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Ampersand Painter

A small, lidded ceramic container painted with rings of black, the central band showing images of animals.

Like many ancient Greek artists, the real name of the Ampersand Painter is unknown. His name comes from a characteristic style of how he portrayed the tail of a sphinx (a winged feline with a human head); he used a shape resembling an ampersand, the term for the “&” symbol, which is shorthand for the word “and.” 

The “name vase” for this artist—the vessel from which the artist name was derived—has been in the Art Institute of Chicago’s collection since 1905. The vessel is a pyxis, a small container for personal objects, and dates to about 580–570 BCE, making it  one of the artist’s earliest works. Only about 15 vases have been attributed to the Ampersand Painter, and none include human figures, only real and imaginary animals. 

During the ancient Greek Archaic period (700–480 BCE) when the Ampersand Painter was active, influences from eastern and Egyptian objects were making their way to Greece. The Greek city of Corinth, a major port of trade during much of this period, especially embraced these new motifs. The Ampersand Painter was a Corinthian painter who decorated terracotta vases using the black-figure technique, where figures were painted in black with details created by cutting into the clay using a sharp, thin tool. As was common at this time, the Ampersand Painter decorated nearly every surface of his vases, leaving few empty spaces.

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