Attributed to Exekias
Terracotta; H. 18 1/2 in. (47 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1917 (17.230.14a,b)
Gift of J. D. Beazley, 1927 (27.16)
This amphora is a consummate example of black-figure vase painting, a technique in which the painter applies glaze in silhouettes and then incises details of anatomy and drapery. When the pot is fired, the glazed areas turn black and the unglazed areas show a rich orange color. The clever use of superimposed red glaze for some details and white glaze for others renders a pleasant contrast of colors.
Exekias, perhaps the greatest of all black-figure artists, was both potter and painter of this exceptionally well-preserved vase. He has covered virtually the entire surface of the pot with decoration, yet the effect is one of order, and every motif is appropriate to its particular place. It is hard to imagine a more perfect harmony between shape and decoration. The majestic scene of a wedding chariot drawn by four horses occupies the belly of the amphora. A bearded man and fair-skinned woman hold the reins of the chariot. The figures have such dignity that it is impossible to say whether they are gods or human beings, whether this is an earthly procession or a divine one. Another female figure turns to face the couple, while a young man with wavy hair walks behind the horses, playing music on the kithara. Notice how the ivory ornaments on the arms of his instrument are neatly distinguished from the wood of the box. Exekias has placed the figures at just the right height. Imagine the distortions they would suffer if they were shifted one inch higher on the vase's surface.
Carefully chosen subsidiary ornamentsmost notably the floral design around the neck, the spirals under the handles, and the pattern of lotuses and keys below the chariot sceneorganize the surface and reinforce the shape of the pot. The ample shoulder accommodates a subsidiary frieze with battle scenes drawn on a smaller scale. Note that this vase has its proper lid, a sloping one surmounted by a pomegranate knob, which, like a roof on a house, allows us to appreciate the tectonic quality of the amphora.