Large Red-figure Knob-Handled Patera
Period: Circle of the Darius-Underground Painter, Greek, South Italian, Apulian, second half of the 4th century B.C.
Dimensions: H to highest knob: 14.0 cm (5.5 in) – D rim: 40.3 cm (15.8 in)
Ex- Jan Mitchell private collection, New York, 1960’s.
The Greeks, who founded their colonies in South Italy and Sicily (Magna Graecia) as early as in the 8th century B.C., established there several workshops to produce the ceramics for their everyday needs and rituals. Five regional schools are recognized: Apulian, Lucanian, Campanian, Paestan, and Sicilian. The local potters and vase-painters manufactured similar shapes and followed the types of designs accepted in the Attic vases regarded as the highest artistic standard, they were also able to modify and elaborate the traditional shapes, to introduce the new ones, to create individual styles in figural depiction, and, in general, a more distinctive, rich manner and technique in the decoration.
This red-figure patera, a specialty of the Apulian vase production, is shaped as a deep and wide dish on a circular foot with two vertical handles attached to the rim. Each is supplied with a mushroom-shaped knob set on the top; two similar knobs are flanking the handle’s roots. The vessel is richly decorated and presents a complex of figural scenes and ornamental motives characteristic for the imaginary of the Apulian vase painting. As the studies argue, such representations do not reflect a specific epic or mythological narration but rather have a symbolic meaning. The combination of all represented images alludes to the fertility cult which was especially important in South Italy and Sicily. This particular type of vessel was designed for the ritual of hand-washing as a bridal rite.
The upper part of the interior is occupied by a reserved band decorated with a grapevine; the undulating stem and tendrils are painted white while the white leaves have additional yellow. The grapevine ornament frames the tondo where three figures are represented; two horizontal bands filled with meander and ovae indicate the ground line. On the left, a young woman is seated on a stool. She is elegantly dressed in a long chiton of thin fabric with multiple folds which echo the shapes of her body. She is adorned with the bracelets, beaded necklace, and earrings; all items are marked by the white as it does the depiction of her hair-dress, a hair net (kekryphalos), which sometimes was made of silk or gold threads. The bunch of curly hair appears on the top, the front hair is surmounted by a diadem of white pearls. The composition of the figure is masterly designed as it explores the spatial arrangement: the body with the crossed legs (the shoes are painted white) and the extended arms are shown in three quarters, and the head in profile. The woman holding a ball bound with ribbons and a phiale looks at a youth standing in front of her. His naked body with the crossed legs (a long cloak with artfully composed folds is arranged at his elbow and back) is leaning in a resting pose at a laver on the fluted stand (louterion, which was intended for the bridal bath)). He is holding nonchalantly a walking stick with the fingers of his left hand, and he is presenting the ornamented ribbon vined by a fillet in the other hand.
There is a shrub with berries (probably, a myrtle) between the two figures, and the scene is completed with the figure of Eros flying above. The boy whose large wings are prominently spread behind his back is turned toward the youth; he presents a dove seated on his left and holds a garland in the right hand. The Eros boy has a distinct effeminate look (shoes; spiral anklets and thigh beaded bands; bracelets and earring, and all the same arrangement of hair as the young woman does). Additional attributes and decorative elements fill the rest of the painted surface: a palmette-like fan behind the laver, a large phiale beneath the ovae pattern, the rosettes (with petals radiating from a circle) and heart-shaped ivy leaves.
One may assume that in the principal scene the bride is represented meeting a bridegroom whose figure is leaning at the louterion (the latter was intended for the bridal bath). The goddess of love and fertility, Aphrodite, and another powerful god of fertility, Dionysos, do not appear themselves but are presented by their companions (Eros; a satyr on the outer side) and attributes (a dove, a myrtle, a fan for Aphrodite and the ivy leaves and a phiale for Dionysos).
The pictorial decoration of the outer surface consists of the figural and ornamental motives with the predominance of the latter: more than a half of space is occupied by two similar ornamental designs, each set on a place which corresponds exactly to the handle. The composition is symmetrical: a large palmette is surrounded by scrolling tendrils and half-palmettes. Two figural scenes are placed alternately. In one of them, a naked satyr recognizable by the tail and animal ears is walking to the left holding a thyrsus and a dish containing a cake. He leads a young woman and turns his head toward her; she is carrying a bucket (situla) and a box (cista). A fillet, phiale, and a rosette fill the gaps of the pictorial surface. In the other scene, Eros is represented seated on the superposed rocks placed between two shrubs with berries which indicate an outdoor setting. The figure with long wings is turned left and holds the garland, box, and a ball. A rectangular frame behind the Eros’ wings marks a window; such a selected detail denotes a shrine. It has been suggested that the figure may be a statue, and the scenes on the outer side could be specified as the young woman’s initiation to the cult of Eros (bringing the offerings to the sanctuary dedicated to Eros; god’s effigy receiving the adoration).
The style of the drawing with freely designed fold-lines and assured delineation of the anatomy of both draped and naked bodies is close to the followers of the Darius-Underworld Painter. The influence of the contemporary sculpture (elongated proportions; poses with spatial arrangements of limbs) is also evident. In addition, there is a curious and rarely observed detail which probably shows that the artist (or an apprentice) ignored his mistake putting the genitalia twice in the depiction of the naked youth leaning at the laver (one is placed at the cross of his knees). Today, one would hardly consider this as an imperfection as it contributes to the spontaneity of creative process in the workshop.
JENTOFT-NILSEN M., Some Apulian Knob-handed Paterae, in The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 6/7, 1978/1979, pp. 203-208.;
MAYO M.E., HAMMA K., The Art of South Italy: Vases from Magna Grecia, Richmond, 1982, pp. 137-138, no. 52, pp. 154-155, no. 62;
SCHNEIDER-HERRMANN G., Apulian Red-Figured Paterae with Flat or Knobbed Handles, in Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London, Supplement 34, London, 1977.;
TRENDALL A.D., Red-Figure Vases of South Italy and Sicily, London, 1989, figs. 212-213.