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Work Paestan red-figure lekanis

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

Lékanis à figures rouges

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Daniel Lebée et Carine Deambrosis

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

Rives Todd

The workshops of Paestum (Greek name: Poseidonia) in southern Italy began vase production ca. 370 BC under the impetus of painters of Sicilian origin. Asteas, whose name is known to us through several signed vases, introduced the particularities that characterize this local style. The Louvre lekanis, attributed to Asteas and dated to the middle of the 4th century BC, is a toilet accessory with a lid bearing a mythological scene: the musical contest between Apollo and Marsyas.

Apollo and Marsyas

For the lid decoration of this lekanis, Asteas chose a theme rarely depicted on objects of this type: the musical contest between Apollo and Marsyas. Marsyas, the satyr of Phrygia, was supposed to have invented the double flute (aulos). Proud of his discovery and the sonorous tone of his instrument, he challenged Apollo, thinking himself better on his flute than the god on his lyre. But Marsyas lost and Apollo hung him from a tree and skinned him alive. The composition is played out in frieze around the lid. A small white building is probably meant to represent a sanctuary; sprigs of laurel, the tree emblematic of Apollo, fill the decorative space. Apollo and Marsyas are seated on rocks, each playing his respective instrument. Marsyas wears an animal skin and ankle boots. Apollo, richly garbed in a decorated long-sleeved tunic and himation, plays the cither. The adversaries are accompanied by three muses posing gracefully on the rocks and holding various objects. The muse seated nearest to the god plays a cither, another makes ready to open a box, and the third holds a lyre. They wear chitons and himations and are adorned with jewelry. These female figures correspond to the general depiction of the female sphere found on this type of toilet accessory.

The lekanis

The lekanis is a container composed of a body with handles and a flat knobbed lid, often decorated with plant motifs. This women’s toilet accessory is common in the pottery production of southern Italy and Sicily. The piece in the Louvre is notable for its large size and excellent condition. Painters typically chose decorative elements connected to the female sphere or painted woman’s heads on the lekanides. Asteas, however, shows originality in opting for a mythological subject, one rarely depicted on pottery. The shape of the lekanis is accentuated by the secondary decoration: a garland of laurel leaves on the container’s rim and a wave motif around the edge of the lid.

The pottery of Paestum

Paestum, located south of Naples on the border between present-day Campania and Basilicata, was founded under the name Poseidonia by the Greeks of Sybaris ca. 600 BC. Paestan vase production began around 380 BC under the influence of potters and painters from Sicily. The pottery is characterized by its consistent quality but also by its easily recognizable style, present throughout the 4th century BC in the work of two major painters known to us from their signatures: Asteas and his disciple Python. Asteas’s signature (Assteas egraph) has been found painted or incised on eleven large vases of exceptional quality. During the second quarter of the 4th century BC, the artist defined the characteristics of the Paestan style in producing mainly amphorae and kraters but also smaller vases of various forms. Asteas is, along with Python, one of the masters of Paestan pottery, whose style is distinguished by the use of squat, round-headed figures and compositions heightened with different colors, framed by demi-palmette and fan-shaped plant motifs. His themes are often inspired by dionysiac subjects, but also by tragic or comic drama. On the Louvre lekanis, Asteas has depicted Apollo and Marsyas in a calm, serene ambience, suggestive of Greek drama.


Denoyelle Martine, Chefs-d’œuvre de la céramique grecque, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1995, p. 176, n° 83.

Paquette Daniel, L’Instrument de musique dans la céramique de la Grèce antique : études d’organologie, Lyon, Bibliothèque Salomon Reinach ; Paris, diffusion de Boccard, 1984, pp. 126-127, n° c 47.

Technical description

  • Astéas

    Lékanis à figures rouges


  • H. : 20 cm. ; L. : 41,60 cm. ; D. : 30,50 cm.

  • Collection Durand, 1825 , 1825

    K 570

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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

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