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Work Paestan red-figure calyx krater

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

Cratère en calice à figures rouges

© 1993 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Sophie Marmois-Sicsic

This magnificent calyx krater, attributed to the painter Python, the second great painter of the School of Paestum, belonged for a time to the collections of the Empress Josephine at Malmaison. On the main face of this large krater, which has molded decoration on the foot, Python has drawn inspiration from a theme from Greek mythology, which had already appeared on two vases by Asteas, his master and collaborator: Cadmus fighting the dragon, or snake, of Thebes.

Cadmus and the Dragon

On the extremely slender bowl of the Louvre calyx krater, Python has chosen to revisit a mythological theme that was portrayed twice by his master Asteas: the battle between the Theban hero Cadmus and the dragon. This episode was at the origin of the founding of the city of Thebes in Beotia. To avenge his companions who had been massacred by the snake, the guardian of the spring, Cadmus decided to fight it and killed it.
The composition, centered around the two main figures, is set within a frame drawn by the painter. The young hero is represented naked except for a chlamys covering his shoulders, a conical hat (pilos) and boots. With a pointed amphora in his left hand and a stone in his right, he is preparing to attack the monstrous snake, which rears up in front of a mound of rocks and a tree. Two elaborately dressed women framing the scene have been interpreted as allegorical figures: Krene (the spring) and Thebe (the city of Thebes). The gesture of revelation made by the woman on the right, who is lifting her purple himation with her hand, and the presence of the goddess Aphrodite in the upper register, suggest another hypothesis: that this is Harmonia, fiancée of Cadmus.
The busts of a number of divinities dominate the picture, in typically Paestan fashion: Hermes on the left, Aphrodite holding a mirror in the center, and Pan and a young satyr on the right.

Paestan pottery

Paestum, formerly Poseidonia, was founded in around 600 BCE by Greeks from Sybaris. It is located south of Naples, on the border between present-day Campania and Basilicata. Paestan vases were first produced in around 380 BCE, under the influence of Sicilian potters and painters. They are characterized by their consistent quality and recognizable style, confirmed throughout the fourth century BCE by the work of two major painters, known through their signatures: Asteas and his disciple Python.


Though different in character from Asteas, Python retained the decorative principles of his master in his choice of subject matter, the stepped composition with bust-length figures placed in the upper register, the stocky figures with round heads, and his taste for polychromy. Python signed two vases and produced some large kraters with complex compositions frequently inspired by those of Asteas. But he took his master's love of color and vegetal ornamentation further, as demonstrated by the considerable attention devoted to the secondary decoration on the Louvre krater. The garland of ivy leaves on the edge is heightened with corymbs, and the area between the handles is adorned with a frieze of palmettes and white, yellow and orange foliage. He makes subtle use of the different highlight colors (white, yellow and red), and white and golden yellow tones to draw, for example, the snake with its red crest, silhouetted against the rocky mound. His decorative, baroque style reached its apogee on this prestigious vase, the monumental size and highly elaborate shape of which set it among the pottery of the mid-fourth century BCE.


Martine Denoyelle, Chefs-d'oeuvre de la céramique grecque, 1995, p. 178, Ed. de la Réunion des musées nationaux, n 78.
E. Mugione, Miti della ceramica attica in Occidente, 2000, p. 60, fig. 6.

Technical description

  • Python

    Cratère en calice à figures rouges

    Vers 350 - 340 avant J.-C.

    Provenance : Sant'Agata de' Goti (Campanie)


  • H. : 56,70 cm. ; D. : 52,50 cm.

  • Collection Durand, 1825Ancienne collection de la Malmaison , 1825

    N 3157 (K 33)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana V
    Room 651
    Vitrine 24

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