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White Ground: Middle Phase

Two lekythoi, one in Philadelphia (Philadelphia MS5463),1 the other in Worcester (Worcester 1900.65),2 illustrate the changes that occurred during the beginning of his Middle phase, a time of great transition in respect to technique (450-445 B.C.). 'Mistress and maid' scenes are still the norm, as illustrated by both vases, and the types of objects shown hanging in the background are the same. Two standing figures, as on the Worcester lekythos (

), or one standing and the other sitting, as on the Philadelphia lekythos (

), are still the most popular arrangements. The use of second white, however, disappears, and although it is still used for the figures on the Philadelphia lekythos (


), it only colors the ribbons in the basket held by the left-hand woman on the Worcester vase (

). Note also the change in tone of the white background, from a creamy off-white to a chalky, brighter hue. Both lekythoi display the painter's new use of dilute, golden glaze. The hair of the figures on the Philadelphia lekythos is brown (


), not black as earlier (


), and the color of the ornamental band has changed (

). The palmettes on the shoulder of the Worcester lekythos illustrate the painter's canonical form, with five major leaves for each of the three palmettes and cross-over tendrils originating from the volutes of the central one (

). Often additional leaves are added in matt red. The arrangement on the Early lekythoi has more leaves (

) and often resembles that found on many of the painter's red-figure lekythoi (


The figural types and compositions on the painter's lekythoi vary little, although the quality of the drawing ranges from good to superb. A typical example from his ripe Middle period (445-435 B.C.) is a lekythos in the Arthur M. Sackler Museum in Cambridge (Harvard 1972.43;

).4 The poses of the figures are very close to those on the Worcester lekythos, with the exception of the plemochoe which the right-hand woman holds up in her left hand (


). The mirror hanging in the background is similar to those found earlier (

; compare


). Golden dilute glaze is used for all the outlines and ornament (


), and traces of red for the mantles are preserved (

) — in contrast to the black mantle often used in the Early period.

During the Middle period scenes at graves make their appearance. They never became as popular as the two figured 'mistress and maid' composition, which now instead of only two women, sometimes have a male and a female, as on a lekythos in London with a woman and a warrior (London D 51;

),5 or two males. One of the finer grave scenes in New York shows a youth to either side of an elaborate tombstone decorated with wreaths and fillets.6 The tiny eidolon flying over the younger youth on the right suggests that he is the deceased, who is here represented as if living in the flesh, while the other youth is a visitor to his grave. It is never precisely clear whether the deceased is one of the two figures shown in these scenes, and a matter of debate for many years. On some lekythoi there is little doubt that he is shown, on others it is clear that he is not; the majority fall in between.

One of the painter's masterpieces, and one of the finest of all Greek vases, is a lekythos in Munich from his Middle period (Munich Shoen 80;

).7 Again two women are shown, but the one on the right plays a lyre and sits upon a rock labelled Helicon, the home of the Muses (

). In depicting Muses, the artist has elevated his figures to a higher level. The Muse standing at the left (

) gestures with her right hand, as if keeping time to the music, while a bird is perched on the rock between them, an effective device for recalling the song that often accompanies instrumental music (

). The colors are very well preserved, and make one realize just how beautiful these vases were; unfortunately on most white-ground lekythoi all or part of the color is lost, and primarily the outlines remain.

1 ARV2, 996, 143.

2 ARV2, 997, 151; Beazley Addenda 2, 312.

3 The shoulder ornament on the lekythos in Philadelphia shows a rare early use of matt paint (


4 ARV2, 1000, 186; Beazley Addenda 2, 313.

5 ARV2, 1000, 201 and 1677; Beazley Addenda 2, 313.

6 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1989.281.72; Muscarella 1974, no. 63.

7 ARV2, 997, 155; Para., 438; Beazley Addenda 2, 312.

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