An Attic red-figured bell-krater


In April 1975, the important collection of Greek vases at Nostell Priory near Wakefield (England) was sold at auction. From this sale the National Gallery of Victoria, through the Felton Bequest, was fortunate to acquire a red-figured bell-krater, the product of an Athenian workshop of the mid 4th century B.C.1D1-1976. Ht. 34.7–35.2 cm. Dm. at lip 36.0–36.4 cm. Dm. at base 14.7 cm. There is no relief- contour on any of the figures; preliminary sketch lines are visible on the legs of the satyrs. Bibliography: J. D. Beazley, Attic Red-Figured Vase-Painters, 1963, (= ARV2) p. 1450, 6 (York Reverse-Group); C. Bérard, Anodoi, 1974, (= Anodoi) fig. 37; Christie’s, Sale Catalogue, 30 April, 1975, no. 54, pl. 19.54. (figs 1–4).

We do not know exactly where the vase was found or when, but by 1817 it had come into the possession of a certain Abbé H. Campbell, who was at that time residing in Naples. In the following year Campbell’s collection of antiquities was bought by Charles Winn, of Nostell Priory, and shipped to England in February 1819.2For the early history of the Nostell Priory collection, see the important introduction by P. E. Corbett to the catalogue of Christie’s sale. These years, the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, were the most productive for private excavation in the many ancient cemeteries of Campania, the district around Naples. Most of the vases in the two large collections formed at this time by Sir William Hamilton came from this region. It is not unlikely, then, that the bell-krater now in Melbourne was unearthed somewhere in Campania. If so, it would have been but one of many hundreds of red-figured vases exported in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. from Athens to the Greek cities of South Italy. 

The Melbourne vase is intact except for the left handle which had broken off in antiquity and snapped in two. A repair was carried out presumably soon after the vase’s discovery. The shape is that of a bell-krater, a bowl for mixing wine and water, placed on the table at a banquet. Our vase, however, shows no signs of actual use: it was an offering to the dead, for use in the afterlife. 

The bell-krater is the last of the various types of krater to appear in Attic red-figure: the earliest preserved examples, four by the Berlin Painter,3ARV2 pp. 205–6, 123–6. and two by the Pan Painter,4ARV2 p. 550, 1–2. are not earlier than 500 B.C. The shape is derived from ‘the rough clay or wooden vessel that was used, at the vintage, to receive the must as it poured from under the feet of the treader.’5J. D. Beazley, The Berlin Painter, Melbourne University Press, (Melbourne), 1964, p. 9. The earliest examples have a flaring lip without decoration, lug handles and no foot. A foot is soon added, however, and simple round handles replace the lugged type, though the latter is occasionally to be found until the late 5th century.6Agrigento, ARV2 p. 1164, 64, Painter of Munich 2335; Providence 23.324, ARV2 p. 1188, 1, Pothos Painter; Vienna 1771, ARV2 p. 1318, Meidian. In the 5th century the bell-krater normally has a disk-foot, but in the early 4th century the stem of the foot grows taller and the foot itself is formed in two degrees, as in the Melbourne vase. Moreover, the break between lip and body is no longer accentuated as it was earlier; a continuous profile from rim to base is now usual. 

The main scene on the Melbourne vase is of exceptional interest. A young goddess rises gradually out of the ground and greets with upraised hand a group of satyrs who surround her. An himation (cloak) is draped about her body and enfolds her left arm, but leaves much of her torso bare. Her flesh is painted in added white, as is not uncommon in the 4th century for female figures. She wears a necklace, and straps, lightly indicated in yellow, which cross between her breasts. Her hair is held in by a sphendone (kerchief) and decorated with a white fillet and white dots across the forehead. Her sudden appearance has caused consternation among a group of four satyrs, three youthful and one bearded, who caper about in surprise. Each satyr has a long white fillet (adorned with white leaves) bound about his head, and two of the four hold similar fillets. Three of the satyrs shoulder long-handled mallets (rather than picks), of which all the heads and two of the handles are painted in yellow over white. The thyrsus (fennel rod with head of ivy leaves and berries) which lies in the field has perhaps been dropped by the satyr on the right. 

The picture has been set out in a neat, symmetrical fashion: goddess in white as central focus, flanked on either side by two satyrs, one of whom moves inwards, the other outwards while looking back. 

A similar scene appears on six other vases, five of which are Attic and the other South Italian. With the exception of the earliest, a black-figure lekythos in Paris dated c.500–480 B.C., they are red-figure and range in date from the mid 5th century to the mid 4th century.7The most recent treatment of these vases is; C. Bérard, Anodoi, 1974. See also; E. Buschor, Feldmäuse, Munchen, 1937; M. Guarducci, ‘Pandora o i Martellatori’, Monumenti Antichi, 33, 1929, p. 6ff.; H. Metzger, Les Représentations dans la céramique attique du IVe siècle, Paris, 1951, p. 72ff. (= Représentations). The six vases are; 1. Paris, Cab. Med. 298, lekythos, C. Haspels, Attic Black-figured Lekythoi, 1936, p. 258, 87, Anodoi fig. 21, Athena Painter, c.500–480; 2. Ferrara, T. 579, neck of a volute-krater, ARV2 p. 612, 1, Anodoi fig. 30, Painter of Bologna 279, c.450–440 B.C.; 3. Stockholm 6, bell-krater, ARV2 p. 1053, 40, Anodoi fig. 38, Recalls the Peleus Painter, c.440–430 B.C.; 4. Matera 9975, bell-krater, A. D. Trendall, The Red-Figured Vases of Lucania, Campania and Sicily, 1967, p. 14, 1 and pl. 1, 1–2, South Italian, by the Pisticci Painter, c.440–430 B.C.; 5. Jena 393 a–b, fragment of a cup, ARV2 p. 1512, 12, Anodoi fig. 39, Jena Painter, early 4th century; 6. Brussels 286, hydria, ARV2 p. 1472, 4, Représentations, pl. IV, 2, Herakles Painter, c.380–370 B.C. In every case a goddess rises from the earth watched by excited satyrs who wield mallets or picks. Our vase is the last in the series. 

The subject represented on these vases has often been discussed, and three interpretations have been suggested: the return of Persephone, the birth of Aphrodite, and the appearance of Pandora (not the story told by Hesiod of her creation by Hephaistos). The presence of satyrs in the scene has suggested a connection with a satyr-play, and we happen to know that Sophocles wrote a satyr-play entitled Pandora or Sphyrokopoi (Hammerers).8For Sophocles’ play and its connection with vase-painting, see; T. B. L. Webster, Monuments Illustrating Tragedy and Satyr Play, 1967, pp. 150–1; A. D. Trendall and T. B. L. Webster, Illustrations of Greek Drama, 1971, pp. 33–5. Although we do not know the date of this play or its plot, it might well have been produced about 450 B.C. and would thus have been approximately contemporary with the earliest representations in red-figure of a goddess rising accompanied by satyrs with hammers (nos 2, 3, and 4 in the list in note 7). The Sophoclean drama might have provided the inspiration for the vase-painters.9But not for the painter of the black-figured lekythos in Paris (no. 1 in the list in note 7) which belongs to the first quarter of the century. The scene on this vase must reflect an earlier legend or literary source. But whether on the vases of the 4th century, such as the hydria in Brussels (fig. 5) and the bell-krater in Melbourne, the goddess is still Pandora or another is not certain. On the Brussels hydria only the head of the goddess is visible, flanked by Erotes: this suggests Aphrodite rather than Pandora.10On a pelike in Rhodes, 12.454, c.430 B.C., Anodoi fig. 63, the goddess who rises from the ground in the presence of Hermes and a satyr is named Aphrodite. It is worth noting, moreover, that at least four other vases, all of the 4th century, have a scene similar to that on the Melbourne vase except that the satyrs do not carry mallets; Berlin F 2646, ARV2 p. 1443, 6, Anodoi fig. 35a–b; New York; Tozzi, ARV2 p. 1443, Anodoi fig. 45; Polygyros, Lambropoulos, Anodoi fig. 46; Valletta (Malta), ARV2 p. 1436, 7, Anodoi fig. 55. Is the goddess here Pandora or Aphrodite?

fig. 5 

Attic hydria

Brussels

(Photo courtesy of Musees Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels)

(image pending)

The reverse of our vase is decorated with three draped youths: two face to the right, the other to the left. The object in the field at the left might be a discus. On the earliest Attic bell-kraters, of the first half of the 5th century, there is often little difference in quality between the pictures on obverse and reverse, but later the reverse is treated more cursorily and simply, with two or three draped figures. In the 4th century, as here, the drawing is usually very hasty. 

The Melbourne vase cannot be attributed at present to a recognised painter, but it has been associated with seven other bell-kraters of which the reverses are by one hand. The obverses may be by the same hand, but we cannot be certain, so the group is called the York Reverse-Group after the present location of one of the vases.11ARV2 pp. 1450–51. A ninth vase, a bell-krater, may be added to the York Reverse-Group; Turin 4705, CVA Torina 2, pl. 14, 1–2, A. komos (satyr, woman, and youth – Dionysos?); B, three youths. Compared by Lo Porto with the York Reverse-Group. The vases of the York Reverse-Group are connected in style, especially through the figures on the reverse, with those of the Toya Painter12ARV2 pp. 1448–9. and the Painter of Rodin 966.13ARV2 pp. 1449–50. They may be dated to the years 360–330 B.C., and are among the last red-figured pots made at Athens. 

I have spoken of subject-matter and style, but the Melbourne vase is of interest for another reason: under the foot there is a graffito, an incised inscription. Such graffiti are not uncommon in this position on Attic black- and red-figured vases. Often they are quite short: a ligature perhaps, or number, or vase-name; but occasionally they are longer (a few run to four or five lines) and give the price in addition to the type of vase and number – a price inscription. The graffito on our vase belongs in the latter category. The underside of the foot is divided into two halves by incised lines: in one half, ΤΡϒΒΛΙ Δ; in the other, ΓΙΙ, in larger strokes. Δ is the symbol, at this period, for 10, and ΓΙΙ for 7 (Δ = deka, ten; Γ = pente, five); so perhaps 10 tryblia for 7 (obols). The word tryblion occurs already in the later 5th century in the comedies of Aristophanes (e.g. Knights 650 and 905, Birds 77). Its meaning is not exactly certain, but it might have been a generic term for a bowl. It is doubtful, however, whether it could have been applied to something as large as the krater upon which our graffito is found.14If my reading of the graffito is correct, 1 tryblion is worth less than an obol, too low for a vase the size of a krater. The evidence from the late 5th century suggests that at that time, some fifty years before our vase, a krater was worth about 4 obols. It is unlikely that the figure 7 in the Melbourne graffito refers to drachmae, but it could be a number, not a price at all. For the interpretation of price inscriptions, see D. Amyx, ‘The Attic Stelai, Part III: Vases and other Containers’, Hesperia, XXVII, 1958, p. 287ff. and pl. 52. 

Tryblion is not a common word in graffiti on vases. Indeed I know only one other instance, on a bell-krater in the Louvre, K 253 (figs 6–8). Here again the underside of the foot is divided by incised lines, and in one half is the inscription: ΤΡϒΒΛΙΑ ΓΑΧΕΑ ΓΙΙΙ, i.e. 8 tryblia, thick (ones – pachea means thick or heavy) (fig. 9). The Louvre vase has, to my knowledge, escaped notice until now. The obverse shows a standard scene of satyrs and maenads; the reverse, three draped youths. As will be seen at a glance, the vase is related to that in Melbourne by shape and style of drawing. It is not by the same hand, but by a contemporary, the Painter of Rodin 966.15Compare especially Vienna 972, ARV2 p. 1449, 2, and Naples 970, ARV2 p. 1449, 3.

The newly acquired bell-krater is a significant addition to the National Gallery’s collection. Not only is it important for its subject, its style and its graffito, but it is the only example of Attic red-figured pottery of the 4th century on display. 

Addendum 

Professor A. D. Trendall has drawn my attention to the fragments of a South Italian bell-krater in Basle, Cahn Collection, 278. The vase is exceptional in that it is a two-row bell-krater with symposion and komos in the upper zone and an anodos in the lower (on one side). In the anodos the goddess is received by satyrs with mallets and a man with hammer, a god – Hephaistos probably. This strongly suggests that here at least, the goddess is Pandora. The vase is an early work by the Hearst painter, dateable about 400 B.C. 

Ian McPhee, Lecturer in Classical Archaeology, Department of Art History, Latrobe University (in 1976).

Notes

1              D1-1976. Ht. 34.7–35.2 cm. Dm. at lip 36.0–36.4 cm. Dm. at base 14.7 cm. There is no relief- contour on any of the figures; preliminary sketch lines are visible on the legs of the satyrs. Bibliography: J. D. Beazley, Attic Red-Figured Vase-Painters, 1963, (= ARV2) p. 1450, 6 (York Reverse-Group); C. Bérard, Anodoi, 1974, (= Anodoi) fig. 37; Christie’s, Sale Catalogue, 30 April, 1975, no. 54, pl. 19.54. 

2              For the early history of the Nostell Priory collection, see the important introduction by P. E. Corbett to the catalogue of Christie’s sale. 

3              ARV2 pp. 205–6,  123–6. 

4              ARV2 p. 550, 1–2. 

5              J. D. Beazley, The Berlin Painter, Melbourne University Press, (Melbourne), 1964, p. 9. 

6              Agrigento, ARV2 p. 1164, 64, Painter of Munich 2335; Providence 23.324, ARV2 p. 1188, 1, Pothos Painter; Vienna 1771, ARV2 p. 1318, Meidian. 

7              The most recent treatment of these vases is; C. Bérard, Anodoi, 1974. See also; E. Buschor, Feldmäuse, Munchen, 1937; M. Guarducci, ‘Pandora o i Martellatori’, Monumenti Antichi, 33, 1929, p. 6ff.; H. Metzger, Les Représentations dans la céramique attique du IVe siècle, Paris, 1951, p. 72ff. (= Représentations). The six vases are; 1. Paris, Cab. Med. 298, lekythos, C. Haspels, Attic Black-figured Lekythoi, 1936, p. 258, 87, Anodoi fig. 21, Athena Painter, c.500–480; 2. Ferrara, T. 579, neck of a volute-krater, ARV2 p. 612, 1, Anodoi fig. 30, Painter of Bologna 279, c.450–440 B.C.; 3. Stockholm 6, bell-krater, ARV2 p. 1053, 40, Anodoi fig. 38, Recalls the Peleus Painter, c.440–430 B.C.; 4. Matera 9975, bell-krater, A. D. Trendall, The Red-Figured Vases of Lucania, Campania and Sicily, 1967, p. 14, 1 and pl. 1, 1–2, South Italian, by the Pisticci Painter, c.440–430 B.C.; 5. Jena 393 a–b, fragment of a cup, ARV2 p. 1512, 12, Anodoi fig. 39, Jena Painter, early 4th century; 6. Brussels 286, hydria, ARV2 p. 1472, 4, Représentations, pl. IV, 2, Herakles Painter, c.380–370 B.C. 

8              For Sophocles’ play and its connection with vase-painting, see; T. B. L. Webster, Monuments Illustrating Tragedy and Satyr Play, 1967, pp. 150–1; A. D. Trendall and T. B. L. Webster, Illustrations of Greek Drama, 1971, pp. 33–5. 

9              But not for the painter of the black-figured lekythos in Paris (no. 1 in the list in note 7) which belongs to the first quarter of the century. The scene on this vase must reflect an earlier legend or literary source. 

10           On a pelike in Rhodes, 12.454, c.430 B.C., Anodoi fig. 63, the goddess who rises from the ground in the presence of Hermes and a satyr is named Aphrodite. It is worth noting, moreover, that at least four other vases, all of the 4th century, have a scene similar to that on the Melbourne vase except that the satyrs do not carry mallets; Berlin F  2646, ARV2 p. 1443, 6, Anodoi fig. 35a–b; New York; Tozzi, ARV2 p. 1443, Anodoi fig. 45; Polygyros, Lambropoulos, Anodoi fig. 46; Valletta (Malta), ARV2 p. 1436, 7, Anodoi fig. 55. Is the goddess here Pandora or Aphrodite? 

11           ARV2 pp. 1450–51. A ninth vase, a bell-krater, may be added to the York Reverse-Group; Turin 4705, CVA Torina 2, pl. 14, 1–2, A. komos (satyr, woman, and youth – Dionysos?); B, three youths. Compared by Lo Porto with the York Reverse-Group. 

12           ARV2 pp. 1448–9. 

13           ARV2 pp. 1449–50. 

14           If my reading of the graffito is correct, 1 tryblion is worth less than an obol, too low for a vase the size of a krater. The evidence from the late 5th century suggests that at that time, some fifty years before our vase, a krater was worth about 4 obols. It is unlikely that the figure 7 in the Melbourne graffito refers to drachmae, but it could be a number, not a price at all. For the interpretation of price inscriptions, see D. Amyx, ‘The Attic Stelai, Part III: Vases and other Containers’, Hesperia, XXVII, 1958, p. 287ff. and pl. 52. 

15           Compare especially Vienna 972, ARV2 p. 1449, 2, and Naples 970, ARV2 p. 1449, 3.