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Work Apulian red-figure bell-krater

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Cratère en cloche à figures rouges

© 1993 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Author(s):
Padel-Imbaud Sophie

This exceptionally beautiful krater bears witness to the importance of Attic tragedy in the figurative repertoire of Greek pottery produced in southern Italy during the 5th century BC.
The Eumenides Painter was so named because of his predilection for depicting the opening scene of The Eumenides by Aeschylus, the third play in the Oresteia. The main scene shows the purification of Orestes by Apollo in Delphi, and the shade of Clytemnestra trying to waken the Erinyes (Furies).

The purification of Orestes in Delphi

This exceptionally large bell-krater depicts the beginning of Aeschylus's tragedy The Eumenides. The scene opens at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, symbolized by an altar surmounted by the Omphalos, the navel of the world. Orestes has taken refuge here, fleeing the Erinyes, the terrible goddesses of vengeance. He is still holding the dagger with which he has killed his mother, Clytemnestra, to avenge his father. Behind him stands Apollo, holding a laurel branch in one hand and, with the other, shaking a piglet above the young man's head in a gesture of purification. Artemis, the god's sister, stands by his side. To the left another scene is being played out, in which the shade of Clytemnestra is trying in vain to wake the three Erinyes, two of whom are asleep.

The Eumenides by Aeschylus

The Oresteia by Aeschylus (458 BC) is the only ancient trilogy preserved in its entirety. The first play, Agamemnon, is about the return and murder of the king in his own country after the Trojan War. The second part, The Libation Bearers, tells how Orestes avenges the murder of his father; and last of all, The Eumenides is the final part of the legend of the Atrides and the curse that pursued them. This final play, brilliantly illustrated here, tells more precisely how Orestes, pursued by the Erinyes, takes refuge in Delphi. There, Apollo puts the goddesses to sleep while the shade of Clytemnestra, dissatisfied, attempts to wake them. During this time, the god purifies the young man with the aid of the blood of a piglet. Next, Agamemnon's son goes to Athens, where he is judged and acquitted thanks to Athena and Apollo. The play ends with the transformation of the Erinyes into the Eumenides ("Kind Ones").
Images of Orestes in Delphi appeared in Attica during the 5th century BC, but it was during the 4th century BC in pottery from southern Italy that they became widespread and popular.

Apulian pottery and the Eumenides Painter

The Apulian workshop emerged during the last thirty years of the 5th century BC. At the beginning of the 4th century BC, two distinct styles appeared: the Plain style and the Ornate style. This vase is halfway between the two, displaying characteristics of the Plain style (bell-krater, few highlights, iconographic tradition) and the Ornate style (large size, numerous figures, complex decoration).
The Plain style was invented by the Tarporley Painter. This artist had many successors, including the Eumenides Painter (380-370 BC), who owes his name to his predilection for painting the opening scene of The Eumenides by Aeschylus, which he represented at least twice. He was a mysterious and talented artist (his drawing is fluid and precise, and he remained extremely faithful to Aeschylus's text), and we know of only a few vases by him.

Bibliography

Denoyelle Martine, Chefs-d'oeuvre de la céramique grecque dans les collections du Louvre, 1994, p. 168, n 79.
Denoyelle Martine, Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, Louvre 25, 1998, pp. 61-63, pl. 50 à 52.
Knoepfler D., Les imagiers de l'Orestie. Mille ans d'art antique autour d'un mythe grec, 1993, p. 72, p. 73, pl. 18.

Technical description

  • Peintre des Euménides

    Cratère en cloche à figures rouges

    Vers 380 - 370 avant J.-C.

    Provenance : Armento ?

    Apulie (Tarente ?)

  • H. : 48,70 cm. ; D. : 52 cm.

  • Collection Campana, 1861 , 1861

    Known as the "Eumenides Krater"

    Cp 710

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana V
    Room 44
    Vitrine 23

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