Maiden/Muse Lekythos

Transitional Greek (Attic White-Ground Pottery)

replica: from World Treasures, California

date of the original: c. 445 BC

provenance of the original: a girl's grave; later in a private collection of Lugano; now in the Antikensammlungen, Munich

description: White ground lekythos picturing two women on Mt. Helicon. One (muse) seated on rock, inscribed H IKON, and playing the kithara. Left, other woman standing, dressed in sleeveless chiton. Between the two, the inscription A IO EI HC KA OC A KIMXO. Pottery replica; pottery original. Height 40.5 cm, diameter 13 cm.

In white-ground painting a white coating was applied to the vase before black or red figures (depending upon the period) were painted on. White-ground pottery was restricted to lekythoi by the fifth century BC, and were made popular by the Achilles Painter, a workshop whose most famous pieces bore images of the myth of the hero Achilles. The white-ground glaze was too temperamental to be used for utilitarian pottery like cups and bowls, since the delicately painted surface could be easily damaged.

These vases had therefore an ornamental function, usually associated with funerary rituals. Lekythoi filled with perfumes were placed around the corpse; others were set along the approach to the grave or beside the tomb. The illustrations often recounted scenes from the life of the deceased.

Our lekythos features a muse, perhaps Erato, playing the kithara on Mount Helicon, while another woman (perhaps another muse) stands by. Found in a young girl’s grave, the deceased may have been noted for her musical ability. Between the women the inscription, added by the potter, reads “Axiopeithes, the son of Alkimachos, is beautiful.”

(See also: Woman/Maiden Alabastron; Lebes Gamikos; Clay Lekythos; Terracotta Lekythos.)