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Work Attic Red-Figure Calyx Krater

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

Cratère en calice à figures rouges

© 1993 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Author(s):
Sophie Padel-Imbaud

The Cleophrades Painter is one of the finest representatives of the Attic red-figure technique of the early fifth century BC. He seems to have been the first person to design a figured decoration which goes all the way around a large vase without interruption, as seen in the Louvre krater. The episode represented is well known: it is the return of Hephaestus to Olympia, accompanied by the turbulent procession of Dionysos, and is treated in a particularly narrative and lively manner.

The Cleophrades Painter

This calyx krater is attributed to the Cleophrades Painter, who owes his conventional name to the potter who signed a number of his vases. The Cleophrades Painter was active during the early fifth century BC, when Attic red-figure pottery was at its peak. During this period there were a huge number of talented painters, who stood out for the precision of their drawing and their wide variety of themes. It is also at this point that we observe a true differentiation between painters of large vases and painters of small vases. The Cleophrades Painter is one of the finest representatives of the first category. He was the disciple of the Pioneer Euthymides, and inherited the sculptural power of his drawing and his predilection for kraters.

The Return of Hephaestus to Olympia

Here, the figured decoration goes all the way around the vase without interruption above the handles. It illustrates a mythological episode which had already been abundantly featured by the black-figure painters, and is revisited here: the return of Hephaestus to Olympia. One version tells how Hephaestus, the son of Hera and Zeus, was so ugly at birth that his mother threw him off the top of Mount Olympus. This vertiginous fall left him with a lame leg. He was picked up by the Nereids and, living among them, he developed his talents as a blacksmith. When he became an adult he decided to seek revenge, and offered Hera a booby-trapped golden throne. As soon as she sat down, the queen of the gods found herself imprisoned by magic bonds. The gods then begged Hephaestus to release his mother and take his place again on Olympus. Hephaestus stubbornly turned a deaf ear and only Dionysos was able to make him change his mind.

A Joyful Procession

Here, the myth is illustrated in a highly narrative fashion. On the edge of the principal side we can recognize Hera seated on her throne, her legs fettered by the bonds. In the center Hephaestus, wearing a pilos (a conical hat worn by artisans) and holding his tongs, sits astride a mule while Hermes, the messenger of the gods, wearing a petasus and winged boots, leads him towards Hera.
The back of the vase is dominated by the procession of Dionysos accompanying the blacksmith god. Dionysos is holding a kantharos and being lifted up by a satyr with pointed ears. All around, satyrs and maenads are bustling about, dancing and making music. The regular physiognomies, with extremely straight noses, fleshy lips and eyes already represented in three-quarter view, are characteristic of the painter, as are the clarity of the draperies with their structured folds and the use of diluted light-brown slip for the hair and the animal skins.

Bibliography

Martine Denoyelle, Chefs-d’œuvre de la céramique grecque, 1994, p. 122, Ed. de la Réunion des musées nationaux, n° 56.

Technical description

  • Peintre de Cléophradès

    Cratère en calice à figures rouges

    Vers 485 - 480 avant J.-C.

    Athènes

  • H. : 42 cm. ; D. : 49 cm.

  • Collection Campana, 1861

    G 162

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana IV
    Room 43
    Vitrine 23

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Additional information about the work

Inscription highlighted in red: "Hephaestus".