Calyx Krater

Selections from the Nasher Museum of Art-May
June 1, 2011
 
Red-Figure Calyx Krater, Attic, c. 450 B.C.E. Attributed to the painter Polygnotos. Ceramic. 18 ½ x 18 ½ inches. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. James H. Semans.

Red-Figure Calyx Krater, Attic, c. 450 B.C.E. Attributed to the painter Polygnotos. Ceramic. 18 ½ x 18 ½ inches. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. James H. Semans.

Calyx kraters are large vases with low handles that were used to hold wine. This krater is painted in the red-figure style, a technique invented around 450 B.C.E. that leaves the figures red and the background filled in with black gaze. The red-figure technique allowed the artist to create foreshortening and depth through the use of internal lines.

This krater’s illustrations reflect the theme of fecundity. The divinities Triptolemos, Hekate, Kore (Persephone), and Demeter—all associated with the Earth and fertility—appear on the vase’s principal side.

Triptolemos is shown sitting in the winged chariot he will ride throughout Greece to spread his knowledge of agriculture, learned from Demeter. He holds a phiale (a wide, round, shallow bowl without handles or a foot) into which Kore is preparing to pour wine from an oinochoe (a wine jug) as an offering and prayer for his travels. On the other side of the vase is a standard scene of three unidentified youths: One holds a lyre and another holds a strigilis (a curved instrument used to clean dirt and perspiration off a body).

This calyx krater was one of the first objects housed at the Duke University Museum of Art, the predecessor to the Nasher Museum. Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans ’39, Hon. ’83 purchased the vase in 1964 and gave it to the Duke Classical Collection, now stored at the Nasher. It is one of only three complete calyx kraters attributed to the artist Polygnotos by Sir John Beazley, the art historian who first studied the styles of workshops and artists in ancient Athens.

Recently, this object underwent conservation to remove residue that was left behind during previous repairs, believed to have been made in antiquity. A conservator cleaned the vase, first by wetting the cracks and separating the pot. Then he soaked it in a solution of water and ethanol (10:1) to remove the accumulation of surface dirt and glues. Samples of these materials are being analyzed to determine when the repairs took place.

The fragments were reassembled, and the restored krater is currently on view at the Nasher as part of a student- and faculty-curated exhibition, “Containing Antiquity.” The exhibition is on view in the permanent collection until 2012.

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