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Work Laconian black-figure cup

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

Coupe à figures noires

© 1993 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Author(s):
Kardianou-Michel, Alexandra

This cup was decorated by the Rider Painter, an anonymous artist from Laconia, the region around the city of Sparta. The scene may be Apollo slaying Python or Kadmos fighting the dragon - both are found on cups typical of Laconian pottery. This cup is coated with white slip. The only decoration on the exterior is a thin frieze around the lip, lines radiating form the foot, and slender palmettes framing the handles.

Laconian pottery

Among the most popular and widespread types of Laconian pottery were the krater, the laikana - a type of small cup - and cups such as this one. The earliest Laconian cups stand on a low foot. They became taller and slenderer over the course of the second half of the 6th century, with a taller foot and a shallower bowl.
The Rider Painter, like the Boreads Painter before him, was influenced by Corinthian artists in his choice of techniques and subjects. He used the black-figure technique with touches of color that create a polychrome impression against the whitish background of the slip. He often painted mythological subjects, and more rarely hunting or banqueting scenes.

Kadmos or Apollo?

The Rider Painter decorated another cup with the same subject. He also painted other pieces with Achilles lying in wait to ambush the youthful Troilos near a fountain. The two scenes are very similar in terms of composition and the pose of the central figure. On this cup, there are no indications that would allow us to identify the scene with certainty. It depicts a warrior wearing a helmet with a tall crest, armed with a spear and protected by a shield with an episemon in the form of a gorgoneion (the head of the Gorgon Medusa). He is half-kneeling in front of a building, fighting a serpent that is coiled round a column of the peristyle. Another serpent is gliding across the wall. Two birds perched on the roof seem to be watching the scene, while a third is in flight behind the warrior.
Some experts believe the scene depicts the god Apollo, who was very popular in Laconia, fighting the serpent Python, or else Kadmos, the legendary king of Thebes, fighting a dragon. Either subject could have been chosen by Laconian artists, as there was a statue to Pythian Apollo in the agora in Sparta, where he was worshiped. There was also a heroon to Kadmos in Sparta, while his marriage to Harmony was illustrated on a throne discovered in the temple of Apollo in Amyclai, near Sparta.
The building could easily be a temple or a palace. None of Apollo's attributes are featured. However, some of the secondary details may be more than purely decorative. The two birds on the roof may be crows, sacred to Apollo, in which case their presence would indicate a sanctuary to him. The hare included beneath the scene was also sacred to Apollo.
However, birds and animals were often included in Laconian and Corinthian vases (which inspired Laconian artists). It is not known whether they were included simply as decoration or whether they had a symbolic role with reference to the principal subject.

Bibliography

Pipili Maria, Laconian Iconographie of the Sixth Century B.C., 1987.
Boardman John, Aux origines de la peinture sur vase en Grèce, 1999.

Technical description

  • Peintre des Cavaliers

    Coupe à figures noires

    Vers 550 - 540 avant J.-C.

    Laconie

  • H. : 11,30 cm. ; D. : 18,50 cm. ; L. : 24 cm.

  • Collection Campana, 1861 , 1861

    E 669

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana III
    Room 42
    Vitrine 1 : Laconien à figures noires

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