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Work Fragmentary krater

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

Fragmentary krater

© 2009 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Author(s):
Alexandra Kardianou-Michel

The monumental size of this krater is impressive despite its fragmentary state. Kraters were very widely used to mix water and wine, but were also used as grave-markers in the period from 850 to 760 BC.
Here the section between the handles shows a prothesis scene, with the body of the deceased laid on a bier, surrounded by family and friends, professional female mourners and warriors.

The Dipylon Master

Vases painted by the so-called Dipylon Master mark the high point of the Geometric period, and are among the earliest forms of funerary monument. Vases of monumental proportions such as this example, sometimes as tall as a man, were widespread. The scale and decoration of these vases reflected the status and wealth of the deceased.
From c.750 BC in Athens, amphorae (for women) and kraters (for men) were placed as grave-markers on the tombs of dignitaries in the cemetery in the Kerameikos, or potters' quarter, near the Dipylon or "double gate". The Dipylon Painter, the conventional name for the earliest of the great Greek vase painters, was active in the Kerameikos from 770 to 750 BC. The painted designs by his hand are so perfectly adapted to the shapes of the vases that we may infer that he was both potter and painter. Some 50 vases have been attributed to his workshop, including several of large dimensions (amphorae, kraters and oinochoai).

Narrative scenes

Scenes with figures first appeared in the Late Geometric period (770–700 BC), most commonly depicting funerals, especially the ekphora ceremony, in which the body of the deceased was exhibited and taken by chariot to the place of cremation or burial. Geometric painters also favored maritime scenes, battles at sea and on land, and chariot processions. The opening, handles and body of the vase were often decorated with snakes made from clay, funerary symbols representing the eternal cycle of life.
The scene depicted here is the prothesis, held on the second day after death, when the checkered shroud was lifted to reveal the body. The bier is surrounded by family, friends and professional mourners, seated or kneeling with their hands raised to their heads in a gesture of grief. The decorative scheme is completed by an escort of warriors in chariots, and a warship beneath the handle, making the vessel a consummate expression of the militaristic values of the Athenian nobility of the period.

Geometric figure painting

The first human figures are sketchy silhouettes, with a single eye occupying the face, shown in profile. The triangular body is shown from the front, with simple lines indicating the arms, either raised towards the head in a gesture of grief (in funeral scenes, as here), or carrying weapons. The legs are elongated, meanwhile, with exaggerated thighs. There is no attempt at realism: the chariot's wheels are shown side by side, and the body of the deceased and the checkered shroud are depicted as if viewed directly from above, although the latter seems to be held over the bier by two attendants like an awning. The difficulties of lending a sense of depth to the scene are circumvented by superimposing different planes, a solution that remained widespread until the discovery of perspective and the vanishing point. The Louvre krater is a magnificent example of the Dipylon Master's art.

Bibliography

Martine Denoyelle, Chefs-d'oeuvre de la céramique grecque dans les collections du Louvre, 1994, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, p. 18, n 4

Sophie Marmois, Les rites funéraires grecques à travers la céramique, feuillet pédagogique n 3/18

Gudrun Ahlberg-Cornell, Prothesis and Ekphora in Greek Geometric Art, ed. Paul Aströms, 1971

John Boardman, Early Greek Vase Painting, Thames & Hudson 1999

Technical description

  • Attributed to the Dipylon Master

    Fragmentary krater

    Late Geometric period (LG I), c. 750 BC

    Dipylon cemetery, Athens (Greece)

    Athens (Greece)

  • Clay, brilliant paint, line-drawing and silhouettes

    W. (fragment) 58 cm

  • Purchased from the former Rayet collection, 1884

    A 517

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana I
    Room 40

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