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Denman Collection (Shapiro No. 26)

Attic Black-Figure Lekythos (White-Ground) Collection of Gilbert M. Denman, Jr., San Antonio Attributed to the Edinburgh Painter [Cahn] Ca. 500 B.C. Height: 31.8 cm. Diameter: 11.5 cm. Introduction of Herakles to Olympos.

After Herakles' death, caused by the poisoned shirt of Nessos (San Antonio 75.59.15P, and his immolation on a funeral pyre on Mount Oeta, he underwent an apotheosis, ascending to join the company of gods on Mount Olympos. The scene occurs often in Attic black-figure, starting in the second quarter of the sixth century, and continues, though less popular, throughout red-figure. The scene is usually referred to as the introduction, because Herakles is almost invariably accompanied by Athena, his protectress, who is sometimes seen presenting him to her father Zeus and the assembled gods and goddesses.

The apotheosis, or introduction, is generally shown in one of two ways: either Herakles is driven in a chariot by Athena; or, as here, they approach on foot. Generally speaking the introduction on foot is popular in earlier black-figure and is later replaced by the version with chariot, but the former type does recur, and the procession of vertical figures is certainly more appropriate for a narrow lekythos such as this example.

The scene is framed by two slender Doric columns which mark the entrance to Olympos. The group is led by Hermes, who gestures with upraised left hand, as if signalling to the unseen gods Herakles' arrival. Hermes wears winged boots and cap, chlamys over a short chiton, and carries his kerykeion. Next comes Athena, who looks back at Herakles, her raised hand also indicating that they have reached their destination. Her aegis, seen frontally, shows prominently the snaky fringe, and two snakes curl up over the goddess' shoulders. She wears a high-crested Attic helmet and carries a spear. Herakles wears only a short pleated chiton with short sleeves and carries his club in his right hand, a bow in his left. Behind him stands a bearded figure in a chiton and a tall pointed cap, holding two spears. This might be Iolaos, Herakles' frequent companion on most of his adventures Austin 1980.33, even though Iolaos could not, of course, accompany the hero to Olympos.

About 500 B.C. the Edinburgh Painter, to whom the Denman vase is attributed, introduced the technique of decorating larger cylindrical lekythoi with black figures on a white ground. It was only toward the middle of the fifth century that white-ground lekythoi became associated exclusively with the funerary cult (Shapiro 1981a, nos. 42-45. This painter is also recognized by his distinctive pattern of five palmettes on the shoulder, the two outside ones facing the handle, and by use of black paint for women's flesh, instead of the conventional white of standard black-figure.


Bibliography

Cahn 1968, 18. On the introduction of Herakles: Mingazzini 1925. On the Edinburgh Painter: Kurtz 1975, 13-14.

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