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University of Chicago 1967.115.244

Attic Red-Figure Bell-Krater Fragment Manner of the Peleus Painter ca. 435-425 B.C.

Lent by The David and Alfred Smart Gallery, The University of Chicago; given by Professor F.B. Tarbell (1967.115.244, formerly UC 289).

The Vase: Max. dim. 21.5 cm; th. 0.8 cm below to 0.5 cm above. Three pieces joined. Some abrasion and chipping, particularly along the broken edges; surface chipped above the lower edge of the uppermost of the three joined fragments, left side. Interior: dull black glaze. Color of clay heightened by use of a red wash. For an example of a complete bell-krater, slightly earlier in the fifth century, see Chicago 1922.2197.

Decoration: Two youths, the one at right seated on an altar, his head turned as he looks over his shoulder, the other standing in an easy posture, his hand resting on his hip, a spear in his left hand. The seated figure wears a petasos and chlamys and high-laced sandals, and holds two spears and a sheathed sword pressed to his chest by his left arm. The standing figure wears a chlamys with a broad black border, and high laced sandals, and holds two spears. At left, lower portion of handle palmette. Beneath the figured portions, a decorative frieze of meanders running from right to left, separated by checkered squares. Relief contour line except for portions of drapery, shoes, and palmette. Preliminary sketch lines visible. Added white or yellow for neck strap of petasos.

The scene of two youthful travelers resting at an altar suggests a narrative and, as Franklin Johnson (who attributed the work to the Kadmos Painter) pointed out, it may represent Orestes and Pylades at the altar in Tauris upon which foreigners were slain. The episode is known from Euripides' Iphigeneia in Tauris (Eur. IT) and although stylistic considerations preclude placing this vase as late as 413 B.C., to which year Euripides' play probably dates, the story of Iphigeneia, Orestes and Pylades was related in earlier dramas. The scene at the altar, as written by Euripides, is marked by a mood of wariness, and indeed, on the vase fragment, the posture of the seated youth is a study of unease. In the classical period, the physical tension inherent in the posture of sitting with raised knee grasped in linked hands is used as a visual analogy for psychological tension and conflict. The best known example of this, in sculpture, is perhaps in the figure of Ares on the east frieze of the Parthenon. In vase-painting, on the vase by the Niobid Painter in the Louvre, it is in the figure of Peirithoos, unwillingly forced to remain in the underworld as his companion, Theseus, rises to depart. (For this interpretation see E. Simon, "Polygnotan Painting and the Niobid Painter," AJA 67 [1963] 43-54.) To the posture of the hands around the knee, the artist of the Chicago fragment adds the tension of the strong twist of the head as the youth turns to peer over his shoulder (Euripides Iphigeneia in Tauris, translated by Robert Potter — (Eur. IT 196-202).

Orestes:ὅρα, φυλάσσου μή τις ἐν στίβῳ βροτῶν.
Pylades:ὁρῶ, σκοποῦμαι δ᾽ ὄμμα πανταχῆ στρέφων.
(Orestes: Keep careful watch, lest some one come this way.)
(Pylades: I watch, and turn my eye to every part.)
Psychological subtlety is united in this fragment with a delicacy of execution that can be seen particularly in the face of the seated youth. His eye, naturalistically rendered in profile view, and the elongated brow above it, combine with the fullness of the mouth to convey a sweetness and a mood of melancholy. Arms and legs are drawn with light but canny contour-lines. Curly hair, painted in dilute glaze, trails down the youth's neck. These qualities of psychological subtlety, naturalism in the rendering of posture and physical traits, as well as the restrained but unmistakable expression of intimacy between the figures, are characteristic of vase painting, as of other artistic media, in the later fifth century B.C., This is particularly true of the Peleus-Hector Group of the larger Group of Polygnotos, the major red-figure workshop of the High Classical period.

Beazley attributed the fragment to the Peleus Painter; traits of the drawing most suggestive of the style of this artist are the delicacy of the face and the fleshy upper body of the seated youth. The head is related to that of the sweet-faced victor on the Peleus Painter's pelike, Taranto 52368, and the fleshy chest to that of Mousaios on the artist's well known neck-amphora in the British Museum (London E 271). However, the petasos of the seated youth is perched unstably on top of his head, in contrast to other examples attributed to the Peleus Painter where the petasos rests solidly on the crown, and the symmetrical, pointed dip on the side of the petasos is also without parallel on other works attributed to this artist. The hooks that describe the folds of the chlamys on the standing figure are too compressed to convey the impression of the easy fall of material as the Peleus Painter regularly represents it, and the spiral shape of the weight at the hem's corner contrasts with the simple loop with which the Peleus Painter represents this device. Five and six sandal straps encircle the legs of the youths on the Chicago fragment, while the Peleus Painter renders the sandal with twice as many straps, each finer than those drawn here. The Peleus Painter also includes the tie at the top of the thongs, omitted in the Chicago fragment, and the thick soles and loops formed by the pull of the straps across the instep contrast with the patterns of straight crossing lines drawn by the Peleus Painter, who renders a different style of sandal, one with a leather plaque over the instep, as on the judge of the artist's calyx-krater fragment, Ferrara T 404, and elsewhere.

Meanders running left occur occasionally in the Group of Polygnotos, but in no other vase attributed to the Peleus Painter. The density of these meanders is in contrast to the more open form used by the Peleus Painter, and the presence of checker-squares, infrequent in the Polygnotan circle, is otherwise unknown in work attributed to the Peleus Painter.


J. Audiat, "Bulletin Archéologique IV," REG 52 (1939) 193-194 and fig. 23; ARV2, 1038, no. 3; Johnson 1938, 358-359, fig. 27; Korshak Schwartz 1973, 226-229, 248, 296.

Yvonne Korshak, Adelphi University

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