Attic Greek Figural Vase in the form of Phrixus and Helle

Greek · 4th century B.C.






H: 14 cm (5.5 in)





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This plastic vase has a contrasting design: the back side, which accommodates a loop ribbed handle placed at the tall neck, is decorated in red-figure technique representing a complex pattern of ornamental scrolls and palmettes, with a band of eggs and dots below. The front side received a plastic shape consisting of finely modeled and painted figures. They are surrounded by scrolls and rosettes forming a baroque frame. The highly decorative design and a delicate shape make this small vessel, a container for perfumed oil, a precious and desirable object.


The figural scene of symmetrical composition depicts the famous story of the boy, Phrixus, represented riding a ram over the sea (wavy scallops were plastically modeled at the upper tier of the base) and trying to hold his sister Helle, who slides off the animal. She eventually falls into the sea that the two young people are crossing, which therefore took the name of Hellespont, the modern-day sea of Marmara separating Europe from Asia. The two young people tried to escape their stepmother, Ino (the second wife of their father, Athamas, the Boeotian king), and headed to Colchis where only Phrixus arrived safely. There, he sacrificed the ram, whose skin later became the famous “golden fleece”, the object of the expedition of the Argonauts victoriously led by Jason. According to a variant of the legend, Helle, who had fallen into the sea, would have escaped from drowning: hosted by the Nereids, she was loved by Poseidon, and had a child with him, Paeon.


The wings and elaborate crowns seen on Phrixus and Helle signify their divinization, and the vase could have been dedicated in a sanctuary. The vase, as a miniature sculpture, was made of several parts:  modeled on a wheel, by hand and using matrices, they were assembled before firing, and then painted. The remains of color over the white slip (blue in the wings and waves) suggest that the entire front was initially painted, while the rosettes were gilded.


Some encrustations on base; two rosettes and a tip of the left wing of Phrixus reattached.


Ex- Count Michał Tyszkiewicz (1828-1897) collection, Rome, acquired prior to 1892;
Rollin & Feuardent, Paris, 6 June 1898, lot 24;
Ex- Dr. P. Hamonic collection;
Ex- Pierre (1900-1993) and Claude Vérité private collection, Paris, acquired between 1930 and 1960.


FROEHNER, W., La collection Tyszkiewicz: choix de monuments antiques avec texte explicatif, Munich, 1892, p. 39, pl. XXXXI.
“La Méditerranée, Cerceau de l’Europe”, Maison des Arts et Loisirs de Montbéliard, Atelier des Halles, 1971, no. 69.
FABULOUS MONSTERS, Phoenix Ancient Art Catalogue 2021-40, Geneva-New York, 2021, no. 18


“La Méditerranée, Cerceau de l’Europe”, Maison des Arts et Loisirs de Montbéliard, Atelier des Halles, November 6 – December 15, 1971, no. 69;
FABULOUS MONSTERS, New York, 29 July – 30 September 2021, no. 18