About This Artwork

Greek; Athens
Attributed to the Chicago Painter

Stamnos (Mixing Jar), About 450 BC

Terra-cotta, decorated in the red-figure technique
H. 37 cm (14 5/8 in.); diam. 26 cm (10 1/4 in.)

Gift of Philip D. Armour and Charles L. Hutchinson, 1889.22a-b

This refined Athenian stamnos was used to hold and mix wine. Also valued for its beauty, this red-figure vessel (so called because the figures remain the natural color of the clay) portrays maenads, women participants in rites celebrating Dionysos, 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, 2013, p. 70.

The shapes of these vases indicate they had specific purposes. They also dictated the way the vessels were decorated. The stamnos (mixing jar) 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. The stamnos was a favorite shape of this artist, but he also decorated other shapes. Most vessels have lost their lids, but unusually this mixing jar 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. 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 this stamnos. This vessel, acquired by the Art Institute in 1889, 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.

— Permanent collection label

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.

—Google Art label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Greek Vase Painting in Midwestern Collections, The Art Institute of Chicago, December 22, 1979-February 4, 1980, cat. no. 111.

The Art Institute of Chicago, This is Not a Greek Vase Show, November 1, 1984-January 29, 1986.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Greek Vases - Form and Function, Gallery 101A, March 3, 1986-August 8, 1986.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Myth and Legend in Classical Art, Gallery 101A, March 1, 1987-August 31, 1987.

The Art Institute of Chicago, The Human Figure in Greek and Roman Art: From the Permanent Collection (part 2), Gallery 120A, January 13, 1989 - September , 24, 1989.

The Art Institute of Chicago, 1889: the First Year of the Classical Collection, Gallery 101A, October 3, 1989-January 2, 1991.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Ancient Art Galleries, Gallery 155, April 20, 1994-February 6, 2012 (excluding July 2009 -October 2009).

The Art Institute of Chicago, A Case for Wine: From King Tut to Today, Regenstein Hall, July 11–September 20, 2009.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Of Gods and Glamour: The Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art, Gallery 151, November 11, 2012-July 15, 2015.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Dionysos Unmasked: Ancient Sculpture and Early Prints," Gallery 150 and 154, July 31, 2015-February 15, 2016.

Publication History

Elizabeth Hahn Benge, "From Aegina to Andronicus: A Survey of Coinage at the Art Institute of Chicago," in Historia Mundi no. 5 (January 2016), p. 202.

The Art Institute of Chicago, The Essential Guide (Art Institute of Chicago, 2013), p. 69.

Karen B. Alexander, "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 Manchester (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2012), pp. 18-19, fig. 3.

A.W. Johnston, Trademarks on Greek Vases: Addenda (2006), p. 94, 2C no. 2a.

G. Zelleke, "An Embarrassment of Riches: Fifteen Years of European Decorative Arts," Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, vol. 28, no. 2 (2002), p. 51, fig. 1.

James Wood, Treasures from The Art Institute of Chicago (2000), p. 71.

Karen Alexander, "The New Galleries of Ancient Art at the Art Institute of Chicago," Minerva (May/June, 1994), vol. 5, No. 3, p. 31, fig. 6.

John G. Pedley, Ancient Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 20, 1 (1994), pp. 42-43, 46 (ill.)

James N. Wood, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Essential Guide (The Art Institute of Chicago, 1993), p. 94.

Martin Robertson, The Art of Vase-Painting in Classical Athens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 191-2, fig. 203.

Francoise Frontisi-Ducroux, Le Dieu-Masque: Une Figure du Dionysos d'Athenes, Editions La Decouverte et Ecole Francasie de Rome (1991), p. 96-97, figure 34.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Pocketguide to the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 1988), p. 9 (ill.).

J.-L. Durand and F. Frontisi-Ducroux, "Idoles, Figures, Images: Autour de Dionysos," Revue Archeologique (1982), p. 101 (ill.).

L. Berge, "Greek Vase-Painting in Midwestern Collections," Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, vol. 73, no. 5/6 (September-December 1979), pp. 10-11 (ill.).

Warren G. Moon, Greek Vase-Painting in Midwestern Collections, exh. cat. (Art Institute of Chicago, 1979), pp. 197-99, no. 111.

Barbara Philippak, The Attic Stamnos, Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology (Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 111-2, fig. 15.

J.D. Beazley, Attic Red-Figure Vase-Painters (Clarendon Press, 1963), p. 628, no. 4.

Betty Grossman, "Greek Vase by the Chicago Painter," in Bulletin of the City Art Museum of St. Louis, vol. 40, no. 1/2 (1955), p. 20.

Mary Herford, A Handbook of Greek Vase Painting (The University Press, Longmans, Green & Co., 1919), p. 36, pl. 1d.

Joseph Clark Hoppin, A Handbook of Attic Red-Figured Vases, vol. I (Harvard University Press, 1919), p. 193, no. 3.

J.D. Beazley, Attic Red-Figured Vases in American Museums (Harvard University Press, 1918), p. 155.

Alfred Emerson, “Vase Paintings by the Master of the Rustic Dionysia,” Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, vol. 9 (1915), pp. 52-53.

A. Frickenhausen, Lenäenvasen (Berlin 1912), pp. 13-14 and 38 no. 5, pl. 4.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Preliminary Catalogue of Metal Work, Graeco-Italian Vases, and Antiquities, December 9, 1889 (The Early & Halla Printing Company, 1889), p. 40, no. 335.

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. 23.

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