Ancient Mediterranean + Europe
- Greek Vase-Painting, an introduction
- Ancient Greek vase production and the black-figure technique
- Dipylon Amphora
- Dipylon Amphora
- Terracotta Krater
- Commemorating the Dead in Greek Geometric Art
- Eleusis Amphora
- Sophilos: a new direction in Greek pottery
- The François Vase: story book of Greek mythology
- Exekias, amphora with Ajax and Achilles playing a game
- Exekias, Amphora with Ajax and Achilles Playing a Game
- Exekias, Dionysos Kylix
- From tomb to museum: the story of the Sarpedon Krater
- The many meanings of the Sarpedon Krater
- Euthymides, Three Revelers
- Niobid Painter, Niobid Krater
- Niobid Krater
By Katarzyna Minollari
“As never Ephronios [could do]” wrote painter Euthymides after painting his new . Euthymides had a clear sense of achievement and was indeed proud of his work, boastfully challenging his friend and rival—Euphronios. He would see Euphronios often, as well as other painters in the Kerameikos—the potter’s quarter in Athens. They would be curious to see one another's new work, sometimes with appreciation, sometimes with a bit of jealousy. In the evenings they often had a good time together at a symposium (a kind of ancient Greek male drinking party). They would drink wine mixed with water, become garrulous, loud and—if drinking went on for too long—they might even start singing and even dancing. Perhaps what is depicted on this amphora is a scene similar to those Euthymides witnessed at one of these long parties. Euphronios indeed was a master potter and painter, and Euthymides knew that and had a full appreciation for his work. He thought however, that his figures seemed much more lively, caught in a split of a moment, in a dancing movement.
The beginnings of red-figure painting
Euthymides worked mainly between 515 and 500 B.C.E., in a time when artists were exploring the possibilities of red-figure technique, invented in Athens around 530 B.C.E. Both Euthymides and Euphronios belonged to a kind of camaraderie of artists, often dubbed the “Pioneer Group" by art historians—referring to their innovative efforts in the new technique. In the red-figure technique, an artist sketches figures on the red clay of a freshly fashioned vessel, then covers all the background with a slip (a liquid clay), which turns black after final firing. Details, like elements of anatomy, folds of drapery, etc., can be freely added with a thin brush; the slip can be darker, sometimes more diluted, brownish, adding even more variety. In the black-figure technique which was used previously, an artist had to fill the figures with slip, and then incise the details with a sharp burin (a lozenge-shaped tip) which was much more difficult to handle. At the time of the “Pioneers,” there is a general trend in Greek art to observe the reality and represent human body more realistically, leaving the more stiff archaic models behind.
Hector departs for war
Coming back again to the “Three Revelers” vase—on one side of his amphora the artist decided to decorate with a mythological scene—a solemn moment of Hector departing for the , receiving the helmet from his mother Hecube.
On the other side of the vase, which is probably better known, the artist gave way to his keen sense of observation, giving us a glimpse into everyday life. Three rather tipsy men dance around, enjoying their moment during a long symposium. The one on the left still keeps in his hand a kantharos—a wine cup with long handles. Euthymides made an effort to show them neither completely frontally, nor completely in profile, but rather in three quarters view, using foreshortening to convey a vivid, realistic image. The poses are very diversified, the man in the center is represented in a twisted view. The artist brought his keen sense of observation to describing human anatomy and movement. Greek vase painters often give us clear insight into everyday life—allowing us to understand daily habits, details of clothing and customs. Of course, these painted vases cannot be treated as documents, since we would not expect men to be naked at a symposium. However, appreciation for the human body and nudity was a usual part of ancient Greek culture, and it provided a way for the artist to showcase his ability.
The vase displays balance and harmony of proportions, with its elegant and graceful shape, and carefully planned pictorial decoration. The main scenes on both sides of the amphora are complemented by a delicate ornament. Despite the beauty of the vase, the potters and painters in ancient Greece did not have the status an artist has in our modern society. Their work was looked upon as a physical labor, not as an activity inspired by the muses. In fact, there was no muse of painting. The decorated vases were produced in large amounts to answer the growing demand of the markets, both in Greece, as well as abroad (especially in Etruria, and in Greek colonies). The Euthymides vase was in fact found in an Etruscan tomb at Vulci in Italy. Many Greek vases survived untouched because the Etruscans buried their deceased in large underground tombs with many everyday objects.
Most of the vases were simply everyday items, although a big, beautifully painted amphora like the one discussed here was also a luxury item, testifying to its owner’s good taste and social standing. Despite their status as craftsmen, the artists around the time of Euthymides had a sense of personal value and achievement, hence the inscription “As never Euphronious [could do]”. Because of the inscription “Euthymides egraphsen” (“Euthymides painted me”) we are sure that he was the painter—and today we definitely think of him as an artist.
Learn more in a Reframing Art History chapter about "Pottery, the body, and the gods in ancient Greece, c. 800–490 B.C.E."
J. Boardman, Athenian Red Figure Vases, The Archaic Period, a Handbook (1975).
Essay by Katarzyna Minollari
Want to join the conversation?
- I find it interesting that the art of making pottery was seen as skilled labor meant for mass production and yet, Euthymides thought to sign his name to distinquish himself and his work from other potters. Do you think this was the beginning of recognizing potters as artists or was this a form of branding his work in order to sell more?(11 votes)
- This article points that craftsmen like Euthymides valued personal achievements and had a healthy competition with other craftsmen. He must've been quite proud of his creation to believe his contemporaries like Euphronious couldn't do so. This can be one of the reasons why he chose to sign his name. Other could be that he was more famous or reputed as a potter as compared to others.(3 votes)
- Offtop question: when has painting had been recognized (by society) as type of art and not just type of craft? In the Renaissance?(4 votes)
- Because in antiquity art was created according to the "trend" of the time and with regional influences, with such precision and the perfection the Greeks strived for, is it possible to look at a piece and actually recognize a particular artist's style? Ie. Is there a way to tell that a certain pottery was definitely created by Euthymides vs Euphronius either in content or how a technique was applied such as the application of slip? Also, in antiquity, when a signed piece such as these pottery pieces are discovered, are signatures somehow crossmatched to verify the artist's authenticity? Or would because of how pottery was valued back then, make forgery less problematic?(2 votes)
- What kind of shapes/objects/figures did the Greeks mostly draw of on red figure pottery versus black figure pottery? And how graphic can they be?(2 votes)
- some times they do have gore representing an attack or war but they have figures as gods or other mythical beings but they also did really like putting in things about everyday things I did a HUGE thing on Greece and if you have any more questions ask me(1 vote)
- Where on the vase is the inscription?(1 vote)
- If you look at the competition section, there is a full picture of the vase. If you look very carefully, (i think) there is a scratched-out part at the bottom left of the base. I'm pretty sure that's where he put his name. (though not totally sure) hope this helps! Correct me if I'm wrong(1 vote)
- "since we would not expect men to be naked at a symposium" I think we can be sure of that, considering values and behaviours from ancient greeks are so different from ours and because there were lot of wine and fun at a symposium(1 vote)