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Work Attic black-figure hydria

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Archaic Greek Art (7th-6th centuries BC)

Hydrie à figures noires

© 1993 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Archaic Greek Art (7th-6th centuries BC)

Author(s):
Kardianou-Michel Alexandra

A hydria was a large, round-bellied vessel used for carrying water - hydor in Greek. Hydriae had horizontal carrying handles and a vertical handle for pouring. The main scene often depicts a group of women, each with a hydria, at a water fountain. On Attic black-figure vases, the figures are in black against an orange-red clay ground, while the details are picked out in incisions and touches of purple and white. The parts of the womens' bodies not covered by their tunics are painted white.

A black-figure hydria

This style of vase first appeared in Athens and Corinth between 575 and 550 BC. Originally, hydriae had rather globular bellies with no visible division between the body and the shoulders. In the late 6th century, they became more powerful in shape and could come in enormous sizes. The rotelles at the junctures of the vertical handle and the almost horizontal shoulders, separate from the body, mean the pottery hydriae are close in shape to those made in bronze. The black-figure style reached its pinnacle in around 560-540 BC. This hydria dates from around 510 BC, the last year of the rule of Pisistratus, a tyrant who ruled Athens and who supported the arts as a way of glorifying his own image. He encouraged architects, sculptors, and ceramicists. Of these three arts, pottery best reflects the progress of figurative art and a certain political ideology apparent in the choice of subjects, such as the cycle of Herakles, on whom Pisistratus modelled himself, or the style of the edifices built as part of the vast construction programme he launched. Pisistratus set out to beautify Athens, including the building of a number of highly decorative water fountains such as the well-known Callirhoe fountain and the Enneacrunos fountain with its nine jets.

The women at the fountain

Artists often included depictions of scenes involving vases on their vases. In this case, the women are gathered at the fountain, each with a hydria resting on padding on her head. The lively scene gives a glimpse of the daily lives of Athenian women. The fountain, which has five steps and is framed by two Doric columns, is ornamented with two grotesque masks - a donkey and a lion - which serve as water jets, filling the hydriae placed on the top steps. Two women are waiting for their vessels to fill up, while the other women chat. Four women have already fetched their water and are returning home, as indicated by the hydriae balanced on their heads, while two others are just arriving. The fountain is in the centre of the composition. The women are holding wreaths and branches, which also decorate the fountain. These may indicate that the painter wished to depict a festive occasion. It was not until 411 BC that Aristophanes presented his Lysistrata, but a few lines from the play perfectly evoke the hustle and bustle of the scene: "Rising at dawn, I had the utmost trouble to fill this vessel at the fountain.Oh! what a crowd there was, and what a din! What a rattling of water-pots! Servants and slave-girls pushed and thronged me!"

The combat scene

The hydria is also decorated with a combat scene on the shoulder. Although this scene is smaller, it is nonetheless interesting. Artists often painted scenes of combat on land or at sea on the soulders of hydriae. The hoplites, wearing protective helmets and knemis and holding shields and swords, are fighting man to man on either side of a quadriga which is probably being driven by Athena.

Bibliography

Ginouves R., Balaneutiké, BEFAR 102, 1962.
Diehl E., die Hydria, 1964.

Technical description

  • Hydrie à figures noires

    Vers 510 avant J.-C.

    Provenance : Cumes

    Athènes

  • H. : 49,70 cm. ; D. : 30,80 cm.

  • Aquisition 1881 , 1881

    F 296

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Pre-Classical Greece
    Room 1, temporarily closed to the public

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