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Work Boeotian Black-Figure Skyphos

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

Skyphos à figures noires

© 2004 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Kardianou-Michel Alexandra

This skyphos, once part of the Rayet collection, is a drinking vessel with a deep bowl and almost straight, thin walls. It is related to the Corinthian type, but Attic models may have influenced its form. On its outer surface, Theseus fights the Minotaur as Ariadne looks on, the unwinding ball of wool in her hand. The fourteen young Athenians are discreetly represented in two registers on the right.

Boeotian Pottery

The influence of Eastern Greece on the productions of Boeotian pottery workshops is evident in some of the decorative elements used for filling-in spaces and in the forms of a number of vessels. From Corinth they borrowed forms and secondary motifs, as well as the use of red and white overpainting. From Attica, artists like the Istanbul Painter and the Horse-Bird Painter took the black-figure technique, several iconographic themes and certain forms of vessels that they then adapted. The Protome Painter and the Triton Painter made only lekanai, and the Camel Painter produced only skyphoi, specializing in these forms that became typical of the Boeotian ceramic repertoire. The Camel Painter, like the Louvre Painter (MNC 626), even worked in Athens before settling in Boeotia. Nourished by these borrowings, the Boeotian painters created a distinct local style, which was imaginative, picturesque and expressive, offering original variations on canonical subjects. Boeotian black-figure pottery was produced between 590 and 470 BC.
With its deep bowl, almost straight, thin walls, horizontal handles, and slender, flared foot, the Rayet Skyphos shows an affinity with Corinthian models, but its form was also perhaps influenced by Attic work.

Theseus and the Minotaur

The first known depiction of Theseus fighting the Minotaur, on a Boeotian relief amphora, dates from the first half of the seventh century BC. In the sixth and fifth centuries, Theseus was the Ionian hero of Athenian democracy, as opposed to Heracles, the hero of the Dorian world: he appears on hundreds of Attic black- and red-figure vases, as well as on Corinthian and Chalcidian work.
According to legend, after defeating Athens the Cretan king Minos demanded as tribute seven youths and seven maidens of the city, who were to be sacrificed to the Minotaur Asterion. This monstrous creature with a bull's head on a human body had been born to Pasiphae by the bull sent by Poseidon, and lived in the Labyrinth, an enormous palace built by Daedalus. Theseus, son of Aegeus, king of Athens, went with the young Athenians, hoping to free Athens from the exactions of the Minotaur. Minos's daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with the Athenian hero and gave him the enchanted ball of wool, which enabled him to find his way back out after killing the monster.
This is the scene depicted on the Rayet Skyphos. The fourteen young Athenians can be seen on the right: the young men in red on the upper register, the young women in white on the lower. Ariadne is also present, holding the unwinding ball of wool. In the middle, Theseus has seized the Minotaur by the horn and is driving his sword into its chest. These two figures are given emphasis by their size and central position.
The figures on the reverse are more difficult to interpret. Some identify the winged man as Icarus in flight before his fall, others as Daedalus his father - unless they are indeed merely conventional figures, like the horseman, simply filling up space.


Martine Denoyelle, Chefs-d'oeuvres de la céramique grecque dans les collections du Louvre, 1994, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, p. 48, n 19
Frank Brommer, Theseus, 1982
Charles Dugas-Robert Flacelière, Thésée, images et récits, 1958, Éditions E. de Boccard
Karl Kilinski, Beotian Black Figure Vase Painting of the Archaic Period, 1990
Jenifer Neils, The Youthful Deeds of Theseus, 1987

Technical description

  • Skyphos à figures noires

    Vers 550 avant J.-C.

    Provenance : Tanagra


  • H. : 11,50 cm. ; D. : 16,40 cm. ; L. : 24,50 cm.

  • Acquisition Rayet, 1884 , 1884

    The Rayet Skyphos

    MNC 675

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana III
    Room 653
    Vitrine 18 : Béotien, chalcidien et laconien à figures noires

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