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Work Hydria

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

Hydrie

© 2005 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

The type of bronze hydria seen here, often found in graves and temples, served as a cinerary urn or prize for winners of athletic competitions. This vase was made in a workshop in Boeotia. Its shape and three handles are derived from simpler terracotta vessels used for carrying water. The siren and palmette decorating the vertical handle attachment are characteristic of a group of hydriai made in the 5th century BC.

The various functions of hydriai

This bronze hydria was discovered on the banks of Lake Kopaïs in Boeotia, a region of central Greece bordering Attica to the east and Phocis to the west. Its shape and three handles (two horizontal and one vertical) are borrowed from simpler models of terracotta jars used to carry water. Numerous metal hydriai have been found in temples and public buildings, since many were awarded to the winners of certain athletic games. From the 5th century BC, they often had a funerary function, as cinerary urns for the ashes of a deceased person, and were placed in graves. The type of hydria represented by this Boeotian model is often called a "calpis," though we are not certain that the Greeks used the term for this specific type of vessel. Many of these vases were mass-produced.

Siren and plant motifs

The decoration of this hydria is particularly refined. The lip, handles, and foot of the vase are decorated with a chiseled frieze of egg-and-dart, rosette, and foliage motifs. The lower vertical handle attachment features a siren with spread wings rising out of the tendrils emerging from the top of a palmette. This motif is characteristic of a group of hydriai made in the 5th century BC and is featured almost identically on many of them; only the hairstyle, certain facial features, and the form of the palmette vary. The mythical siren has a strong funerary connotation in its role as a psychopomp (guide of souls). The presence of the motif on this type of vase indicates the vessel's funerary function.

A Boeotian object from the classical period

This prestige object was made in the second half of the 5th century BC. Further evidence of its date is provided by the rosette-shaped upper vertical handle attachment, which is fixed to the neck rather than to the mouth of the vase. This system appeared in the early 5th century BC, breaking with the Archaic form. The hydria is attributed to a Boeotian workshop because of its formal and stylistic similarities to a number of less refined vessels. It is difficult, however, to determine in what city of Boeotia the vase was made.

Bibliography

E. Diehl, Die hydria, Formgeschichte und Verwendung im Kult des Altertums, Mainz am Rhein, 1964, p. 35-38, n B 154.

Technical description

  • Hydrie

    Seconde moitié du Ve siècle avant J.-C.

    Provenance : lac Copaïs (Béotie)

    Production béotienne

  • Bronze

    H. 40 cm

  • Acquisition 1888 , 1888

    Br 2673

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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