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HOME : Classical Antiquities : Apulian : Apulian Red-Figure Hydria
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Apulian Red-Figure Hydria - AM.0094 (LSO)
Origin: Mediterranean
Circa: 400 BC to 300 BC
Dimensions: 18.6" (47.2cm) high
Collection: Classical
Medium: Terracotta

Location: UAE
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This striking water vessel – or hydria – dates from a powerfully dynamic time in the Classical world. The hydria was a vessel designed for holding water, with a vertical handle at the back for dipping and pouring and two horizontal handles at the side for lifting. Such a large and elaborately decorated version might have been used at a symposium (where wine was diluted with water) or alternatively as a funeral offering for a wealthy member of society. Red- and black-figure wares constitute a narrative of Mediterranean social mores in the first millennium BC, as well as a general guide to mythological heritage and stylistic trends. This piece is unusual in that it comes from one of the earliest Greek Colonies. A series of demographic, political and economic problems in the 8th and 7th centuries BC brought about a major exodus to Southern Italy as well as other sites such as Southern France and the Black Sea. There were so many Greeks living in Italy that the area was dubbed “Magna Graecia” – Greater Greece – and the immigrants brought many artistic and social traditions with them. Perhaps most significant was the Chalcidean alphabet, which was used by the Etruscans, and their sculptural and painting methods.

Apulia – the origin of this piece – is a portion of Southern Italy bounded by the Ionian and the Adriatic, culminating in the peninsula of Salento. Magna Graecia was eventually absorbed by the Roman Empire in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, yet many of the stylistic trends that distinguish the Greeks from other Classical groups can be seen on pieces such as this. Most of the notable Greek-Italian fusion red figure ware vessels currently known come from Apulia; there is a good chance that this piece was made in the city of Taras, as this was the main production centre for the area. Two main styles were distinguished, that have a social and a chronological basis. The main variant was the “plain style”, which differs from the “ornate [rich] style” in terms of the number of figures and the manner in which they are represented. The ornate painters tended to use larger vessels (such as hydriai, amphorae and volute kraters) with numerous figures arranged in multiple registers and in extravagant colour schemes. Grandiose decoration with more than one tier, as evident in this example, had a short vogue in Athens in the second half of the fifth century but was most fully developed in southern Italy.

Personal styles are also visible; many artists can be recognised on the basis of the way they represent certain things, although these pieces are rarely signed. Notable exponents of the plain style include the Sisyphus Painter and Tarporley Painter, while ornate artists include the Ilioupersis Painter, the Darius Painter and the Baltimore Painter. Earlier narratives and themes are usually mythological, Dionysiac or Aphrodisiac; later themes included matrimonial, feminine and erotic iconography. Athletic and theatrical designs also appear, but the former – which is more of a Greek preserve – vanishes from the stylistic repertoire after about 370 BC.

The obverse depicts a draped charioteer driving a quadriga, holding a set of reins in his left hand and a whip in his right. Above a winged Eros holds a wreath above the charioteer’s head. The details of the wings and sandals are picked out with white highlights, as are the wheels of the chariot. To the viewer’s far right a naked male, possibly Hermes, is seated on a draped support and holds a cadeucis in his right hand and a phiale in his right. On the lower tier are three seated figures. To the far left Athena leans against a shield and a spear and holds aloft a plumed helmet in her left hand. In the centre a naked male is seated on a rocky outcrop. He gestures towards Athena with his outstretched right hand in which he offers a phiale. In his left he supports a spear which intrudes into the pictorial space of the upper tier. To the far right a draped female is similarly seated on a rocky outcrop facing towards the central figure. In her outstretched right hand she holds a white highlighted amphora and appears to be pouring a libation.

The reverse has no figural decoration; instead it is covered with an extremely complex palmette design. The tongue motif adorns the area around the handles. The neck has a band of laurel-and- dot motifs with a rosette in the centre. Rosettes also feature in the field below; the painter was clearly eager to make use of all the available space to showcase his art. The lowest band, above the base, features the meander motif, interspersed with hollow squares. This type of design was borrowed from contemporary architecture and is a common feature of high quality Apulian wares. The hydria in is excellent condition and would make a wonderful addition to any collection - (AM.0094 (LSO))


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