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Work Attic red-figure neck amphora

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

Amphore à figures rouges

© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Thierry Ollivier

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

Author(s):
Padel-Imbaud, Sophie

The sculptural program of the shield of Phidias's Athena Parthenos, which bore an amazonomachy and a gigantomachy, doubtless served as a model for the last vases of quality to be produced in Athens before the relative decline of the fourth century BCE. In this large amphora by the Suessula Painter, the whole belly is encircled by a furious mêlée, in which the majesty of the Olympians contrasts with the disorder and suffering of the Giants about to go down in defeat.

The Battle of the Gods and Giants

This beautiful amphora with its twisted handles and elegant proportions, typical of the late fifth century BCE, shows the Gigantomachy, the Battle of Gods and Giants. The legend tells how the Giants, the sons of Gaia (the Earth), one day rebelled against the gods, attacking Olympus with rocks and burning trees. An oracle predicted that the gods would win, as long as they had a mortal on their side. Zeus therefore chose his son, Hercules, to kill the Giants with his arrows.

A frenzied battle

On the front of the amphora are the most important figures. In the middle, Zeus prepares to strike with a thunderbolt a Giant identified by his animal-skin. On his left, Nike or Victory holds his quadriga. By Zeus's feet, Hercules in his lion-skin has taken up an archer's stance, aiming at his father's adversary. Finally, lower down on the left, Athena, wearing a beautiful embroidered peplos, brandishes her spear at a kneeling Giant, probably Encelados.
The back is dominated by the chariot of Ares and Aphrodite, who are accompanied by their son Eros, represented as an archer.
Other Olympians are scattered around the belly, using their traditional attributes to fight the ferocious Giants.

A distinguished model: the shield of Athena Parthenos

In parallel with the "Rich" style that dominated late fifth-century Attic ceramics there was also a return to large-scale mythological compositions, with the Gigantomachy, Amazonomachy and Centauromachy becoming favorite subjects. This seems to have been the result of the influence of the sculptural decoration of the Parthenon, and particularly of the shield of Athena Parthenos (sculpted by Phidias in 438), which was embellished with a painted Gigantomachy on the inside and a carved Amazonomachy on the outside.
Some scholars have concluded that the A side of this vase, far superior in composition to the B side, is a reproduction of the Gigantomachy painted on the inside of Athena's shield. Certainly it contains the chief features of the great painting: an ambitious composition combining numerous figures placed at different levels, the extensive use of white to lend a polychrome feel to the decoration, and the expressive treatment of the figures, here the Giants, whose faces, twisted in fear and suffering, prefigure those that would later, in the Hellenistic period, be seen on the frieze of the Great Altar of Zeus at Pergamon.

Bibliography

Martine Denoyelle, Chefs d'oeuvre de la céramique grecque dans les collections du Louvre, 1994, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, p. 154, n 72

Devambez, "L'Amazone de l'amphore de la Gigantomachie au Louvre et le bouclier de la Parthénos", Mélanges Orlandos, 1964, pp. 102-9, pl. 28, 29

Technical description

  • Peintre de Suessula

    Amphore à figures rouges

    Vers 410 - 400 avant J.-C.

    Provenance : Mélos (Milo) ?

    Athènes

  • H. : 69,50 cm. ; D. : 32,40 cm.

  • Collection Challet, 1875 , 1875

    The Milo Amphora

    MNB 810

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana V
    Room 44
    Vitrine 21

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