Apulian Red-Figure Bell Krater

SKU AM.0022
Circa

400 BC to 300 BC

Dimensions

12.3″ (31.2cm) high

Medium

Terracotta

Origin

Mediterranean

Gallery Location

UK


 

An essential vessel for anyone wishing to partake in the Bacchic pastime of wine-drinking, this wide-mouthed bell krater was specifically designed for holding large quantities of liquid; as it was considered barbaric for wine to be drunk neat (and a privilege only enjoyed by Bacchus/Dionysus and his entourage who could handle such a level of intoxication) wine would be mixed with water, usually 1 part to 3. As such, craters provided an ideal large surface area for decoration, and as wine was of utmost importance to the Symposium, kraters would usually take centre place, and as such, the decoration of such vessels were geared towards such gatherings and attempted to provide subject matter for philosophical debate, or more usually, for titillation. The obverse of the krater depicts a draped female resting her weight on her left leg before a naked seated male, possibly a young Dionysius, for he holds a thyrsus, an attribute of the god. She carries a thyrsus in her left hand also, and a tambourine in her right. This is suggestive of her providing entertainment for the seated male, while also providing entertainment for those viewing the krater. The male holds a phiale in his right hand ready for wine to be poured in (the decoration here echoing what would have been going on while wine was being mixed in the krater) and a thrysus in his left. His curly black hair is arranged beneath a fillet. It could be that this is a mythological scene, for instead of being depicted in the usual setting of a Symposium, inside the men’s room at a private residence, sat upon couches, the small white dots painted beneath the female’s foot and also beneath the male figure are the subtle representations of rocks, thus placing this scene in an outside setting. The figures are flanked by a palmette design beneath each handles and a meander motif encircles the base while a laurel motif runs beneath the rim. The reverse shows two young draped males facing one another, each holding a staff before them. There is a four-quarter disc in the field behind the figures’ heads, possibly representing a shield. It could be that these figures are returning warriors, for they wear the traveller’s cloak and hold staffs that usually symbolise such an activity. The condition and preservation of this vessel is particularly good. As illustrated in the photographs, there has been an “invisible” repair made to the rim, as there has been to the foot. Both handles are preserved, which is rare, and there are no chips to the main body. The quality of the decoration is also very fine, especially the drapery of the figures. The painter shows his skilled use of the thin brush used for such details. His care can also be seen for the meander boarder around the base of the vessel, for it is even and exhibits very straight lines. The use of white paint on the obverse of the vessel for additional details, such as the jewelry of the woman, and as added highlights to the scenery is indicative of this vessel having been painted in Greek occupied South Italy (Magna Graecia.) The artist’s skill can especially be seen on these two figures, the rendering of the male’s anatomy is particularly striking for he has depicted his torso as in contraposto, and has taken note of how the muscles react to such a position. This vessel is a beautiful example of a krater from this period, and to have it in such a well preserved condition is extremely rare.

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