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HOME : Classical Antiquities : Attic Vases : Attic Black-Figured Oinochoe
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Attic Black-Figured Oinochoe - LA.502
Origin: Mediterranean
Circa: 520 BC to 510 BC
Dimensions: 9" (22.9cm) high
Collection: Classical
Medium: Terracotta

Additional Information: Art Logic Provenance: Oscar Blum Gentilomo (1903-1975), Christie's 2004

Location: UAE
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In keeping with characteristically Greek design tenets, the base and foot of this vessel as well as its neck, lip, and handles are rendered in black glaze in order to serve as framing elements for the single, principal figural scene on the front of the vessel itself. That scene is furthered framed by the ground line on which the figures stand as well as by a net-like, vertical pattern to the left and right, and a series of vertical stokes at the top. The neck of the vessel is likewise separated from the shoulder by a third, net-like design and the foot from the base by a white band. Because scenes on such Greek vases often adhere to strictly observed canonical standards, their identification is assured even when, as here, there are no accompanying inscriptions. On the basis of those standards this scene depicts The Return of Helen. The heroine of the Trojan War epics, Helen is shown in the center of the composition, facing right. Her hands, feet, and face are painted white in keeping with conventions for the depiction of women on Attic black-figured vases. She is shown wearing a patterned chiton, a striped himation, and a wreath in her hair. She lifts her himation with her left hand in a gesture well-known in Greek art from wedding scenes in which the bride unveils herself to her husband. The return of Helen to her husband Menelaos is here interpreted as if, to use a modern analogy, the couple were about to renew their vows. It is for this reason as well that Helen extends to Menelaos the wreath in her left hand. Menelaos on the left is shown as a contemporary Greek warrior in full battle armor. He wears a crested helmet, greaves, and a mantle draped over one shoulder. He holds a round shield, the blazon of which consists of four white dots framing an animal’s head, as well as two spears. Helen’s eyes are cast downward under the fixed glance of her husband’s eyes. The warrior to the left, similarly armed and with a shield emblazoned with a depiction of a bent human leg, has been plausibly identified as Odysseus, the Greek hero whose stratagem of the wooden horse brought the Trojan War to a close which resulted in the return of Helen. His job done, he is depicted facing left, his head turned toward the re-united couple for one last look, before he leaves them alone. The fact that Odysseus is leaving immediately is subtly conveyed by squeezing his figure tightly into the space occupied by the framing net- pattern on the far left. This vessel, termed an oinochoe, was used as a pitcher to serve wine. It celebrates the exploits of heros and was a fitting accessory at Greek symposia, or drinking parties. Today, it commemorates Helen of Troy, whose beauty was such that her face “launched a thousand ships!” - (LA.502)


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