Squat Lekythos

A light pottery Lekythos, which, due to its form, with a low round body and flat, disk-form base, has been given the name of “squat lekythos”. It retains its strap handle at the back. The neck ends gracefully in a trumpet-form mouth. The piece has been decorated by the red-figure technique, with the background completely painted with black engobe. There is one central scene: above a horizontal band of ovulo functioning as a base we find a naked and winged figure of Eros chasing after a bird which has taken flight. The action is framed by a vertical twining vegetal tendril on both sides.

Eros was one of the primordial gods of Ancient Greece. He was the god of sexual attraction and love and also worshipped as the god of fertility. In some myths he was the son of Aphrodite and Ares, but according to Plato’s “Symposium”, he was conceived by Poros (plenty) and Penia (poverty) on the occasion of the birthday of Aphrodite. This explained the different aspects of love.

A lekythos is a type of Greek pottery used to store perfumed oil to be used to anoint the body. This sort of vessel was also used for funerary purposes. It is characterized by its elongated form, narrow neck and wide mouth which facilitates application of the oil while controlling the flow.

Red-figure pottery was one of the most important figurative styles of Greek production. It developed in Athens around 530 BC and was used until the 3rd Century AD. In the space of a few decades it took over the place of the previous dominant style of black-figure pottery. The technical base was the same in both cases but in red-figure pottery the colouring is reversed so that the figures stand out on a dark background as if they were lit up in a more natural way. The painters who did black-figure work were forced to keep the motifs they painted well apart one from the other and to limit their complexity. In contrast, the red-figure technique gave much greater liberty. Each figure was silhouetted against a black background, allowing the painters to portray anatomical details with greater accuracy and variety.

The technique consisted of painting the motifs on the vessels while they were still unfired using a transparent slip, which when fired took on a black coloration. In this manner the motifs were invisible before firing so that the painters had to work from memory without seeing their earlier work. Once the piece had been fired the zones which had not been covered by the slip retained the red colouring of the clay while the glossy areas, those that had been painted, acquired a dense, brilliant black colour.

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