Bell krater

A beautifully decorated pottery vase from the region of Apulia which, given its form, can be identified as a bell krater. This example is painted entirely in a satin black colour apart from the two bands of clay-red colour which circle and embellish the foot. The high quality of the black glaze finish acquired after the firing is a perfect support for the decorative patterns painted on the belly of the vase in white, brown and golden yellow. Below the rim at the level of the handles, it is decorated with elaborate bands, one of ovalo, a fillet, a row of dots and one of bunches of grapes and tendrils. The main decoration on the body of the vase is made up of a garland of grapes and vine leaves which frame the image of a box painted in white along with two vegetal elements. These motifs are closely associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, and it is therefore not surprising that they are to found decorating a vessel to be used to hold, mix and serve wine during a symposium. The reverse side is totally plain, without any decoration at all. The sculptural quality of the two lion-head handles, which are situated one on each side of the vessel, is noteworthy.

The krater is a type of Greek pottery used to mix water and wine and from which cups were filled. It was moved to the space were a meal was to be eaten and was placed either on the ground or on a dais and the steward in charge of drawing the wine used a ladle to pour it into the guests’ cups. Kraters were mostly pottery but some were made from precious metals, and were made in a variety of shapes according to the taste of the artist, although they did always have a wide mouth. The most widely occurring ones are column kraters, calyx kraters, bell kraters and volute ones.

This is a typical piece of ceramic ware that can easily be related to the so-called “Gnathian” production, and more precisely to the ancient town of Egnazia, on the coast of modern day Puglia (the designation is inappropriate and dates to the 19th century). Such vessels were produced in southern Italy for some one hundred years, from the mid-fourth century BC until late in the following century. With their glossy black glaze, and the frequent presence of gadroons, they tend to imitate metal ware. The decorative patterns (figural, vegetal and most often geometric) were applied to the black painted surface and highlighted in white, brownish/gold yellow and, more rarely, purple – as beautifully exemplified here.

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