This splendid vessel is attributed to the master hand of the so-called Painter of Athens who is known to have been active in the city in the middle of the fifth century BC. In accordance with the function of the vase – a container for oil in rituals – the decoration has a minimalist flavour, which adds to its charm. The male figure wears a red himation (cloak), he faces a woman with outstretched arms, wearing a short chiton (tunic). In between, the artist has skilfully recorded further details of archaeological and historical interest, including a stele with a sash. The vase is decorated with a meander below the rim of the shoulder. Below the foot is a graffito with the Greek letters xi and epsilon, and the shoulder is beautifully decorated with black palmettes and pomegranates.
The role of the white-ground (cylindrical) lekythoi in funerary ritual is made clear both by their excavation from cemeteries and their depiction, invariably on lekythoi themselves, standing or fallen over at the graveside.
A select number of white-ground lekythoi are known in prominent museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Inv. 1989.281.72), the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (Inv. 48.2012), the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St Louis (Inv. WU 3275), the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (Inv. D93-1971), and the National Archaeological Museum, Athens (Inv. 1818). A slightly later example, though attributed to the Reed Painter, is displayed in the Art Institute of Chicago (Inv. no. 1907.18).
J. Boardman, The History of Greek Vases (London: Thames and Hudson, 2001).
J.H. Oakley, The Greek Vase: art of the storyteller (London: The British Museum Press, 2013).
Dean Collection, London,
Published: G&M, 239, 16 June 2016, no 206.