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About This Artwork
Stamnos (Mixing Jar), c. 450 B.C.
Terracotta, red-figure technique
H. 37 cm (14 5/8 in.); w. with handles 41.9 cm (16 1/2 in.); d. 26 cm (10 1/4 in.); diam. of rim 21.1 cm (8 5/16 in.)
Gift of Philip D. Armour and Charles L. Hutchinson, 1889.22a-b
Greek vases were made for use, but they were also prized for their refined shapes and adornment that we continue to admire today. This example, a stamnos, probably held wine and is said to have been found in Capua, Italy, in 1884. It is decorated in the red-figure technique, so called because the figures have been left in the natural reddish-orange color of the clay and surrounded by black glaze. The scenes on both sides of this wine jar depict preparations for a festival in honor of Dionysos, the god of wine. Athenian women decorated jars like this stamnos with wreaths of ivy leaves, which were sacred to Dionysos. In each scene a woman holds a thyrsos, an ivy-topped staff carried by Dionysos and his followers.
This refined Athenian stamnos was used to hold wine. Also valued for its beauty, the red-figure vessel (so-called because the figures remain the natural color of the clay) portrays maenads, women participants in rites celebrating Dionysus, the god of wine. But unlike the frenzied and whirling figures of other Greek vases, these women convey calmness, even elegance. This tender serenity, coupled with a softer, somewhat freer form, is a hallmark of the artist (referred to as the Chicago Painter because of this vase) and has been used to identify other works by him, principally similar stamnoi. Working in the potter’s quarter of Periclean Athens, the painter was active during the construction of the Parthenon, the stylistic influence of which can be seen here. He worked closely with a master potter whose vases were individually shaped in a prescribed range of configurations. With refined designs that are gracefully adapted to its shape, this stamnos embodies the finest achievements of red-figure pottery.
— Entry, Essential Guide, 2009, p. 81.The shapes of these vases indicate they had specific purposes. They also dictated the way the vessels were decorated. The stamnos (mixing bowl) on the left has a wide mouth that facilitates mixing. Its pair of side handles allowed for two decorative fields of equal size, one on the front and one on the back. However, the hydria has three handles—two at the sides for holding it while full, and one at the back for decanting the contents through its small mouth. Since the foot of the pouring handle imposes on the reverse side, the artist focused attention on decorating only the front of the vase. The stamnos was a favorite shape of this artist, but he also decorated other shapes, like the hydria. Most vessels have lost their lids, but unusually this mixing bowl retains the one that was made for it. Here three females, perhaps maenads, the female followers of Dionysos, calmly stand, one holding a rhyton, or drinking vessel, another a thyrsos, or ritual staff, while the third one’s outer arm is covered by her himation, or mantle. It is uncertain whether these three stately figures, shown participating in rites honoring Dionysos, are Greek women or maenads, female followers of the wine god. The subject on the left holds up a stamnos, the same shape as this vessel, which her companion is about to wreathe. They stand before a table on which sits an apple and a kantharos, or wine cup (see case 39). Another female, her head wreathed in ivy, looks on from the right. She holds a thyrsos, the Dionysian ritual staff topped by what looks like a pinecone. A single artist, today known as the Chicago Painter, decorated both of these vases. He takes his name from the larger vessel, acquired by the Art Institute in 1889, which was the first example of his work to be identified. A capable draftsman, he was active in Athens in the middle of the 5th century B.C., a time of political democracy, economic prosperity, and maritime dominion. In keeping with the style of contemporary sculpture, and perhaps also wall painting, which was less frenetic than the foregoing late Archaic style, the Chicago Painter’s pensive subjects refrain from engaging their companions. Instead, they impassively focus on their individual activities.
Greek Vase Painting in Midwestern Collections, The Art Institute of Chicago, no. 111, Dec. 22, 1979 to Feb. 4, 1980.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Ancient Art Galleries, Gallery 155, 1994 - July, 2009 and October 2009 - February 2012.
A Case for Wine: From King Tut to Today
July 11 – September 20, 2009. Regenstein Hall, The Art Institute of Chicago
W. M. R. French, Notes [on a] journey to Europe with Mr. and Mrs. C.L. Hutchinson starting from New York Sat'y Mch. 9, 1889- , p. 25. Ryerson Library, AIC 920 F87n.
Alexander, Karen B. 2012. "From Plaster to Stone: Ancient Art at the Art Institute of Chicago." in Recasting the Past: Collecting and Presenting Antiquities at the Art Institute of Chicago, by Karen Manchesterl, pp. 18-19, Fig. 3. Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press.
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