Black-figure Siana cup

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Attributed to the Heidelberg Painter
Greek, Attic
About 575–555 BCE
13 x 24.6 x 32.8 cm
Yale University Art Gallery: Gift of Ambassador and Mrs. William Witman II, B.A. 1935; 1993.46.15

The work is an example of the black-figure technique; black pigment was painted on a red clay background to create a pattern, and details were created by scratching the black paint away to reveal the red clay underneath. This vessel is thought to have been painted by the Heidelberg Painter, who is best-known for these two-handled, wide-mouthed, simply structured vessels known as Siana cups. This example, thrown between approximately 575 and 555 BCE, depicts the first labor of Herakles, the slaying of the Nemean lion. Herakles was a Greek hero whose deeds were often illustrated on pots, in sculpture, and on temples during this period. According to mythological tradition, he completed twelve labors for King Eurysthetes to atone for the murder of his family. The killing of the Nemean lion demonstrates his mythological status as someone of superhuman strength and also affords him one of his most famous attributes, the lion skin he wears around his neck as armor. This cup highlights the masculine physicality of Herakles and the tension of the battle in progress by containing the violence of the scene within a symmetrical, structured framework.

This text was prepared by Laura Neill, Class of 2013, based on her paper for Professor Cohen’s Art History 21: The Art of Greece: Prehistoric to Classical

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