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Work Attic black-figure amphora

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

Amphore à figures noires

© RMN/H. Lewandowski

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

Padel-Imbaud Sophie

Exekias the potter signed his work on the principal face of the vessel, which depicts the struggle between Herakles and the three-bodied monster Geryon. The other face depicts a warrior setting off on his quadriga. The quality of the pottery is equaled by the technical mastery of the black-figure drawing. Although Exekias is known to have been a master of both skills, the vessel is traditionally attributed to one of his fellow craftsmen in Group E.

Herakles and the three-bodied monster Geryon

The painting on face A of this amphora depicts the tenth of the twelve labors of Herakles. The hero, wearing his lion skin, is brandishing his sword at Geryon, a monster with the bodies of three hoplites joined at the torso. The three bodies are all wearing helmets, breastplates, and knemis and are holding spears and shields, each with an episemon in the form of a gorgoneion. One of the bodies is turning away, wounded by Herakles' arrows.
Between the two adversaries lies the body of Eurytion with an arrow through his head. His headgear indicates he was a shepherd. Eurytion watched over the flocks that belonged to Geryon and which Herakles had to bring back to Eurystheus. The names of the figures are given in several inscriptions, along with the name of the potter, Exekias, who signed his work behind the figure of Herakles.

The Group E

The vessel is attributed to the Group E craftsmen, who owed their name to Exekias, who is thought to have begun his career in this workshop. The work of the Group E marked the beginning of the golden age of Attic black-figure ware, which lasted from around 550 to 530 BC.
The Group E style typically produced round-bellied amphorae decorated with monumental figurative scenes where the figures filled all the space available. They often depicted scenes drawn from a relatively limited repertoire of myths, including the birth of Athena and the life of Herakles.

The work of Exekias?

The vessel has been attributed to the Group E because of a few archaic elements in the decoration, including the motif of the mermaid on face B and on the lid. Likewise, the choice of myth and the way it is portrayed are not innovative. They were invented by Lydos and taken up by the Group E painters (see amphora F55).
However, the extremely high quality of the drawing and the clear layout have led some experts to put forward another possibility. The symmetry of the composition centered on the shield, the extreme precision of the incised lines of the lion skin, the gorgoneion, and the chiton worn by Geryon, and the elegance of the horses on face B are remarkably reminiscent of the style of Exekias, the great master of the black-figure style.


Denoyelle Martine, Chefs-d'oeuvre de la céramique grecque dans les collections du Louvre, 1994, p. 82, n 36.
Catalogue d'exposition "The Amasis Painter and his world", New York, 1985, pp. 114,115, fig. 68.

Technical description

  • Exékias, potier

    Amphore à figures noires

    Vers 550 - 540 avant J.-C.

    Provenance : Vulci


  • H. : 44,50 cm. ; D. : 30,50 cm.

  • Acquisition, 1883 , 1883

    Signée par Exékias, potier

    F 53

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana III
    Room 653
    Vitrine 16 : Attique à figures noires

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