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Work Apulian skyphos in "Gnathian style"

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

Skyphos à peinture superposée

© 1993 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Rives Todd

This drinking vase or skyphos was made and decorated in the pottery workshops of Apulia in southern Italy. Its refined form and gadroon decoration evoke the models used in orfevrerie. The polychromatic decoration, applied to the black varnish coating the vase, is a technique characteristic of the “Gnathian style”. This term is derived from the ancient name of the site of Gnathia where a great many pottery pieces have been discovered.

The "Gnathian style"

The vases attributed to the “Gnathian style” are so termed after the name of the site of Gnathia (present-day Egnazia) located on the Adriatic coast of Apulia. The decorative technique used for these vases consisted in the application of colors on a coat of black varnish. The painters worked in three colors: red, white and golden yellow, which were used to render details in the red-figure style. This polychromatic decoration was applied to a black varnish which, with the exception of a small area at the foot, completely coated the vase. Sometimes lines were scored into the surface to accentuate the vase’s form and produce a decorative effect close to that of vases worked in metal. The vases decorated in “Gnathian style” are generally small in size: pelikes, lekythoi, alabastra, and skyphoi. An exception are the larger krater vases, made in the first production phase of this type of pottery.
This pictoral style was invented in Taranto, probably in the workshop of the Ilioupersis Painter, a proponent of the Apulian “ornate style”, 370–360 BC. The technique was also used in several pottery production centers in Apulia, Gnathia, and in the region of Canosa. In 330–320 BC this pottery reached its height in popularity, being exported regionally as much as abroad to Cyrenaica and Egypt, where vases attributed to the Alexandria Group workshop (290–280) have been discovered. Imitated in Sicily, Paestum, Campania (Teano ware) and Etruria, the production of this style nevertheless ceases around the date 270 BC.

The Louvre skyphos

The elegant form of this skyphos is accentuated by its knotted handles and fluted body. The upper band is decorated by a pair of white doves, feathers heightened in yellow, situated between red and yellow calyx-shaped plants. Below the handles, the lower band bears a multicolored garland of ivy. On the vase’s other face, of secondary importance, is painted a simple plant frieze and a wavy line motif. The general form and the fluted decoration of the body make it possible to date this piece to the last period of the “Gnathian style”, in other words about 300–290 BC.

Painted decoration

The oldest examples of this style are kraters decorated with grouped or isolated figures (370–360 BC). These scenes are rare, however. The smaller vases most often bear plant decoration, from which emerge animals and female busts or heads. This motif is also present on the necks of Apulian “ornate style” red-figure kraters. Another frequent element on the vase necks is the hanging theater mask, examples of which can be found on the two oinochoae in the Louvre (K 596, K 598).


Denoyelle Martine, Chefs-d’œuvre de la céramique grecque, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1995, p. 180, n° 85.

Technical description

  • Skyphos à peinture superposée

    Vers 300 - 290 avant J.-C.

    Provenance : Italie ?

    Style de GnathiaApulie

  • H. : 18,90 cm. ; L. : 24,30 cm. ; D. : 18 cm.

  • Collection Tochon, 1818 , 1818

    Face A. Two doves

    K 607 bis

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana V
    Room 651
    Vitrine 24

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