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Lekythos (Oil Jar)

A work made of terracotta, white-ground.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of terracotta, white-ground.


410-400 BCE


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.


On View, Gallery 151


Arts of the Ancient Mediterranean and Byzantium


Ancient Greek


Lekythos (Oil Jar)


Athens (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

410 BCE–400 BCE


terracotta, white-ground


46.4 × 13.4 cm (18 1/4 × 5 1/4 in.); Diam.: 13.4 cm (5 1/4 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Martin A. Ryerson through the Antiquarian Society

Reference Number


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Extended information about this artwork

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