Storage Jar (Amphora)
Storage Jar (Amphora), ca. 500-475 BCE
Height: 50.8 cm (20 inches)
Gift of Mrs. Gustav Radeke 15.005
On one side of this red-figure storage jar stands the god Apollo, marked by his flowing hair and the lyre he carries. On the other side, heavily damaged, is a female figure, possibly Apollo’s sister, Artemis. Although separated, the two figures interact: the woman brings a jug to pour wine into the libation bowl in Apollo’s outstretched hand. This jar became the name piece of the Providence Painter, to whom almost 150 other red-figure works are attributed, because it most clearly showcases his style. He preferred un-complicated scenes in which his elegant figures appear alone against a plain black background.
On one side of this storage jar stands an image of the god Apollo, marked by his flowing hair and the kithara (a deeper-toned lyre) he carries. On the other side, heavily damaged, is a female figure, possibly Artemis, Apollo’s sister. Although situated on opposite sides of the vessel, the two figures interact: the female brings a jug to pour wine into the libation bowl in Apollo’s outstretched hand. Apollo, god of the sun, music and poetry, and medicine, was one of the most important deities of ancient Greece. One of the Pan-Hellenic festivals, the Pythian Games, were held in his honor. The Greeks considered his sanctuary at Delphi, home of the widely known Oracle, to be the center of the universe.
This jar became known as the name vase (signature piece) of the Providence Painter, to whom almost 150 other red-figure works are attributed, because it most clearly showcases his style. He preferred simple scenes in which single figures appear on a plain black background.
Selected Works. Providence: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 2008.
Woodward, Carla M., Franklin W. Robinson, eds, A Handbook of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. Providence: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1988.
About the work
This large storage jar, or amphora, the name given by ancient Greeks to vessels of this shape, may have once held wine or oil, but it was certainly more than just a utilitarian object. Its twisted handles, elegant form, and finely articulated figures suggest that it was also meant to be admired for its craftsmanship. It is painted in the red-figure style (so called because the figures appear reddish against a darker background), which became more popular than the earlier black-figure style of painting partly because it gave painters the ability to add more realistic details. Each amphora was first formed from clay on a potter’s wheel; the neck, the body, and the foot or base were often made in separate sections, which were then joined to the main form with clay in a liquid form called slip. The handles were joined last. Once the clay hardened, an artist who specialized in painting decorated the form and it was fired.
On one side of the vase stands Apollo, god of the sun, music, poetry, and medicine. Apollo is one of the most important deities of ancient Greece. On the other side of the amphora, her image somewhat damaged, is the goddess Artemis. The painter took the relationship of the two figures into account as he painted them interacting with one another: Artemis tips a jug to pour wine into the special offering bowl Apollo holds.
The painter (now sometimes referred to as the Providence Painter, because the amphora is in the collection of the RISD Museum in Providence, Rhode Island) drew the outlines of the main forms with a scraper or charcoal. Then the painter applied a grayish clay slip with a small-bristled brush to create the delicate details of Apollo’s clothing and accessories, as well as the contours of the figures. The spaces around the figures were filled in with more gray slip. During a three-phase firing process, everything that had been painted with the gray slip turned black, while the unpainted parts remained red.
To become better acquainted with the steps involved to produce a vessel such as this, first have students watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpLPx_Akl7Y. Next, discuss the process of painting red-figure pottery while students look closely at the amphora. Which parts of the jar did the artist paint? Which parts were left unpainted? Ask students to explain the order of steps the potter and painter took to make the image look the way it does.
Some scholars believe that this storage jar was a special object not intended for daily use. Have students examine details of the vessel, such as the handles and the painted imagery, to determine what clues might lead scholars to this interpretation. As part of this activity, have students listen to archaeologist Mary Hollinshead discuss clues that suggest its possible use.
Look closely and describe the pose, clothing, and accessories worn and held by Apollo or Artemis. Without depicting a background or setting, how did the painter establish the figures in the setting? As students ponder this, they can listen to ceramicist Katy Schimert discussing the placement of the painted figures within the curved space of the amphora.
The imagination of the ancient Greeks was filled with captivating portrayals of gods and goddesses. These stories and images helped the Greeks explain dramatic natural phenomena and other mysterious happenings. To activate students’ prior knowledge of Greek myths, ask them to recall and discuss any gods they know and the myths associated with them. In small groups, ask students to create three columns using a graphic planner: the first column for the names of the gods and goddesses, the second for characteristics about each deity, and the third for recording any scenes or elements of the myths students recall that are associated with each god or goddess.
To get started, students can describe the characteristics of Apollo on the amphora.
To brainstorm their list of gods and goddesses, they can refer to popular films, such as Percy Jackson and the Olympians, as well as any other references—superhero comics, books, cartoons, and so on—they can think of. As a class, reflect on what these different deities and their stories reveal about what was important to ancient Greeks.
Ancient Greeks often adorned objects with images of the gods. Ask students to reflect on the power of the images in their own lives by selecting and writing about an image of a person who is meaningful or inspirational to them. The following images might be helpful examples: Andre the Giant (by Shepard Fairey); a Virgin of Guadalupe ; Cesar Chavez poster; Martin Luther King, Jr.
The image can be found in a photograph, magazine clipping, billboard, an example of street art in their neighborhood, or an artwork by themselves or others. What is the image’s significance or role in their lives? What is the story this image tells? How does the place where it’s displayed (a locker door, their bedroom, a public location) and the way they interact with and use it contribute to its special effect on them?
Rick Riordan. Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Disney Hyperion (formerly Miramax Books), 2005–2009.
Martin Robertson. The Art of Vase-Painting in Classical Athens. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Ann Steiner. Reading Greek Vases. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Athenian Vase Painting: Black- and Red-Figure Techniques,” in* Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History*. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/vase/hd_vase.htm (October 2002)