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Work Attic Red-Figure Aryballos

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

Attic Red-Figure Aryballos

© 1993 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Author(s):
Padel-Imbaud Sophie

This small vase is exceptional for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is an aryballos (a perfume container), a form very common in Corinth in the 7th and 6th century BC, but rare in Athens. It is also notable for its red-figure style, and for the historical importance of its decorative scheme, affording a unique glimpse of a medical consultation in ancient times. Finally, this is an example of the colorful style of the Clinic Painter, a follower of the pot painter Makron.

An Ancient Clinic

The decoration of this aryballos is a unique illustration of a medical consultation in ancient Greece.
A doctor is seated, bleeding the arm of a patient who stands in front of him. The patient stares nervously at the sharp implement wielded by the physician. A large basin, no doubt intended to receive the blood, is placed at their feet. On the other side of the vase we see the waiting line of patients, some of whom are wearing bandages highlighted in white. Among them is a dwarf with thick-set limbs carrying a hare on his shoulders: the animal will be given to the doctor as payment in kind for his treatment. Glasses used for suction treatments hang from the wall above.

Physicians and Medicine in Ancient Greece

The art of medicine was developed in response to the need to treat war wounds and, later, sporting accidents. Until the end of the Archaic period, most illnesses (in particular madness, impotence and epilepsy) were thought to be the result of divine intervention, designed to punish men for their excesses. In the 5th century BC, the famous physician Hippocrates of Kos led the movement to separate rational from "sacred" medicine.
The concept of public health and medical treatment also emerged at this time. In city states, a public medical practitioner was elected for one year by the city assembly. The doctor was granted an allowance for his accommodation, financed by a special tax, and collected fees for consultations with patients.

The Clinic Painter's Signature Work

This vase, for which the Clinic Painter is named, is a small receptacle for perfumed oils. Such phials are often depicted hanging from the wrists of athletes. Vases of this shape, which were very popular in Corinth in the early 6th century BC, are rarely seen with red-figure decoration.
The Clinic Painter, a follower of the pot painter Makron, is known for his vivid style, fluid drawing and acute sense of observation.

Bibliography

Denoyelle M., Chefs d'oeuvre de la céramique grecque dans les collections du Louvre, 1994, p. 136, no 63.
Au temps d'Hippocrate. Médecine et société en Grèce antique, catalogue d'exposition, Mariemont, 1998, pp. 203-205.

Technical description

  • The Clinic Painter

    Attic Red-Figure Aryballos

    c. 480-470 BC

    Greece

    Athens

  • Clay with red-figure decoration, red and white highlights

    H. 8.8 cm; Diam. 8.6 cm

  • Gift 1914

    CA 1989-CA 2183

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana IV
    Room 43

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