Black Figure Lekythos
Attributed to the Athena Painter
ca. 450-430 BCE
This object is a black figure Attic lekythos that is believed to have been painted by the Athena Painter. Lekythos, is the name that is used to describe a piece of Greek pottery that is cylindrical in shape with a single vertical handle. Lekythoi have a slender neck and a slightly larger mouth. It is thought that lekythoi were mainly used to hold oil or perfume, commonly used during religious ceremonies.
Painted Greek vases are known from as early as the second millennium BCE, and pottery was produced all over the Greek world. Early on there were countless local styles, but by the middle of the six century BCE the vases of Attica and its capital Athens had exceeded in quantity and quality those of their nearest rivals. This Attic supremacy lasted for a century and a half and survived many wars and political upheavals. After the Peloponnesian war Attic pottery went into a slow but steady decline, though vase painting continued in other parts of the Greek world.
The painted scene on this object depicts three warriors. They are shown as black figures with details etched through the paint and into the ceramic underneath. Moving counterclockwise from the handle, the first figure is standing with a shield in his left hand and a spear in his right. He is facing to the right and appears to be attacking the second figure. The second figure is crouching and facing the first figure. He holds a shield in his right hand, as if in defense, and a spear in his left. The third figure is facing the other two and is standing. He holds a shield in his right hand and has a spear drawn back in his left.
In black-figure vase painting, the decoration was applied by painting on a slip that turned black during firing, while the background was left the color of the clay. Vase painters added details to their decorations by incising parts of the painted slip or by adding small areas of white and purple. The white and purple areas were painted with mixtures of pigment and clay. In order to complete the pot, a special three stage firing process was used. During the first, oxidizing stage, air was allowed into the kiln, turning the whole vase the color of the clay. In the subsequent stage, green wood was introduced into the chamber and the oxygen supply was reduced, causing the object to turn black in the smoky environment. In the third stage, air was reintroduced into the kiln, causing the unpainted portions of the pot to turn back to orange while the painted areas remained black. The following is a video illustrates how Greek pottery was made.
The Athena Painter specialized in lekythoi and many pieces that have been attributed to this artist depict the goddess Athena in the painted decoration. The Athena Painter was one of only a few artists that continued to work in the black figure style after the red figure technique became popular. Other examples of pieces attributed to the Athena Painter can be found in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and many others. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]