If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Featured art object

Learn about the Caeretan Hydria, a clay jug decorated with heroic tales.

Caeretan Hydria

Date Created: 520–510 BCE
Place Created: Caere, a city near Rome
Culture: Etruscan
Material: Terracotta (clay)
Maker: Name unknown, but nicknamed “Eagle Painter,” active 530–500 BCE
Dimensions: 44.6 × 38 × 33.4 cm (17 9/16 × 14 15/16 × 13 1/8 in.)
Getty Museum
This clay water jug (
) has two handles for carrying and a third one for pouring. Its rich decoration suggests it may have been used at a dinner party. It was made in the city of Caere in Etruria, an area in central Italy inhabited by the Etruscans, who ruled the Romans in the sixth century BCE. The symmetrical hydria is decorated in a Greek
technique, in which figures are painted as black silhouettes detailed with added color and
lines. The colorful decoration resembles other vases from Caere and suggests a local workshop. Etruscans traded and interacted with Greeks and appreciated their vessel shapes and mythology. Both the decorative
and the mythological story drawn on this hydria are borrowed from Greece.
Parts of vessels were often painted by different people, with the main scene saved for the lead artist. On a hydria the best space for storytelling is on the front of the jug between the two handles. This artist painted a dramatic moment of deadly conflict between the Greek hero Herakles (called Hercules by the Romans) and a snaky monster. This was one of the famous twelve Labors of Herakles, dangerous tasks the hero was forced to undertake as a punishment. This task was to kill the deadly
, a giant nine-headed snake that grew two heads for each one that was cut off.
Herakles and his companion Iolaos work together here to defeat the monster. On the left, Iolaos uses a harvesting tool to behead the snake heads. Below him, a fire suggests his next step – to scorch each severed neck to keep the heads from regrowing. On the right, Herakles brandishes his famous club at one head of the Hydra. The club is one of his
(symbols) that identifies him in art. Meanwhile, a giant crab sent by the goddess Hera to cause him trouble is preparing to pinch the hero.
On the other side of the hydria, under the handle for pouring, two
face in opposite directions. These mythological creatures originated in Egypt, where they were considered male, but the white faces of these two sphinxes show they are female. In Greek and Etruscan art at this time, artists depicted women’s skin as paler than men’s, and black-figure artists painted female skin white over the black silhouette. The sphinxes’ wings and bellies are also painted white, although in places where the white color has worn away the black is starting to show through.
Colorful ornamental patterns cover most of the vessel, including common Greek motifs such as alternating red and black tongue shapes, rays, diamonds, and
. Vine leaves that resemble hearts encircle the shoulder of the hydria. The exactly-repeated floral designs reveal that artists used a template or stencil instead of working freehand.


Drag the definitions to match their vocabulary words.

Want to join the conversation?

No posts yet.