Red-figure squat lekythos

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Attributed to the Meidias Painter
Greek, Attic
About 400 BCE
Terracotta with added white and relief decoration in reserved red clay
10 x 7 cm
Yale University Art Gallery: Gift of Rebecca Darlington Stoddard, 1913; 1913.151

In the late-fifth century BCE, women’s ware and scenes of idyllic gardens proliferated the Greek pottery market.  The Meidias Painter and the artists in his circle specialized in images of the ideal Greek woman.  During this period squat lekythoi, vases used as containers for oils and unguents, were often decorated with images of the goddess Aphrodite and her retinue. The fruit-giving theme of this particular vessel suggests that it was given as a gift of courtship. The scene has several characteristics similar to contemporary Aphrodisian images: the mother-son pairing of Aphrodite and Eros, the garden setting, and the pose of the seated female figure, which was perhaps modeled after a cult-statue of Aphrodite associated with one of at least two Athenian sanctuaries that bore the title Aphrodite en Kepois (“Aphrodite in the Gardens”).  However, the woman lacks Aphrodite’s usual mantle and chiton decorated by stars, and the goddess is rarely depicted without accompanying female figures.  It is therefore more likely that the woman here represents the Greek ideology of feminine beauty and desirability by evoking the idea of Aphrodite rather than being a direct representation of the goddess.  Idealized images such as this have been thought to reflect Athenians’ desire to escape from the destruction of the Peloponnesian War.

This text was prepared by Karysa Norris, Class of 2012, based on her paper for Professor Cohen’s Art History 21: The Art of Greece: Prehistoric to Classical.

Additional Label

This squat lekythos depicts an idyllic garden scene with a seated female, an Eros figure, a small bird, and a pair of trees. The female’s chiton is rendered in the so-called wet-drapery style, with the folds of the dress clinging closely to the body and revealing the contours of the figure underneath. Her hair is pulled back into a tight bun, and she wears jewelry on her arms and ears. Her right arm reaches out toward an approaching winged Eros figure, who is offering a small circular object resembling a piece of fruit. A partridge, the sacred bird of Aphrodite, rests on the ground below Eros’s outstretched arms.

In ancient Greece, oil and perfume containers, such as lekythoi, functioned primarily as women’s wares. Such vessels often featured images of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and her associated attendants. On this squat lekythos, the presence of Aphrodite’s agent, Eros, and her sacred bird implies a connection to the goddess. The seated female lacks Aphrodite’s characteristic mantle decorated by stars, indicating that she probably is not a direct representation of the goddess. By evoking similarities with Aphrodite, the woman likely represents the Greek ideal of feminine beauty and desirability that was highly emphasized by the Meidias painter and the artists in his circle.

This text was prepared by Mellon Special Projects intern Katelyn Burgess, Class of 2013.

On view at entrance to the museum

Additional views (4)

View B

View C

Detail A

Detail B


Related exhibitions

Beyond Aphrodite: Interpreting Portrayals of “Real” Women in Ancient Greece

Further reading

P.V.C. Baur, Preliminary Catalogue of the Rebecca Darlington Stoddard Collection of Greek and Italian Vases (New Haven 1914) 18, no. 153.

P.V.C. Baur, Catalogue of the Rebecca Darlington Stoddard Collection of Greek and Italian Vases (New Haven 1922) 102, no. 151, fig. 27. pl. XI (Reichhold drawing).

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