Ánfora, cara posterior

Amphora

 

Pottery. Decorated in red-figure style.
Baltimore Painter.
Apulia, Magna Grecia.
330-320 BC
Height: 89 cm.

 

A monumental amphora decorated in red-figure style with dashes of complementary colours red, white and gold. Its main side is decorated with a funeral scene: a naiskos or small funeral temple contains the figure of the deceased, a naked young man, with a chlamys or short cloak on his shoulder, holding a strigil in his right hand and resting his thoughts on a pile of rocks. On either side of the monument, there is a male and a female figure, one standing and the other sitting, holding objects and offerings. On the back, the decoration is divided into two parts: above is a scene representing Orpheus’ arrival before Hades and Persephone; underneath, next to a stele, a seated naked man holding a wine jar and boat is looking at a woman sitting on a pile of rocks holding a xylophone, while a woman with a crown and a tray of fruits approaches the man and a seated woman holding a tray and ribbons rounds off the scene on the right. On the shoulder of the vase, a female head emerges from a calyx among a profusion of foliage, tendrils, spirals and branches.

The interest of this piece lies in the scene of Orpheus’ visit to Hell. With Dionysus and Persephone, Orpheus is the main figure of Orphism, a mystery religion widespread in the Greek world from Macedonia to Magna Grecia. In Orphic theology, Orpheus is the human mediator who, through initiation, shows the way souls must follow to achieve salvation. Precisely that role is shown in the images on Apulian vases, his presence in Hell is not related with the search for Eurydice, who, furthermore, is never represented, but as the introducer or protector of souls on their arrival in the underworld. Hermes, the god who guides souls to Hades, and Hecate, the goddess who, with her torches, lights the shadows of the underground and the way to the resurrection of the soul, accompany the Thracian poet in his mediating role.

It is an extraordinary vase from an artistic point of view, an example of magnificent quality and good state of conservation, the work of the Baltimore Painter, one of the best Apulian painters of the last quarter of the fourth century BC. It is an exceptional record because of the importance and rarity of the subject represented, Orpheus playing his zither in the presence of the gods of the underworld, Hades and Persephone, a mythological subject of which only a dozen examples on vases from Magna Grecia are known in the world.