Hydria (Water Jar)

A work made of terracotta, decorated in the black-figure technique.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of terracotta, decorated in the black-figure technique.

Date:

about 515/500 BC

Artist:

Attributed to a painter of the Leagros group
Greek; Athens

About this artwork

This large handled jar held the water used to dilute large quantities of wine in preparation for the Greek symposium. It was considered uncivilized for a Greek to consume undiluted wine, so water was fetched from a public fountain house in a jar like this one. The horizontal handles made it easier to carry, while the vertical handle at the back was used for pouring. Much like modern academic symposiums, in which people discuss a topic of common interest, debunking old theories and putting forth new hypotheses; the men of ancient Athens regularly got together in private homes to exchange ideas. Afterward the participants might continue the conversation, discussing their impressions in greater detail or simply socializing over a drink. As the evening progressed, participants engaged in other pleasures, including games, performances, and sex.

On the front of this vase, the hero Hercules wrestles Triton - the messenger of the sea who is depicted as a merman - as a man and a woman look on. They are likely Nereus and Triton’s mother Amphitrite, but we cannot be certain. The intricate composition has the Greek hero astride the monster, his arms locked around Triton’s neck in an implacable grip, while Triton flails his arms, black fingers stretched against the red background. They face different directions-Herakles to the viewers’ right and up, victorious, and Triton to the left and down, vanquished. Precise incision renders the outline and details of the lion skin that Herakles wears, as well as the contour and detail of Triton’s scales and fins. Above this scenethe artist has written kalo[s]p[u]this – or "Pythis [is] beautiful"; exactly who Pythis is is another mystery.

On the shoulder of the vessel, the area above the front scene on the flat surface between the handles, another mythological scene plays out. This time it is the judgement of Paris, in which the handsome youth must judge a beauty contest between three goddesses - Aphrodite, Hera and Athena (shown seated). Aphrodite famously wins the contest by promising Paris the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. The woman in question turns out to be Helen of Troy, whose love affair with Paris would set in motion the deadly Trojan war.

On View

Ancient and Byzantine Art, Gallery 151

Culture

Ancient Greek

Title

Hydria (Water Jar)

Origin

Athens

Date

515 BC–500 BC

Medium

terracotta, decorated in the black-figure technique

Inscriptions

kalo[s]p[u]this – Pythis [is] beautiful.

Dimensions

50.1 × 35 cm (19 3/4 × 13 3/4 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Philip D. Armour and Charles L. Hutchinson

Reference Number

1889.15

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email .

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