Kylix with Nike

A Greek kylix decorated with figurative, vegetal and geometric patterns in the red-figure style. In the interior base the goddess of victory, Nike, is painted with her large wings folded. She is depicted naked and kneeling, with a diadem on her head and many ornaments in her hair. In one hand she holds a mirror. What seems to be a bowl or plate lies below her. Going around the scene a band of wave pattern is painted and a second border outside this is of laurel leaves. On the exterior surface of the cup just under the handles we can observe vegetal motifs, two palmettes with tornapuntas on either side. Between the two handles there is a female face in profile identified as the “Ladies of Fashion” motif, the representation of a female figure that is not associated with any identifiable personage but which appears on the majority of vases from Magna Graecia.

A kylix was a type of Greek earthenware and was a wine-drinking vessel with a broad relatively shallow body raised on a stem from a foot and usually with two horizontal handles disposed symmetrically. It was used principally in symposia as its shape enabled the drinker to drink whilst recumbent, as was the case in the banquets. For this reason it was common to see decorations related to the god Dionysus, as we have in this example.

This vase is from the region of Apulia, in the south of Italy, where the ancient Daunia was situated, coincident with the modern province of Foggia and Messapia in the south of the region. From 320 BC Athens no longer exported pottery and only produced some vases that were given as prizes to the athletes of the Panathenaic Games. The pottery produced by the Greek colonies in the Italian peninsula took the place of the Athenian ware in the Mediterranean market area.

Red-figure pottery was one of the most important figurative styles of Greek production. It developed in Greece around the year 530 BC and was used until the 3rd Century BC. It took the place of the previously dominant style of black-figure pottery within a few decades. The technical base was the same in both cases, but in the red-figure pieces the colour was reversed, so that the figures stood out against a dark background as if they were lit up by theatrical lighting, following a more natural scheme. The painters who worked with black figures were forced to keep motifs clearly separated one from the other and to limit the complexity of the illustration. In contrast, the red-figure technique allowed greater freedom. Each figure was silhouetted against a dark background allowing the painters to render anatomic details with greater exactitude and variety.

The technique consisted of painting motifs on a still moist piece, using a transparent glossy slip which, on firing, took on an intense black coloration. The motifs were therefore invisible before the firing and so painters had to work completely from memory without seeing the result of their work beforehand. Once the piece had been fired the zones not covered by the slip retained the reddish tone of the clay, while those that had been “painted” with the slip took on a dense, brilliant black coloration.


- MAYO, M. ed. The Art of South Italy, Vases from Magna Graecia. Richmond. 1982.
- TRENDALL, A.D. Red Figure Vases of South Italy and Sicily. London. 1989.

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