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Work Corinthian black-figure hydria

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

Hydrie à figures noires

© 1993 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Author(s):
Padel-Imbaud Sophie

This hydria is typical of the final phase of black-figure vases made in Corinth in 575-540 BC, which have an undercoat of orange-red engobe in imitation of Attic clay. The central scene harks back to the geometric period, when pieces often featured the ceremony of prothesis, or laying out the dead. The exuberant colors and the narrative content - the Nereids lamenting the death of Achilles - reflect the quality of Corinthian pottery at that time.

Late Corinthian pottery

Corinthian pottery production is divided into three phases: Early Corinthian (625-600 BC), where the style is still very much dominated by animal motifs influenced by the Oriental tradition; Middle Corinthian (600-575 BC), with the early development of narrative scenes, particularly on kraters; and Late Corinthian (575-540 BC), characterized by the exuberant use of color, particularly an orange-red engobe used as an undercoat for the body of the vase. This technique is thought to have been a way of imitating Attic clay, rich in iron oxides: the Attic workshops were beginning to threaten the commercial supremacy of the Corinthian potters, who had hitherto not had to face any such competition.

The Damon Painter's hydria

Hydriae were vessels used for carrying water. They are typically large in size, no doubt because they were modeled on metal vessels. The Damon Painter owes his name to another hydria in the Louvre (E 642), which depicts a chariot about to set off and gives the name of the charioteer as Damon.
This hydria is a fine example of the use of color in Late Corinthian pottery. Three-quarters of the surface of the vessel is covered with decorative motifs with brightly colored highlights. The black pigment and the touches of red and white stand out against the orange-red background.

Lamenting the death of Achilles

The main scene, framed by bands of decorative motifs, shows the ceremony of prothesis or laying out a body. This type of iconography dates back to the geometric period. The deceased is wrapped in a shroud and laid out on a ceremonial bed with his helmet and shield - featuring an impressive gorgoneion - at its foot. A number of lamenting women stand around the bed, tearing at their hair, as custom dictated.
The figures are identified in inscriptions as six Nereids or sea-nymphs, the sisters of Thetis, who was the mother of Achilles. They are lamenting the death of the great hero who was killed in Troy by an arrow shot by Paris and guided by Apollo to Achilles' only weak spot - his heel.
Although the Corinthian workshops were capable of producing fine work, as this piece shows, they were overtaken by the Athenian potteries and stopped production of vessels decorated with figures in around 540 BC.

Bibliography

Denoyelle Martine, Chefs-d'oeuvre de la céramique grecque dans les collections du Louvre, 1994, p. 44, n 17.

Technical description

  • Peintre de Damon

    Hydrie à figures noires

    Vers 560 - 550 avant J.-C.

    Corinthe

  • H. : 46 cm. ; D. : 36 cm.

  • Collection Campana, 1861

    Thetis and the Nereids lamenting the death of Achilles

    E 643

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana II
    Room 41
    Vitrine 14 : Corinthien

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Additional information about the work

Bears the names of six Nereids: Dioi, Fioi, Kleopatra, Hamathoi, Kymatotha, Fioi