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Work Attic Red-figure Stamnos

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Stamnos à figures rouges

© 2009 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Sophie Padel-Imbaud

The Berlin Painter is regarded as one of the greatest masters of the red-figure technique, and was active during the early fifth century BC. This vase not only offers us the first known image of the episode of Heracles as a child killing the snakes, but also an example of the work the painter produced at the end of his career, which is marked by mannerist tendencies.

The Wrath of Hera

Side A of this stamnos illustrates the most famous episode from the early childhood of Heracles.
Sources tell us that Zeus could find no better way to seduce Alcmene than to pass himself off as her husband, King Amphitryon. It was therefore in this form that he joined himself to her, on the same night as the king. Thus were born the twins Heracles, the son of the god, and Iphicles, the son of Amphitryon. As soon as he was conceived, Heracles was pursued by the wrath of Hera, the legitimate wife of Zeus. After scheming so that her cousin, Eurystheus, became king of Argos in his place, the goddess sent two enormous snakes to the crib of the hero, who strangled them.

A Child Unlike Any Other

Here we have the first known image of this episode of the snakes. Heracles and Iphicles, in the form of little young men, are shown in a very luxurious bed. We can recognize the hero by his blond hair, but particularly by his courageous attitude: he has just seized the importunate snakes without the slightest trace of fear, unlike his mortal brother who leaps into his mother's arms. Beside Heracles stands Athena, his protector of divine essence, while the edges of the scene are occupied by a servant and Amphitryon, leaning on a staff.

The Berlin Painter: His Late Career

Some of the great painters of the early fifth century BC, such as the Berlin Painter, were active until around 470 BC. At that time their style became noticeably more relaxed, and changed to follow the mannerist tendencies of the period: the gestures are theatrical and the figures are particularly lengthened with small heads (these tendencies are particularly visible on side B, which shows Zeus between the two divine messengers, Hermes and Iris). Similarly, the astonishingly slender form of the stamnos reveals this tendency, which is a departure from the characteristic rigor of the painter's early career.


Martine Denoyelle, Chefs-d’œuvre de la céramique grecque, 1994, p. 116, Ed. de la Réunion des musées nationaux, n° 53.
F. Lissarrague, Vases grecs, 1999, p. 158,159, figs 117, 118.
B.Philippaki, The Attic Stamnos, 1967, p. 60 à 62, pl. 62,3 et 63,1.

Technical description

  • Peintre de Berlin

    Stamnos à figures rouges

    Vers 480 - 470 avant J.-C.

    Provenance : Vulci


  • H. : 51 cm. ; D. : 33,80 cm. ; L. : 41,50 cm.

  • Collection Durand, 1836 , 1836

    G 192

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana IV
    Room 652
    Vitrine 23

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