A Black-figure Cup representing Duel Scenes
Culture: Greek, Greek-Classical
Period: Attic, ca. 530-520 B.C.
Dimensions: H: 11 cm W: 12.7 cm
Ex-Louis-Gabriel Bellon collection (1819-1899), France.
The cup is virtually intact, only the surface of one of the sides is partially covered with concretions. On the interior, near the rim, an old preserved label bears the number 284.
Decorated in the so called black-figure technique, it shows many elements in added purple and/or white paint (especially for the weapons, the eyes and the palmettes); incisions, drawn somewhat hastily, indicate more details of the warriors anatomy and of their weapons, while the eyes outline was incised with a compass. The black paint is perfectly preserved, but has partially lost its original shiny metallic luster.
This type of cup is known as an eye cup by archaeologists (coupe à yeux in French); in its most common variant (type A), it is characterized by the continuous profile of the bowl, by the low stem provided with a ring in relief and, concerning the decoration, by the systematic presence of a pair of eyes on both sides, which are a simplified face or mask (Dionysus or Gorgon?). The fi gural scenes are distributed between the eyes and/or under the handles, while the medallion is most often decorated with a Gorgon mask. The invention of the eye cups is generally attributed to one of the most famous black-figure painters, Exekias.
The decoration of this cup shows a good artistic level and, almost identically repeated on both sides: it represents a battle scene between two infantrymen, nude but partially armed like hoplites, since they are protected by a helmet of the Corinthian type and by cnemides (shin guards), and fight with spears which they are individually trying to avoid using their large circular shield. In both cases, the soldier on the right seems to win over his opponent, whose size is smaller and knees are slightly bent.
This fighting technique, already replaced in the Archaic period by the phalanxes that the cities sent into confronting on the battlefields in the 7th-6th century B.C., still reflects the duels between warriors as presented in the Homeric texts. Unfortunately, regarding our image (infantrymen duels are among the most popular scenes in the Attic repertory of ceramic painting, but are rarely depicted on cups of this type), no evidence enable us to identify these four warriors or to determine if the represented scene can be related to a specific mythological episode. The decoration of the cup is completed by two double palmettes painted under the handles, while the medallion or tondo is composed of a simple reserved circle.
On related cups and battle scenes, see:
BEAZLEY J. D., Attic Black-Figure Vase-Painters, New York, 1978, pp. ff.
BOARDMAN J., Athenian Black Figure Vases, A Handbook, London, 1997, pp. 56 ff, pp. 106-107.
VIERNEISEL K. et al., Kunst der Schale, Kultur des Trinkens, Munich, 1990, pp. 111-116.