Terracotta lebes gamikos (round-bottomed bowl with handles and stand used in weddings)

Attributed to the Washing Painter

Period: Classical

Date: ca. 430–420 B.C.

Culture: Greek, Attic

Medium: Terracotta; red-figure

Dimensions: H. 20 1/8 in. (51.1 cm)
diameter 8 3/4 in. (22.2 cm)

Classification: Vases

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1907

Accession Number: 07.286.35a, b


Scenes of brides and their attendants, such as depicted on this vessel, are basically variants of those showing women in their domestic interiors; the nuptial representations are distinguished by objects that are specific to weddings. Here, the bride sits on a diphros, a chair, with her bare feet resting on a footstool. Both hands finger the strings of a harp, a reminder of the wedding songs that accompanied all brides throughout their preparations. The bride's withdrawal into her music making suggests her preoccupation with her new life. One of her attendants approaches from behind carrying a festooned loutrophoros, a vase containing water for the nuptial bath. Two other women approach carrying chests. The winged female figures under each handle may be Nikai, alluding to the triumphant power of beauty, or they may represent deities of the Underworld, who had the power to bring fertility. The ribbons or branches that they carry represent the divine blessings that they bring to the bride.
Since the bride does not wear a veil or wreath, and she is not being dressed, the scene probably represents the epaulia, the day after the wedding feast and bridal procession. During this time, the bride welcomed friends and family into her new home and received their gifts of woven and wicker baskets, chests, pyxides (toilette containers), sashes, mirrors, and the lebes gamikos. The back of this vase depicts two women presenting chests, and the scene on the base shows two pairs of women with wool baskets and a sash. An abundance of vessels depicted in these scenes emphasizes a wealth of personal possessions.
The lebes gamikos, like the loutrophoros, may have been used for holding water for the nuptial bath. Both bride and groom separately marked their departure from their previous existence and entrance into their new life together by bathing in water drawn from specially prescribed sources. Alternatively, the lebes gamikos may have held food for the bride and groom in their bridal chamber. In vase paintings, these vessels are often being presented to the bride as wedding gifts or placed on the floor beside her.