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Work Campanian red-figure bell-krater

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

Cratère en cloche à figures rouges

© 2004 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Author(s):
Marmois-Sicsic Sophie

The Louvre purchased this large krater from southern Italy in 1985 to enrich its collection of Campanian pottery. It features an exceptional representation of the massacre of the suitors by Ulysses. This famous subject, which nevertheless rarely appears in figured pottery, is represented in an ambitious composition combining the red-figure technique with polychromy. This bell-krater is attributed to the Ixion Painter, a Campanian artist of the late 4th century BC.

The massacre of the suitors

On this large bell-krater, the painter has depicted the bloody episode of the massacre of the suitors, as told by Homer in Book 22 of the Odyssey. In the megaron, or ceremonial room, in the palace in Ithaca, Ulysses, accompanied by his son Telemachus and the swineherd Eumaeus, confronts Penelope's suitors. The twelve unarmed young men, who occupy two-thirds of the composition, are surprised during a banquet and are trying to resist the attack by the three figures. They all have the same physical appearance, but are represented in extremely different poses. Their red hair is short and curly and encircled by a crown of leaves, and some wear identical expressions of pain. Some of them are dying on the klines (banqueting couches) arranged in the center, while others are using the low tables and metal crockery to shield and defend themselves. Ulysses' brutal attack has caused such chaos that some of the banqueting crockery lies on the ground. On the right, before the double doors indicating the place of the massacre, stand the three assailants: Ulysses, seen from behind, is drawing his bow and firing his arrows at the young men; by his side Telemachus is advancing, bent forward, protecting himself behind an immense metal shield; above him Eumaeus, with his wrinkled face and white beard, is brandishing a sort of club.

The Ixion Painter

The vase after which the Ixion Painter was named is an amphora, now conserved in Berlin, that depicts the punishment of Ixion. The artist worked in the region of Capua (Campania) and illustrated his vases with ambitious compositions borrowed from myths and epics. He mostly painted amphorae (Louvre K 300), kraters (Louvre and Oxford), and hydrias. His style is characterized by representations of figures with supple anatomies and faces with broad noses and fleshy lips. The secondary decoration on his kraters is made up of meander friezes, alternating with check and star motifs on the lower part of the bowl, and plant motifs of palmettes and scrolls beneath the handles. The back of the Louvre vase is decorated more soberly, with a scene depicting a conversation between two pairs of figures, who wear crowns and himations. The Ixion Painter was one of the most important artists in Campanian pottery. He was active during the last thirty years of the 4th century BC.

A pictorial creation

The choice of subject, ambitious composition, and pictorial effects highlighted by the use of polychromy make this an exceptional work. The red figures are heightened with numerous colors: reds of different tones for the flesh and blood; white for the couches, arrows, and crockery; and yellow to accentuate the brilliance of the metal items. The growing importance of polychromy on vases during the 4th century BC and the new techniques with which artists in southern Italy were experimenting, testify to an ever-increasing interest in pictorial effects.

Bibliography

Ulisse, il mito e la memoria, catalogue d'exposition Rome, 1996, pp. 396-432, 445, n 6-21.
Homère chez Calvin, catalogue d'exposition Genève, 2000, p. 176, p. 177, p. 265, n C34.

Technical description

  • Peintre d'Ixion

    Cratère en cloche à figures rouges

    Vers 330 avant J.-C.

    Campanie (Capoue ?)

  • H. : 44,50 cm. ; D. : 45,80 cm. ; L. : 43,30 cm.

  • Acquisition 1985

    Side A: Massacre of the Suitors by Ulysses, Telemachus and EumaeusSide B: Two Young Men and Two Women

    CA 7124

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana V
    Room 44
    Vitrine 24

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