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Work Attic type B bilingual vessel

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

Coupe "bilingue"

© 1994 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Kardianou-Michel Alexandra

Attic bilingual vessels characteristically combine the techniques of black and red figures in the same piece. They represent a transitional phase of artistic research which lasted from 530-510 BC. On this dish, the black figures that decorate the outside stand out against the coral red ground, a colour discovered by potters in the same period. The medallion on the inside depicts red figures.

Bilingual vessels

In around 530 BC, the major Attic artists began experimenting with the new red-figure technique. In the early days, when the technique was still being developed, the artists produced some unusual pieces. The style of vessel known as bilingual vases, where the artist uses two techniques in a single piece, are among the most striking of these. This example is remarkable in that the artist has used the black-figure technique for the exterior and the red-figure technique for the medallion on the interior. Another type of bilingual vase is the eye-cup, decorated with eyes that had an apotropaic function, i.e. they were believed to ward off evil. These eye-cups have medallions decorated with black figures, attributed to Oltos, Epiktetos, or Skythes. There are also bilingual amphorae by the Andokides Painter, who is thought to have been the earliest artist to use red figures.
Skythes, the Skythian, was not the only artist to use a coral red or intentional red ground to heighten the effect of the colour. Exekias was the first artist to use a coral red ground, in his famous Dionysos cup, now in Munich, while Psiax used a clay slip mixed with ocher for the interior of one of his cups.

Herakles and Kyknos

A single figure stands out against the coral red ground on each side of the cup. On the principal face is Herakles, instantly recognisable thanks to his lion skin. He is holding a club and a bow and has a sword by his side. He is shown mid-stride, facing the right, and appears to be ready to attack the hoplite on the other side of the cup. Unfortunately, part of this second figure is missing. The hoplite is wearing a short chiton and each leg is protected by a knemis or greave. He is brandishing a lance in his right hand, while in his left he holds a shield. It is difficult to identify the figure in the absence of an inscription or a recognisable mythological setting. However, the presence of Herakles on the other side of the cup suggests the figure is Kyknos, the son of Ares, who challenged Apollo by stealing the cattle from the sanctuary in Delphi which were destined for ritual immolations. Herakles is thus presented as the ally of Apollo who fought the robber. This episode often featured in Greek art. Over 130 vessels decorated with the scene have been listed, all dating from the archaic period, between 570 and 490 BC.

The komos

Komos scenes are frequently represented on Greek pottery. These originally involved ordinary people wearing padded costumes, who danced with exaggerated gestures and movements. These processions were probably held to celebrate rituals linked to the worship of Dionysos. By the 6th century BC, on Attic vessels, the komos had come to mean the noisy procession of drinkers and female musicians on their way to or from festivities. The komos seems to have lost its ritual dimension to become a private celebration. Here, the komast - perhaps Epilykos, praised in the inscription as handsome - is shown on his own, trying one of the games of skill that Athenians loved to try their hand at during banquets. He is trying to balance an amphora with a pointed bottom on his raised foot. His himation, folded across his leg, is adding to the difficulty of the challenge. The ivy wreaths on his head and round the neck of the amphora add to the festive mood of the scene.


Cohen Beth, Attic Bilingual Vases and their Painters, 1978.
Bérard Claude et al., La cité des images, religion et société en Grèce antique, 1984.

Technical description

  • Skythès

    Coupe "bilingue"

    Vers 510 - 500 avant J.-C.


  • H. : 8 cm. ; D. : 22 cm. ; L. : 29 cm.

  • Collection Campana, 1861 , 1861

    F 129

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana IV
    Room 43
    Vitrine 21

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Additional information about the work

The exclamation EPILYKOSKALOS (Epilykos is handsome) is painted in the medallion around the komast.