Lekythos (Oil Jar)

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

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  • A work made of terracotta, decorated in the white-ground technique.


About 410/400 BC


Attributed to the Reed Painter
Greek; Athens

About this artwork

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 BC, 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.

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.

On View

Ancient and Byzantine Art, Gallery 151


Ancient Greek


Lekythos (Oil Jar)




410 BC–400 BC


terracotta, decorated in the white-ground technique


H. 46.4 cm (18 1/4 in.); diam. 13.4 cm (5 1/4 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Martin A. Ryerson through the Antiquarian Society

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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