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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bacchus in the Bowl

The Kylix of Dionysus

   While obviously Greek, many works like this kylix, also called Dionysus in a Boat, were ultimately discovered throughout Italy.  Attributed to the painter Exekias, the character in the center is clearly Dionysus (Bacchus in Latin).  This piece in particular was found in Etruria and is believed to have been completed around 530 BCE during the Archaic period of art in Greece.
   When looking at Roman and Greek art, one has to remember that there were no "tags" on the piece.  Other than the common maneuver of directly writing a character's name, there would be no means of telling which characters are shown.  Furthermore, a great deal of these people would be illiterate.  For this reason, each god was given particular items with which to be shown.  Dionysus, for example, would be recognized by grapes, being the god involved with drinking and wine.  The story depicted was a common legend.  Now transcribed in Ovid's Metamorphoses, this is the story describes an attempted kidnapping of this god.  When still a boy, Dionysus asked a group of seamen to take him away from his birth island.  The majority of the sailors wanted to kidnap him, and in mid-sail, he turned those unfaithful men into dolphins (depicted around the boat).
An example of a Kylix from the outside (not the same)
   A kylix was a moderately common devise of the time.  A very wide and deep wine glass, this cup would be used for a drinking game.  During a party, a person would be expected to drink until the entire depiction, as Dionysus is on the bottom of the glass, is revealed.  This was most likely a comedic twist, using Bacchus, the god of debauchery, to begin what would most likely be a drunken orgy.  Like the François vase, this is a black figure bowl, in the Attic style, finely made but also meant for everyday use.  Bowls like these are vital to art historians because they demonstrate the culture and thought process of the elite in society.  Unfortunately for the future of Greece, it was apparent that this through process centered around drinking massive amounts of alcohol.

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