Vases from Magna Graecia (4th century BCE)

After the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War and the Macedonian invasion, the most active potteries in the 4th century were no longer in mainland Greece, but in the Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily. These workshops would become major centres of art, disseminating and driving the development of new aesthetic trends and ideas characteristic of the Hellenistic world. They mainly produced vessels for funeral rites, with a diverse and prolific corpus of red-figure ceramics characterised by exuberant decoration and monumental compositions.

The leading centre producing red-figure ceramics in Lucania was Metaponto. Some of its earliest artists, such as the Pisticci Painter, must surely have been Athenian emigrants. However, Lucania pottery soon developed its own distinctive style in the treatment of figures and in subjects.

The development of production in Apulia is linked to the prosperity of Taranto, the sovereign city of the region, and to local demand among the native inhabitants, as Apulian vases were prestigious goods and signs of an aristocratic Hellenised culture, assimilated and used by the upper classes in their richly decorated tombs. Over the second half of the 4th century BCE, Apulia developed its “Ornate Style”. Its subject matter is basically mythological or funerary, linked to the popularity of mystery cults and salvationist religions which offered the hope of a blessed afterlife. It typically features monumental forms, such as the volute krater, amphora, loutrophoros, and forms unique to southern Italy, such as the situla and the lekane.

In the Greek colony of Paestum a large ceramics industry flourished under the artistic influence of Campania. The best and most important Paestan vase painter was Asteas. One of his vases, a masterpiece of south Italian painting, a krater depicting the madness of Herakles, is part of this set. With a younger partner, Python, he created a prolific workshop which produced hundreds of vases, especially bell kraters and lebes, with Dionysian, mythological, and feminine subjects.