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In the Gallery: Greek – Attic black-figure Amphora



Unknown (Greek), Attic black-figure Amphora, c. 520 – 510 BC, terracotta, 16 in., Museum Purchase, AP.1966.21.1

By Angela Gonzalez,  Curatorial Intern

The amphora was a common piece in Ancient Greece and typically sculpted with a tapered base and neck, a wide body and two handles. This vase-shaped container was used as a storage vessel or transportation vessel for both dry and liquid products, but this amphora was most likely used for wine. Illustrated around the amphora, is the procession of Dionysos, Greek God of wine and winemaking. On one side of the vessel, Dionysos holds long grapevine branches and a kantharos, a bowl-shaped container which holds Dionysos’ wine and is never empty. He stands in between two bearded satyrs, who are half man and half goat, and is followed by a continuing procession of Maenads, who are depicted on the other side of the vessel. Maenads, or “raving ones,” are wild females and followers of Dionysos who get heavily intoxicated and become irrational.

This Greek amphora utilizes the black-figure style of vase painting, which renders figures and other designs almost like silhouettes. Natural, clay vessels were decorated with black slip and then incised to create detail and further design. After the firing process, the natural color of the clay would turn red to create a rich background and also project through the scores of black figures. These black-figure, Greek vases were extremely popular among Etruscans, who later developed their own black-figure technique based on Greek examples.

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