About This Artwork

Greek, Athens
Attributed to the Reed Painter

Lekythos (Oil Jar), 410-400 B.C.

Terracotta, white-ground technique
H. 46.4 cm (18 1/4 in.); diam. 13.4 cm (5 1/4 in.)

Gift of Martin A. Ryerson through The Antiquarian Society, 1907.18

Athenian cemeteries housed a variety of monuments and offerings to the dead. Examples include the marble tombstones and terracotta vessels, like this object. This vase, called a lekythos, held oil. From the middle until the end of the fifth century B.C., they were usually decorated in a distinctive technique known as white ground, so called after the light slip coating on the body and shoulder of the vase. Atop this, figures were usually drawn in outline and then painted in rich colors, many of which have since faded. Since most of these bottles were made for burial with the dead or to be left at their graves, the scenes on their surfaces typically represent tombs, visitors to tombs, and farewell scenes.

A brown-haired, bearded man, his upper body covered with a blue garment, sits before a tomb. Behind him, a solemn youth is wrapped in a dark-orange himation, or mantle, and leans on a walking stick as he proffers a crested helmet to the man with his right hand. A scabbard is suspended from his left hand. Standing on the far side is the partially preserved figure of a red-haired woman wearing a chiton, or floor-length garment, that is orange-brown from her bust down with remains of vertical blue lines on the skirt. She holds a basket on her left shoulder.

—Permanent collection label


This Greek oil bottle was a funeral offering at the tomb of a dead man, and its painting illustrates a scene of mourning. The mourner’s role is expressed by his pose; he leans forward as he offers a helmet and sword to the deceased. The Greek mourner is rendered as one would see him three-dimensionally, with his shoulders foreshortened so that his left shoulder is hidden.

— Exhibition label, When the Greeks Ruled: Egypt After Alexander the Great, October 31, 2013–July 27, 2014, Gallery 154.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

The Art Institute of Chicago, Ancient Art Galleries, Gallery 155, 1994 - February 2012.

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 - October 23, 2013.

The Art Institute of Chicago, When the Greeks Ruled: Egypt After Alexander the Great, October 31, 2013 - July 27, 2014.

Publication History

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 Manchester, p.22-23, fig.7, 38. Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press.

Manchester, Karen. 2012. Recasting the Past: Collecting and Presenting Antiquities at the Art Institute of Chicago, p. 54. Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press.




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