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Video transcript

[Music] we're in the Louvre and we're looking at a large ancient Greek vaz that dates from the middle of the fifth century it's a calyx crater by an artist that we call the niobid painter now a calyx crater is a large punch bowl basically the ancient Greeks used it to mix wine and water their wine was pretty strong though the niobate painter is known for this particular Vaz which shows on the back of it a terrible scene about a mortal woman named Niobe Niobe had 14 children seven daughters and seven sons and she bragged about them as being more numerous and more beautiful than the children of the goddess Lido that was a bad idea you never want to display that kind of hubris to a god or a goddess and in this case Leto's children happen to be the god apollo and the goddess artemis now apollo is associated with the arts with music especially with the son perhaps an Artemis is the goddess of the hunt and both of those children here exact revenge for their mother the Greeks were often concerned about mortals displaying hubris displaying pride and here we see Apollo and Artemis killing Niobe sport children according to the myth they murdered all 14 of the children here we see Artemis reaching back into her quiver for yet another arrow we see Apollo drawing his bow back and we see the children littering the field these figures still have a kind of stiffness that I associate with the early classical and I think that's especially obvious in the figure of Apollo who strides forward but doesn't seem to have the sense of movement that would be entirely natural given what he's doing this is read figure painting and that means that we're seeing bodies that are part of the red clay of the pot silhouette by a black background it allows for a tremendous amount of detail for instance in in Apollo's bodied attention to his abdomen to his face we see Artemis also with very delicate rendering of the folds of her drapery notice that both the goddess and the God are rendered in perfect profile whereas the dying children are more frontal or three-quarters but there's a stiffness there this is a period that we call the severe style and it's just this moment when the Archaic is becoming the classical that we know for instance from the sculptures of the Acropolis so the other thing that's so obvious here is that we're Rica's before this had the figures on a single ground line the figures occupy different levels it seems as though the artists the niobid painter was attempting to give a some sense of an illusion of space with some figures in the foreground and some in the background oh they're all the same size that's right there's known diminishing sense of scale but we get a sense of the idea that there are different ground planes when we look at the tree on the upper right of the scene but let's go around to the other side because we have a very different image in contrast to the violence of the back here in the center in the place of honor on the vase the hero Heraclius no Heracles was part mortal part God he's identifying because he holds a club and because he has a lion skin now notice that he's in the middle of the vaz literally his feet don't touch the ground line he's in the middle and figures are placed all around him again that idea of the artist suggesting a sense of depth art historians think that this shows the influence of Greek wall painting none of which survives in fact we think that this Vaz might be a kind of copying of wall painting by an artist whose name we know Pauline Oto's who painted both in Athens and at the sanctuary Adelphia north of Athens and he was credited as being the first artist to paint figures in depth and so what we may be seeing on this phase is an attempt to translate that wall painting here onto a vase and that would be an extraordinary thing since virtually no ancient Greek wall painting has survived but what's going on here what is Heracles doing why is he surrounded by all of these warriors some of whom are reclining some of whom are standing and what is Athena doing over to the left of him one of the more prominent theories suggests that this is not actually a representation of the god Heracles so much as a representation of a sculpture of the god Heracles that is this is a painting of a sculpture of the mythic figure and what's happening is that Greek soldiers are coming to honor Heracles asking him for protection before they go into battle right at the very end of the archaic period 490 BCE the Greeks battled the Persians and against overwhelming odds defeated the enormous Persian army and this may show Athenian soldiers asking for Heracles protection before the battle at marathon if you look very closely it's almost impossible to see there may be barely visible incised lines that suggests that Heracles is actually standing on a podium which would support the idea that this was a sculpture of the God rather than the God amongst these men the relaxation expressed by the figures is remarkable to me especially the figure reclining at the bottom who seems to be pulling himself up using the leverage of his Spears and that relaxation is in such contrast to the violence of the murders on the other side of the Vaz inst a great reminder of the way that the Greeks love to contrast the active against the passive the complex against the plain and to draw sharp contrasts in both imagery and in their technique well art historians conjecture that the style with the figures on different levels comes from Greek wall painting and we know about Greek wall painting from writers who celebrated it the subject matter that we see here is still very much a mystery and the relationship of these two stories to one another is still very uncertain [Music]
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