Terracotta lekythos (oil flask)

Attributed to the Amasis Painter

Period: Archaic

Date: ca. 550–530 B.C.

Culture: Greek, Attic

Medium: Terracotta; black-figure

Dimensions: H. 6 7/8 in. (17.5 cm)

Classification: Vases

Credit Line: Purchase, Walter C. Baker Gift, 1956

Accession Number: 56.11.1


The scene that decorates the body of this small lekythos (oil flask) is our earliest and most complete representation of an Attic wedding. The bridal couple and the best man, the parochos, are seated in the foremost cart, which is drawn by two donkeys, distinguishable by their white muzzles and stringy tails. Four guests, all men, follow in a second cart drawn by two mules. Beside each team, two women and a man walk in the procession, with the women on the left and the man on the right. The lead woman holds two torches, which indicates that the wedding procession, as was the tradition, took place at night. The bride holds a wreath and pulls her veil forward in a gesture associated with marriage in Greek art. Her bridegroom sits next to her, holding the reigns; he has a beard and must be much older than the bride, as was the custom in ancient Greece.
The procession has almost reached its destination–a brightly painted doorway flanked by two Doric columns just under the handle of the vase. This is the bridegroom's house, the place where the newlyweds are going to live. The doors are open and behind the entrance stands the bridegroom's mother, who carries a torch and raises her hand in a gesture of welcome. The bridal procession, the critical point of passage between the bride's home and that of the groom, was the most conspicuous public part of a wedding ceremony in ancient Attica. Torches and songs added to the festive occasion when the bride's mother, torch in hand, led the couple to their new home.
The shoulder of the lekythos is painted with a subsidiary scene of a dance: three groups of three women dance in a chain that is separated by a musician playing the aulos and another playing the lyre. In the Iliad, Homer describes an aulos and lyre that accompanied the wedding dance. In ancient Attica, both men and women danced at the wedding, but in separate groups well within view of each other.