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Etruscan Olpe with Polychrome Decoration

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: Etruscan, Etruscan
: early 6th century B.C.
: Greek Ceramic
: H: 38.7 cm
: CHF 48'000

Ex-E. Borowski collection, Basle, Switzerland.


The olpe is complete, although restored from fragments, and the painting is in an excellent state of preservation. The typically Etruscan decorative technique on this vessel was influenced by the style of Corinthian pottery. The entire surface is coated in a layer of dark brown slip divided into three horizontal zones and painted with horizontal lines of added white and red. These colors are also used for anatomical details of the figures, while their silhouettes are indicated by incision.


Reference 12455

The olpe is a container of Corinthian origin that Etruscan potters introduced into their repertory of ceramics, first in the form of their distinctive bucchero ware, and then in painted pottery, either polychrome or black-figured. Like the oinochoe, some olpai were used at symposia as a pitchers to serve wine, while other examples were intended for funerary use.

The figural decoration occupies both zones on the body. The zone on the shoulder is painted with polychrome tongues. In the zones below, goats or monsters, such as winged horses, winged panthers, or beaked wild animals, walk to the right. The vase can be attributed to one of the most famous Etruscan artists from the early decades of the 6th century B.C., the Pescia Romana Painter, who worked in the city of Vulci, north of Rome. Among the most versatile artists of the period, this painter decorated vessels such as olpai and oinochoai in the polychrome technique, and cups, alabastra, and aryballoi in the black-figure technique. These figures are full of vigor and often innovative in conception, for example, the rooster-lion of the upper frieze.

In Greek mythology Pegasos was the winged horse par excellence, but in an Italic context, winged horses are often connected with the funeral sphere. The Micali Painter, a black-figure artist active in Vulci in the late 6th century B.C., painted a large number of Pegasoi on vessels intended to accompany the deceased in the tomb. The wings of these mythological animals suggest their function as transitional creatures, allowing the deceased to achieve his last journey from the world of the living to the afterlife. The winged horses on this olpe are probably intended to signify such a concept.


MARTELLI M. (ed.), La ceramica degli Etruschi, La pittura vascolare, Novara, 1987, p. 278, n. 60.7 ; pp. 281-282, n. 66-68.
MARTELLI M., The Pescia Romana Painter: A Bilingual Vase Painter, in Corinthiaca, Studies in Honor of D. A. Amyx, Columbia (Missouri), 1986, pp. 146 ff.
SZILAGYI J. G., Ceramica etrusco-corinzia figurata, parte I, 630-580 a.C., Florence, 1992, pp. 202-203.

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