Etruscan Red-Figure Volute Krater
Italic · ca. 380-350 B.C.
H: 54 cm
The impressive shape, enriched with volutes on the upper handles and with moldings on the lip and foot, perfectly fits with the refinement of the figural and subsidiary decoration. One of the main characteristics of Faliscan red-figure pottery is its high artistic quality, which translates into an impeccable style of drawing, both complicated and precise, in the choice of the subjects, often based on Greek myths, and in elaborate and well-structured composition of the scenes. The large vessels were probably manufactured expressly for burial, as often confirmed by the subjects selected by the painters.
In this case, the decoration is organized in several friezes and panels, one independent from another. Except for the lower body and the foot, painted black, the large available surface served as a pretext for the painter to draw abstract patterns, vegetal ornaments or figural scenes: on the neck, there is a) a complex floral motif (palmettes, volutes, flowers); b) a simplified Ionian kyma; c) a procession of six bearded sea monsters, parading to the left: there are three ketoi, according to the Greek term, on each side, those in the middle being highlighted by the use of white paint.
On the obverse face, the scene depicted is of a funeral nature: a winged demon (Charu(n) in Etruscan) approaches a young man (the deceased?), fleeing with large strides to the left, and touches his left elbow, probably to announce his impending death. The Dionysian subject represented on the reverse face is also related to the sphere of the afterlife (Dionysus, Fufluns in Etruscan, is a god with a very strong chthonic character), even if it is a jubilation scene between a satyr (identifiable by his horse ears and tail) and a maenad who are performing a frenetic dance. The naked woman has placed her cloak on a tree trunk that frames the scene just behind her.
The area under the handles is entirely covered with plant and geometric motifs which echo, in a much more elaborate way, the elements painted under the lip. Two large stacked palmettes constitute the symmetrical axis of the composition, then articulated into several highly precise and complex volutes that include other palmettes and flowers in the shape of a chalice. Charu(n), whose name originates from the Greek Charon – the ferryman leading the souls to the afterlife in Greek mythology – is the Etruscan demon of death: he is represented with an aquiline nose, a short beard, uncombed hair and pointed ears. He wears a short chiton and may be winged: among his attributes are a hammer and snakes, more rarely a torch or a sword. His task is not only to intimidate with his ferocious appearance, but to announce death to the deceased and to escort their souls to the afterlife.
Like other animals (birds, bulls, deer, etc.) and other monsters (griffins, for instance), the ketoi regularly appear on Faliscan pottery to decorate entire – but secondary – friezes or as filling figures in mythological scenes; sometimes they simply indicate the marine world. Perhaps they also have an apotropaic meaning or, in rare instances, a meaning of transition to the world of the dead.
Stylistically, this vase can certainly be attributed to one of the best Faliscan workshops, like that of the Villa Giulia Painter 1755 or of the Gruppo Marcioni Painter, both active in the Faliscan territory (a region northeast of Rome, on the right bank of the Tiber, whose major cities were Falerii, the modern-day Civita Castellana, and Capena) during the second quarter of the 4th century B.C.
This very large krater is whole, but has been reconstituted from a number of pieces; small repairs are visible. The clay is beige, the black paint is of very good quality; several details (sea monsters, Charon, secondary decoration) are painted in added white. The vase is composed of different parts made separately and joined before firing (handles, neck, body, foot). The large area of red visible on the reverse face would
be due to a problem that occurred during the firing process; the body of
Ex- private collection.
ADEMBRI R., Ceramica falisca ed etrusca a figure rosse: qualche precisazione in Contributi alla ceramografia errusca tardo-classica, Rome, 1985 17ff.
BEAZLEY J. D., Etruscan Vase-Painting, Oxford, 1947, pp. 71 ff.
MARTELLI M. (ed.), La ceramica degli Etruschi, La pittura vascolare, Novara, 1987, pp. 45, 193-199, 314-317, n. 143-147.
Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum Roma, Villa Giulia II, IV br, tav. 8-9.