scenes without men.9
Such an interpretation would be hard to accept for the hydria at Harvard mentioned above, where a man joins the women in their loom-filled interior, but where there is also a baby, an unlikely witness to the negotiations between hetairai and their customers. Scenes of men pursuing women have been associated with weddings as well.10
There are many mythological paradigms for these mortal pursuits, and pursuits by Zeus and Poseidon are among those shown by Polygnotan painters. Eos pursuing Kephalos was a favorite of this Group, as typified by the Christie Painter's bell krater in the Johns Hopkins University collection (Baltimore, Hopkins BMA 51.486
The abduction of Kephalos by Eos may have been a metaphor for sudden death,12
making such vases particularly appropriate as tomb offerings.
Women bathing, as represented by an unnamed hand in the Group on a stamnos in Munich (Munich 2411
), is a far less common subject.13
This painter is clearly comfortable with his ability to draw the nude female body, in contrast to the often abortive attempts of early red-figure vase painters, and he has made the distinctions of age relatively clear. Such scenes may record the custom of allowing women access to the public baths at certain restricted hours.