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Hellenistic Magenta Ceramic Vase representing an Actor on an Altar

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: Greek-Hellenistic
: 3rd Century B.C.
: Greek Ceramic
: Heigth: 11.8 cm

Ex-American private collection.


The vessel in intact with many traces of polychromy preserved: red (hair, handle), bright pink (ribbons on the altar, head of the actor), sky blue (ears).


reference 18872

This is one of the most beautiful and best preserved from this group of vases. Originally probably from Southern Italy (Campania?), these so called “magenta” ceramics (end of the 4th – 1st century B.C.) were given their name by J. D. Beazley, who called them such because of their bright pink coloring, always appearing in the palette of colors used for their painted decoration. In their repertoire of shapes, two types recur: bottles and especially vases used to fill oil lamps, of which this piece is a very beautiful example. The filling of this vessel would have been achieved through the use of the holes pierced in the back of the actor (the bowl fixed just below the perforations is a standard feature and was used to catch the unavoidable drips of oil), while the transfer of the fuel to the lamp was through the small opening visible at the base of the left elbow. Aside from the actor, some other subjects represented in “magenta” ceramics are symposiasts, seated Africans, heads of Isis and all sorts of animals (in particular sacrificial animals, such as goats, sheet, bulls and pigs), etc.

The features of this slave’s mask are associated from this point forward with those of the “New Comedy”: pug nose, thick arched brows, large semi-circular megaphone-like mouth. He is dressed in a chalmys, held up in his right hand, while the left arm is completely enveloped in the fabric. As with guests at a banquet, a crown consisting of a thick band encircles his forehead. His situation is not terribly enviable: he seeks refuge at an altar, placing himself under divine protection: it is to flee his master, who is probably in a foul mood.



J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 1984-1996.


COURTOIS C., Le théâtre antique, Masques et figurines en terre cuite, Geneva, 1991, p. 29, n. 3.
HIGGINS R., Magenta Ware in The British Museum Yearbook 1, 1976, pp. 1-32.
SGUAITAMATTI M., Zwei plastische Vasen aus Unteritalien in Antike Kunst 24, 1981, pp. 107-113.



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