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Work Attic black-figure tripod exaleiptron

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

Attic black-figure tripod exaleiptron

© 1988 RMN / Pierre et Maurice Chuzeville

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

Author(s):
Padel-Imbaud Sophie

An exaleiptron was a recipient used by women for their toilette, especially to hold perfumed unguents. The principal scene shows - probably for the first time in Attica - the birth of Athena, with the young goddess emerging from her father Zeus's head. This vessel is typical of the second quarter of the sixth century BCE, when Athenian art freed itself from Corinthian influence to focus on the representation of mythological scenes, and hence on the depiction of the human figure.

A container for unguents

This kind of vessel was used by women for their toilette. Its name derives from the Greek word meaning "to anoint," and it was used to hold unguents and other perfumed oils. The distinctive form of the central cup-shaped receptacle, with its inward-turned lip, was designed to prevent spillages. The flattened rim is decorated with a miniature frieze depicting duelliing hoplites. The "legs," however, are decorated with three more sizeable paintings, the principal scene showing the birth of Athena, a very popular subject. The two other sides show the judgement of Paris (the shepherd attempting to make his escape as Hermes brings the three goddesses to him, while Peitho or Persuasion tries to hold him back) and a marriage procession. This last image suggests that the exaleiptron may have been a wedding gift.

The birth of Athena

An oracle had told Zeus that he would be dethroned by the son that he would have with Metis, his first wife. To avoid this fate he swallowed Metis, who was already pregnant with their daughter. Later, when he complained of terrible headaches, Hephaistos split open his head with an ax. Thus was born Athena, springing from Zeus's head fully clad in armor.
The decorative scheme adopted here is entirely traditional. Zeus sits enthroned in the middle, lightning bolt and scepter in hand, while Athena, springing from his head, is welcomed by six divinities. Flanking Zeus are the Eileithyai, twin goddesses who presided over childbirth; also present are Hephaistos, the blacksmith god with his double-headed ax, and Poseidon with his trident. At the sides are two goddesses less easy to identify: if we assume that each is associated with her male neighbor, then the figure on the left would be Aphrodite, and the one on the right Amphitrite.

The C Painter: an Attic artist

This exaleiptron is attributed to the C Painter, so called for his Corinthian-inspired style, visible here in the miniature hoplite frieze which recalls Proto-Corinthian work. The rest, however, is purely Attic in the monumentality of both the figures and the composition.
Painter C was active in the second quarter of the sixth century BCE, a time when Athenian art was freeing itself from Corinthian influence and developing its own - mythological - repertoire. This would therefore be one of the very earliest Attic images of the birth of Athena.

Bibliography

Denoyelle Martine, Chefs-d'oeuvre de la céramique grecque dans les collections du Louvre, 1994, p. 66, n 28.
Kauffmann-Samaras Aliki, "Le Peintre C, peintre novateur de la céramique attique, dans la collection du musée du Louvre", Revue du Louvre, 37, 1987, 5-6, pp. 340-55.

Technical description

  • Attributed to the C PAINTER

    Attic black-figure tripod exaleiptron

    c.570-560 BCE

    Thebes

    Athens

  • Clay, black-figure technique (incised detail, red and white overpainting)

    H. 14 cm; Diam. 24 cm

  • Purchased 1894

    CA 616

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana II
    Room 41

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