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Work Attic black-figure olpe

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

Olpé à figures noires

© 1993 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Author(s):
Padel-Imbaud Sophie

The third quarter of the 6th century BC was the golden age of the black-figure technique in Athens. Vases dating from this period are characterised by the precision of the incision, the wide range of themes, and their sheer technical brilliance. The Amasis Painter was one of the major artists of the period, as demonstrated by this olpe - a sort of jug - which depicts Herakles entering Olympus.

Herakles presented to Poseidon

An olpe is a type of oenochoe with a more slender form. The painted scene is of Herakles entering Olympus. He is being greeted by Poseidon, easily recognisable thanks to his trident. The figure of Poseidon is rather unexpected here: one would expect Herakles to be met by his father Zeus, the ruler of Olympus. Herakles is depicted without his usual attributes, his lion skin and club. Instead, he is wearing a short, richly embroidered chiton and is carrying a sword and bow. He is preceded by Athena, who has a shield decorated with a magnificent episemon, or ornament, in the shape of an owl, and Hermes, whose position suggests he represents the transition between the two worlds. The potter's signature, "Amasis m'epoiesen", is inscribed on either side of Athena's spear.

Herakles entering Olympus

After his death, Herakles joined the Greek gods in Olympus and married the goddess Hebe. Attic pottery, black-figure ware in particular, was often illustrated with this scene, which first appeared in the second quarter of the 6th century BC. Herakles is shown entering Olympus either on foot, as here, or, particularly in the second half of the 6th century BC, in a chariot.

The Amasis Painter

The Amasis Painter owes his name to the potter Amasis, who signed most of his vases. It may be the case the Amasis the potter and the Amasis Painter are one and the same man. Whatever the case, the painter is known to have worked during the golden age of Attic black-figure pottery, and was, along with Exekias, one of the art's finest exponents.
However, the style of the two artists is very different. Exekias tended to produce monumental, epic compositions, while the Amasis Painter preferred more intimate scenes rich in decorative detail. His work is characterised by a taste for depicting embroidered garments and touches of colour. He painted a large number of mythological scenes, but they are rarely conventional. This scene, where Herakles is greeted not by Zeus, but by Poseidon, is a case in point. His approach to the iconography of the Greek myths may indicate that the Amasis Painter was a foreigner.

Bibliography

Denoyelle Martine, Chefs-d'oeuvre de la céramique grecque dans les collections du Louvre. 1994, p. 78, n 34.
"The Amasis Painter and his world", catalogue d'exposition, New York, 1985, pp. 140-142, n 27.

Technical description

  • Peintre d'Amasis

    Olpé à figures noires

    Vers 550 - 530 avant J.-C.

    Athènes

  • H. : 26,40 cm. ; D. : 13,50 cm.

  • Acquisition, 1880

    Signée par Amasis, potier

    F 30

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana III
    Room 42
    Vitrine 4 : Attique à figures noires : Peintre d'Amasis

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Additional information about the work

Signed by the potter on face A: AMASIS M'EPOIESEN (Amasis made me)