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Work Volute krater

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Volute krater

© 1999 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This vase, which once belonged to Louis XIV, testifies to the Roman taste for sumptuous decorations for their villas and gardens. The Athenian sculptor Sosibios, whose name is carved on the principal side, was doubtless one of the Greek artists active in Rome at the end of the Republic. Working in the "Neo-Attic" style, he used the decorative repertoire of the Athenian workshops and found inspiration in ancient models. Apollo, Artemis and Hermes here preside over a procession of Bacchic dancers.

Recent history of the work

Part of the royal collection of Louis XIV from 1692, the krater entered the Louvre in 1797 as confiscated property under the Revolution. In the nineteenth century its fame inspired many reproductions, as for example in Sèvres biscuit ware in 1824. It also found a place in literature, inspiring John Keats (1795-1821) to write his Ode on a Grecian Urn.

Form and decoration of the Sosibios Vase

This volute krater is a marble adaptation of a type of metal vessel known from the late fifth century BCE, such as the Derveni Krater (Salonika Museum, c.320 BCE). The ivy fronds decorating the neck and the gadroon motif on the lower part of the belly are also very close to Greek examples. The handles terminate in swans'-necks at the lower attachments. On the belly, the relief decoration shows a Bacchic procession presided over by Artemis and Hermes, who stand by an altar with a burning brazier. The goddess, with a quiver on her back, a bow in her left hand and holding a deer by the hoof, appears in her role as huntress. Hermes is shown wearing the chlamys, the short traveler's cloak, and bearing the caduceus. Maenads, female worshippers of Dionysus, dance to the sound of musical instruments and are accompanied by a dancing satyr, an armed warrior and Apollo, who plays the cithara.

The Neo-Attic style

The signature of Sosibios the Athenian appears in Greek on the altar. This sculptor, otherwise unknown, was no doubt one of the Greek artists who worked in Rome at the end of the Republic. Using the decorative repertoire of the Athenian workshops, he made frequent reference to Greek models of different periods. This krater, made c.50 BCE, is one of the few signed examples of the "Neo-Attic" style that was appreciated with such enthusiasm by the Romans, especially in decorative sculpture intended to adorn luxurious villas and gardens. This was probably the function of this piece, which may have served as a fountain or as an urn, as a hole, now partially blocked, has been drilled in its side. In its eclectic range of reference and the backward-looking style of the figures, the krater testifies to the prevailing Roman taste for Greek art, both old and new. Artemis and Hermes wear archaic dress imitated from the art of the sixth century BCE, while the maenads are inspired by classical sculpture of the late fifth century, exemplified among others by the work of Callimacchus (sculptor of the Venus Genitrix, a copy of which is in the Louvre). Their attitudes are graceful, and the transparent draperies reveal the female forms beneath. Sosibios also drew on classical Greek tradition for Apollo's face and the form of the vessel, which are very similar to examples from the fourth century BCE.

Bibliography

M. Hamiaux, Les sculptures grecques, II, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1998, pp. 197-9, n 216

D. Grassinger, Römische Marmorkratere, Monumenta Artis Romanae, XVIII, Mayence-sur-Main, 1991, pp. 183-5, n 25, et passim, fig. 7, 24, 25 and pl. 16-21

M-A Zagdoun, La sculpture archaïsante dans l'art hellénistique et dans l'art romain du Haut-Empire, Bibliothèque des Ecoles Françaises d'Athènes et de Rome, 1989, p. 246, n 331, pl. 23, fig. 89

Inscriptiones Siciliae et Italiae, additis Galliae, Hispaniae, Britanniae, Germaniae inscriptionibus (IG), Berlin, 1890, XIV, 1262

Technical description

  • SOSIBIOS the Athenian

    Volute krater

    c.50 BCE

    Italy ?

    Attica (Athens area)

  • Pentelic marble (Attica), low relief, engraving

    H. of surviving part 65 cm; H. with modern foot 78 cm

  • Former French royal collection. Confiscated under the Revolution and given to the Louvre, 1797

    The Sosibios Vase

    Inventaire MR 987 (n° usuel Ma 442)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Ground floor
    Roman art
    Room 22

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