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Syriskos

A close-up view of a black and red vase showing a central figure looking back over her shoulder at a mirror another figure is holding.

While most ancient Greek artists’ names are unknown, Syriskos is one of the few whose name we know because he sometimes signed his works. He was active as a painter and potter in Athens around 480–470 BCE and worked primarily in the red-figure decoration technique. Only one surviving vase bears Syriskos’s signature as painter (several others bear his signature as potter), which indicates that he generally did not sign his work; his other vases have been identified based on stylistic grounds. The Art Institute of Chicago’s Stamnos (Mixing Jar), while not signed by Syriskos, is attributed to him. 

The name Syriskos translates to “little Syrian,” but it is unclear if this was a nickname or reflects a desire on the part of the artist to emphasize the non-Greekness of his identity. When ancient Greek artists signed vases with their names, they indicated whether they were the painter, potter, or both. Early in his career, Syriskos signed his works as the painter, but later works are signed with the compound name “Pistoxenos Syriskos” which means “Trustworthy stranger, the little Syrian.” It is possible the two names indicate Syriskos as both painter and potter or that Syriskos painted the vase and Pistoxenos potted it. 

Syriskos was fond of depicting large figure scenes, usually composed of three figures. He frequently included a range of objects in the hands of his figures (such as mirrors, branches, flowers, etc.) and also incorporated furniture, which ties a large group of figures together. His characteristic style is the treatment of a woman’s hair as a series of petal-like loops. The painter kept anatomical markings simple and often dressed figures in an elaborate chiton (a long tunic fastened at the shoulder). All of these characteristics can be seen in this artist’s work in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

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