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Sunday, June 6, 2021

The Eyes have it! "Eye cups" of the 6th century BCE

Just as the eyes painted on ancient ships are thought to have possessed the ability to guide them, help them avoid hazards, and even serve an apotropaic purpose to counter human frailties such as envy, eyes adorning drinking cups (kylikes) in the second half of the sixth century BCE, especially in Athens and Chalkis, were also thought to have served an apotropaic function. Some eyes were “female”, i.e. almond-shaped and without tear-ducts, as well as male, and a stylized nose was often placed centrally between the eyes. Many of the vessels also frequently bear Dionysiac imagery.

Eye-cups were painted by various painters, mostly in the black-figure style, but later also in the red-figure style. Some vessels were  bilingually painted with black-figure interior scenes and red-figure exterior scenes. Scholars have attributed this bilingual type and its specific decoration into Attic vase painting to Exekias who was active in Athens between 545 and 530 BCE.  Exekias is regarded by art historians as an artistic visionary whose masterful use of incision and psychologically sensitive compositions mark him as one of the greatest of all Attic vase painters.

The find spots of Exekias' works reveals information about the market in which Exekias positioned himself. Exekias not only enjoyed a thriving market in Athens, with fragments of his works found in the sacred sanctuary of the Acropolis, but many of his extant vases were also exported to Etruria, Italy, found at sites such as Vulci and Orvieto, where they were buried in Etruscan tombs.  

Dionysus cup, Attic black-figure kylix by Exekias, ca. 530 BCE with interior depiction of Dionysus in a ship sailing among dolphins, made in Athens but found in Vulci (Etruria) now in the collections of the Staatliche Antikensammlungen in Munich, Germany, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Matthias Kabel. One of Exekias' most famous works, the cup is embellished with warriors fighting over a fallen man, a popular depiction on black-figured ceramics. between the eyes.   The interior shows a depiction of the god Dionysus against a background of coral-red slip, which coats the entire picture space. Exekias depicts Dionysus' initial journey to Athens by ship. Pirates had seized the ship and were planning, perhaps, to sell Dionysus into slavery. Instead, the god caused vines to grow from the mast, frightening the pirates so much that they jumped overboard and were changed into dolphins, here seen swimming around the ship. 

Dionysus cup, Attic black-figure kylix by Exekias, ca. 530 BCE with interior depiction of Dionysus in a ship sailing among dolphins, made in Athens but found in Vulci (Etruria) now in the collections of the Staatliche Antikensammlungen in Munich, Germany, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Matthias Kabel. One of Exekias' most famous works, the cup is embellished with warriors fighting over a fallen man, a popular depiction on black-figured ceramics. between the eyes.   The interior shows a depiction of the god Dionysus against a background of coral-red slip, which coats the entire picture space. Exekias depicts Dionysus' initial journey to Athens by ship. Pirates had seized the ship and were planning, perhaps, to sell Dionysus into slavery. Instead, the god caused vines to grow from the mast, frightening the pirates so much that they jumped overboard and were changed into dolphins, here seen swimming around the ship. 

Closeup from an Attic black-figured eye cup ca 520 BCE from Vulci depicting Aeneas carrying Anchises, with Ascanius in background (legs) signed by Nikosthenes, now in the collections of The Louvre Museum in Paris, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Bibi Saint-Pol.

Eye kylix with lions and panthers biting a fawn, signed by Nikothenes, Attic, 530-520 BCE at the Archaeological Museum of Florence courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko.


Attic Bilingual Eye Cup, possibly by Pheidippos, Attic Greek, about 510 BCE, terracotta, now in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum (Villa), image courtesy of the museum.  The cup is broken and restored, executed in both red and black figure techniques Interior: The interior decoration is mostly missing. Preserved in the tondo, in black-figure, are the two feet and lower hem of a running figure, perhaps Dionysus, carrying a grapevine. Exterior: The exterior is executed in red-figure technique. Side A shows, between the eyes, a helmeted hoplitodromos with a shield decorated with a raven device. Side B shows a crouching, helmeted hoplite between two eyes with a shield decorated with a horse device . Around the handles are large closed palmettes. Added red is used for the inner circles of the irises and the pupils of the eyes.


  

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