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Red-Figure Krater with Achilles Killing Penthesilea and Departure Scene

This large krater would likely have been the centerpiece at drinking parties (symposia) in the home of a Greek aristocrat. It is a fine example of the red-figure technique, an approach that essentially reversed the earlier black-figure technique. Here, the humans and objects were outlined on the reserved clay surface and surrounded by a black background. Thinly painted lines, as opposed to sharply incised lines, were used to define details within the figures. The interest in greater flexibility of line seemed to parallel that of dramatic storytelling, which developed more fully during this period. Indeed, the decoration on both sides of this krater skillfully presents conflicting emotions.

Both sides of the vase depict scenes related to war. One side shows a ritual libation offered by family members as a soldier leaves for battle. In contrast, this battle scene is full of action and relates the mythic clash between the Greeks and Amazons during the Trojan War. The painter captured the moment when the Greek hero Achilles kills the Amazon queen, Penthesilea. This moment represents a victory for the Greeks, but the story goes on to relate that Achilles mourned Penthesilea, with whom he had fallen in love. The scene is also a fine example of the artist’s successful presentation of carefully defined figures—and objects such as shields—moving convincingly in three-dimensional space.

Greek, made in Attica
Attributed to the Painter of the Berlin Hydria
Red-Figure Krater with Achilles Killing Penthesilea and Departure Scene
ca. 450 BC
Terracotta with added color
H. 21 1/2 in. (54.6 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Gift of Thomas T. Solley, 85.35