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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dionysiac Revel by the Kleophrades Painter



This stunning Athenian red-figure amphora was decorated c. 490 by an artist known as the Kleophrades Painter—we do not know his real name.  He is named after Kleophrades the potter whose signature appears on another vase that he decorated (remember that potter and painter were usually two different artists).  Over one hundred vases have been attributed to him, in various shapes—amphora, pelike, kalyx krater, stamnos, psykter, hydria, kalpis...  The (incomplete) list shows that he preferred large surfaces for his grandiose compositions (bold relief-lines, large heads, and massive figures).
His career began c. 505 and ended c. 475—turbulent and yeasty years in the history of Athens.  These were the last two decades of the Archaic period in art history generally, but in the history of vase painting the Kleophrades Painter stood near the beginning of the new red-figure technique.  He was pupil of the Pioneers in that new technique, painters such as Euphronios and Euthymides.  (You know Euphronios as the painter of the famous kalyx krater depicting the fallen Sarpedon carried from battle by Hypnos and Thanatos.)  The Pioneers had explored new poses, new views of the body in motion.  The Kleophrades Painter, like his contemporary and rival the Berlin Painter, were the next generation, not so much daring experimenters as exploiters of the discoveries of their teachers, the Pioneers.
The pot that is the focus of this post is a pointed amphora, a shape usually meant for storage rather than display.  Undecorated, it is common; decorated, it is rare.  The ground line is a maeander interrupted by a cross in black squares, a rare motif.  Above it is a stock scene of a Dionysiac revel that goes all around the vase.
A bearded Dionysus is in the middle with an ivy wreath in his hair.  He holds a vine in his left hand and in his right a kantharos (a deep drinking cup with high vertical handles).  Over a broad chiton (long, lightweight garment, belted and with buttoned sleeve) and himation (mantle or cloak) he wears a panther pelt.  To his right and left are maenads, who defend themselves against lusty satyrs (under the handle and on the other side) with the thyrsus (pinecone-tipped staff).  The maenad on the left holds a snake.  Note the outlines of the legs beneath the diaphanous drapery.  The use of color throughout is striking—the dilute brown glaze for the panther skin, the snake, and the kantharos; the purple for the wreaths, the vine leaves, parts of the snake and the dots on the god’s ivy wreath.
The neck shows three young athletes: the one on the right carries a discus in his right hand, the one on the left holds two javelins, and the one in the middle is about to cast a javelin.  On the ground are another discus and a pickax.


“One of the greatest figures in the history of Athenian vase painting is the so-called Kleophrades Painter, who lived through the momentous days of the Persian danger, the Persian war, and the Persian defeat. His work reflects the strenuous and exalted spirit of his time. It shows that rare combination—an almost vehement joy of life and a quiet aloofness heralding the spirit of the Olympia sculptures.”  So Gisela Richter (“The Kleophrades Painter,” American Journal of Archaeology, 40/1 [1936] 100).


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