Ancient Greece, Athens, Early Attic, ca. 530 to 520 BCE. A very large and incredibly fine black-figure neck amphora of an exceptionally elegant, classic form - both sides expertly painted with mesmerizing mythological scenes. Side A features Herakles wrestling either the sea-god Triton or Nereus, the latter morphing into the former. The figures are engaged in an action-packed struggle involving major physical contortions - with details incised as well as delineated in red and white pigments. Side B presents an elaborately dressed Athena standing in composite profile as an interceder between a pair of fighting warriors - perhaps Ajax and Achilles - both donning helmets and wielding spears and shields (one shield adorned by an image of a roaring lion, an animal associated with Achilles). Athena is positioned between these leading men of the Greek army holding a spear of her own between them and raising her left hand in a gesture of protest. Size: 9.75" in diameter at widest point x 15.125" H (24.8 cm x 38.4 cm)
Interestingly, other Attic vases depict Athena between a gaming Achilles and Ajax, but these warriors, in contrast, are fighting. In this context, it is more customary to see a bearded herald as the interceder, as on a neck amphora in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which also has Herakles and Triton on the obverse.
Adding to the piece is the rich decorative program: the register of stylized palmettes adorning the neck; bands of tongue motifs just below; symmetrical floral vines below each tripartite handle; and beneath the pictorial imagery a register of fine-line, stylized laurel buds with looping stems followed by rays emerging from the base below.
Ancient Athenian painters, including the painter of this vessel, took advantage of the large size of Attic vases which gave them more room to explore their techniques, overlap figures, present complex interactions between figures, create depth and attempt renderings of perspective, as well as add other colors such as the red and white pigments on the scene of Herakles vs. the Sea God as well as Athena and the fighting soldiers.
An Attic black-figure neck amphora at the J. Paul Getty Museum features a somewhat similar scene attributed to the Leagros Group (active 525 to 500 BCE), though with the warriors sitting rather than standing. The curatorial staff writes, "This scene was very popular in Athenian vase-painting of the late 500s B.C. and was a favorite of the painters in the Leagros Group. Some scholars believe that this mythological scene also served as a contemporary political parable on the value of staying alert, since the tyrant Peisistratos had been able to take control of the city of Athens while the army was distracted." (http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/11739/attributed-to-leagros-group-attic-black-figure-neck-amphora-greek-attic-about-510-bc/)
This piece has been tested by Oxford Authentication using thermoluminescence (TL) and has been found to be ancient and of the period stated. A full report will accompany purchase.
Provenance: private Keating collection, Mill Valley, California, USA; ex-George T. Keating collection, acquired early 1950s
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