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 slip. It is decorated with a central scene depicting the muscular, semi-naked figure of a young man. Below his feet there is a thin red line which encircles the vessel. Following the Greek canons of beauty, the figure stands relaxed in semi-profile in slight contrapposto and holding two elements. In the left he has an olive branch. This can only be faintly seen in silhouette which indicates that it was painted white. In some Greek vases and some from Magna Grecia details were painted in white. This colour, however, did not resist the passage of time well and part or the whole of detail was sometimes lost. He holds a large phiale in hisright hand. This is a wide and shallow circular bowl or plate used for libations which consisted of ritualised pouring of wine, milk or honey in honour of the gods.

A lekythos is a type of Greek vase 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 covered, acquired a dense, brilliant black colour.

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