Red-figure volute krater (wine vessel)
Charles Gillet, Lausanne, Switzerland 1930
Nicolas Koutoulakis, Geneva, Switzerland, 1978
Nicolas Koutoulakis estate, Switzerland, 1986
Museum purchase, Dorothy Spreckels Munn Fund
Side A: Mourning Achilles visited by the goddess Iris
Side B: Deceased hero sitting in a naiskos (small shrine)
Vessels such as this impressive volute krater from the Greek colony of Apulia show that red-figure vases of southern Italy differ from those of Athens, although they are descended from the long-established traditional forms of vase painting of mainland Greece. This virtuoso piece, painted about 330–320 B.C., is attributed to the Baltimore Painter, one of the most important of the late Apulian painters. Its colossal size suited the South Italian taste for elaborate compositions based on mythology, theater, or funerary customs and monuments. With superb creative skill the artist has captured the climactic moment described in Homer’s Iliad (Book 18) when Iris, the winged messenger of the gods, has come to the sulking Achilles with news that the Trojan prince Hektor may seize the body of his fallen friend Patroklos. The Greek hero is seated on a couch in his tent, leaning on his staff. Hera, the wife of Zeus, has sent Iris to persuade Achilles to return to the fray, which is portrayed below with the quadriga (four-horse-drawn chariot), perhaps driven by the Trojan hero Hektor, rampaging across the Plain of Troy. The frantic energy of that scene contrasts with the calm of Achilles’ tent.
The deceased in the naiskos is a popular motif for reverses on large Apulian vases. It is likely that the mythological subject on the front of this vase was chosen to connect with the funerary scene on the back—a link between the dead warrior and a Greek hero’s bravery, as exemplified by Achilles.
The ancient Greeks founded a vast colony in the southern part of the Italian peninsula and Sicily. Known as Magna Graecia, it became prosperous through active trade and commerce with its neighbors in the Mediterranean basin. With colonization also came Hellenic culture. Consequently, this settlement played an important role in the development of Western civilization as an intermediary for the transmission of Greek thought, ideals, and culture from Greece to Rome and then to the West.