The Greek colonies of Southern Italy, known in antiquity as Magna Graecia, or “Greater Greece,” were marked by their initial allegiance to the ceramic styles of the Attic mainland. However, over the years, native traditions and innovations heavily influenced the works of Magna Graecian potters. Unorthodox forms and painting-styles were seamlessly merged with the standard Greek style, creating distinctive works of art unique to the Hellenistic world. Lucania was one of the chief cities of Magna Graecia and was inhabited both by Greek colonists as well as local Samnite populations. Situated along the Tyrrhenian Sea, this port quickly became one of the centers of pottery manufacturing in the burgeoning colonies of Southern Italy. Today, the eastern half of this ancient land corresponds to the modern Italian region of Basilicata, while the western half lies in modern Campania.
Kraters are a group of vessels with wide mouths, a narrow, footed base, and handles. Foremost among the different types of kraters is the bell krater, so-called because it emits a pleasant ringing sound not unlike a bell when gently struck with a finger. Kraters were an essential piece of equipment in the symposium, a type of diner banquet immortalized by Plato where drinking and revelry were the encouraged activities. After the food was consumed, the group of men retired to a special room with a floor that sloped into a central drain (to facilitate cleaning the morning after) where drinks were served and female consorts entertained with music and dancing. Before the wine was served, it was first diluted with water inside a krater such as this one.
This extraordinary vessel is a masterpiece of ancient painted pottery. What chance encounter is depicted on its sides? The male youths clad in himations converse on the front. The two on either end hold walking sticks. On the reverse, a nude male is depicted holding a similar walking staff, now conversing with two ladies wearing himations and chitons. What is the interrelation between these scenes? Is the man proposing to the women and then bragging to his male cohorts later on? This does not seem too far-fetched. While the meaning behind the images will remain elusive, the beauty of the painting is a clear today as it has ever been. A reserve band with a painted meander motif frames the bottom of the scenes while a band of leaves decorates the upper rim just below the lip. The gentle curves of the vessel are remarkable. The slight swelling of the body, the smooth tapering of the rim and foot all show that this was vessel was thrown by an expert potter.