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Identification and Creation
Object Number
1960.339
People
Attributed to The Harrow Painter
Title
Column Krater (mixing bowl for wine and water): Theseus and Poseidon; Musician and Audience
Classification
Vessels
Work Type
vessel
Date
480-470 BCE
Places
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Attica
Find Spot: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Apulia
Period
Classical period, Early
Culture
Greek
Location
Level 3, Room 3400, Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Art, Ancient Greece in Black and Orange
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Physical Descriptions
Medium
Terracotta
Technique
Red-figure
Dimensions
with handles: H. 48.5 x D. 42 x Diam. 49 cm (19 1/8 x 16 9/16 x 19 5/16 in.)
Provenance
Found at Ruvo di Puglia (April 1893). Princess di Tricase collection. Garrett Chatfield Pier collection (by 1936), sold; through American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, New York, March 6-7, 1936; to David M. Robinson, Baltimore, MD (1936-1960), bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1960.
State, Edition, Standard Reference Number
Standard Reference Number
Beazley Archive Database #202875
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of David M. Robinson
Accession Year
1960
Object Number
1960.339
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
On one side: the Athenian hero Theseus visits his divine father Poseidon. Theseus’s mother was Aethra, and ancient sources sometimes consider him to be the son of her husband, Aegeus, but sometimes also make him the son of Poseidon.

Poseidon stands at the center of the scene facing towards the right, identifiable by the trident he holds in his left hand, which is so tall that it overlaps the frieze above the scene. He wears a fillet on his head and a cloak (himation) over a long dotted tunic with drapery painted in dilute glaze. He is bearded with long hair. With his right hand he grasps Theseus’s right hand in greeting.

Theseus stands facing towards the left, towards Poseidon. He wears a short tunic (chitoniskos) and a fringed shawl over his arms, and a wreath on his head. His legs are exposed with the musculature painted with dilute glaze. He carries a sword in its scabbard, and in his left hand he holds a small round object. He is clean-shaven with short hair tied into a bun and wears a wreath on his head.

Behind Theseus is a female figure, at the right of the scene, who can be identified as Amphitrite, the wife of Poseidon. She faces to the left, towards Theseus and Poseidon. She wears a cloak (himation) over a long tunic (chiton), a fillet in her hair, and round dangling earrings. Her right hand is raised and holds up a wreath to crown Theseus, which was painted in added red but is now barely visible.

Behind Poseidon, on the left side of the scene, are two more figures who can be identified as the sea god Nereus and one of his daughters, the Nereids. Between the pair there is a doric column, which indicates that this scene is taking place indoors, presumably in Poseidon’s palace.

The Nereid stands at the far left, facing towards the right. She holds a black wine jug (oinochoe) in her right hand and a libation bowl (phiale) in her left, which is held at an angle to pour a libation. She wears a long, decorated dress (peplos) and cloak (himation), a hat and fillet in her hair, and black, dangling earrings.

Between the Nereid and Poseidon is Nereus, who stands facing the right, towards Poseidon, but with his head turned back towards the Nereid. He wears a tunic (chiton) and a bordered cloak (himation) and leans on a tall staff with his left hand. His hair and beard are cropped short, and rendered in dilute glaze.

On the other side: a musician plays a kithara (lyre) among a group of other men. At the left of the scene a young, beardless man wearing a cloak (himation) stands facing towards the right, with his right hand raised towards a bearded man.

This man stands facing the right but looks back at the young man. He also wears a cloak (himation) which obscures his arms, and holds a staff in his right hand.

In front of him stands another beardless youth who is playing the kithara (lyre). He wears a long garment with a black fringe and a fillet in his hair. His costume suggests that he may be playing the kithara in a competitive, festival context. He holds the large instrument, which intrudes on the frieze at the top of the scene, with his left hand, and his right hand is extended, holding a plectrum, which suggests that he has just plucked the strings. His mouth is slightly ajar, suggesting that he may be singing.

In front of the musician, on the right edge of the scene, stands another youth wearing a cloak (himation). He holds a forked staff (rhabdos), which probably indicates he is either a judge or a trainer of the musician.

A similar scene of musicians decorates another column krater by the Harrow Painter in a private collection and last put on the market by Sotheby’s New York in 1982 (BAPD 234).

Both scenes are framed by friezes of ivy-vines on the sides, black tongues at the top, and a simple reserved orange ground-line. The side of the top rim is decorated with horizontal palmettes on the Theseus side of the vase, and ivy vines on the musician side. The top of the rim is decorated with lotus buds, with elaborate single palmettes on each side where the handles are attached. There is a ray pattern on the lower body.
Commentary
This vase was found in April 1893 in Ruvo di Puglia, in Apulia in Southern Italy, inside a stone sarcophagus with the bones of a woman, by Mauro Pansini, a mason who was digging foundations for a cellar. The burial contained over thirty other vases, most of which are now held at the Museum of the University of Reading in England, although this is undoubtedly the most impressive. A number of metal objects were also associated with the tomb, at least some of which are now in the Provincial Archaeological Museum of Bari. See further:
Jatta, G., "Ruvo di Puglia - Di una tomba con supellettile funebre di vasi dipinti, scoperta presso l'abitato" Notizie degli Scavi Antichita, 1893: pp. 242-52
Montanaro, Andrea C., Ruvo di Puglia e il suo territorio, le necropolis: I corredi funerari tra la documentazione del xix secolo e gli scavi moderni, Bretschneider (Rome, 2007), pp. 212ff.

The mythological scene depicted on this vase is closely paralleled in a roughly contemporary poem by the lyric poet Bacchylides (poem 17, especially lines 96-116). Bacchylides provides the wider context of Theseus’ visit to Poseidon, which comes about after king Minos of Crete – whose labyrinth held the Minotaur that Theseus famously slew – challenges Theseus to prove his divine parentage by diving into the ocean to retrieve a golden ring, and specifically reports that when Theseus came to Poseidon and his wife Amphitrite, she gave him a cloak and a wreath, just like as we see on this vase. It is possible that the round object that Theseus holds is supposed to be a box holding Minos’ ring, although this is apparently the only time that the vase painters ever attempted to represent this detail of the myth.

Scholars have sometimes seen Bacchylides’ poem as influential on the depiction of this myth on this and similar vases, although it is not clear whether this vase or Bacchylides’ poem is earlier in date. At the very least these cultural products are reflective of a general interest in this myth in the period. In any case, in light of the exposition of the myth by Bacchylides, we can understand this scene as a depiction of the moment when Theseus proved his divine heritage, enacted in the twin gestures of his handshake with Poseidon and Amphitrite holding the wreath over his head.

Another reflection of Athenian interest in this myth is a mural by the painter Micon, which no longer exists, but which was described by the 2nd century C.E. travel writer Pausanias (1.17.3). This was located on the wall of the Theseion, a shrine to Theseus in Athens, which was likely renovated after Athens was sacked by the Persians in 479 B.C.E., and probably depicted a scene very similar to this one. Micon’s painting has also been thought of as a potential influence on the depiction of this and similar scenes on vases, although Barron has dismissed the possibility in his study of the murals of the Theseion, because of the different visual approach to the depiction of myth in the medium of wall painting.

This scene has clear political implications, in its depiction of an alliance between Theseus, the patron hero of Athens, and the god Poseidon. This vase also dates to soon after the end of the Persian Wars, a time in which the Athenians were establishing themselves as the leader of the Delian League of Greek cities, an arrangement which would soon develop into a de facto Athenian Empire. This divinising depiction of Theseus can be seen as part of a general Athenian tendency to elevate their most prominent local hero as they asserted their influence over the Greek world.

The myth and corresponding scene type have some important similarities to Herakles’ introduction to Olympus and recognition as the son of Zeus, and is probably influenced by it. Herakles frequently acted as a model for the Athenians' enhancement of Theseus’ mythology, and compositional similarities between scenes depicting the two heroes in similar mythical contexts are unsurprising. In this case, see, for example, the strikingly similar overall composition used for Herakles meeting Zeus on a stamnos attributed to the Providence Painter (St. Petersburg B1559, BAPD 207407).

Most versions of this myth have simpler compositions with fewer figures, focussing on the central two (Theseus and Amphitrite: New York 53.11.4, BAPD 204406; Theseus and Poseidon: Yale 1913.143, BAPD 205603) or three characters (Copenhagen 2695, BAPD 203810; Paris, Cabinet des Medailles 418 BAPD 202956). It is more typical for Poseidon to be seated, rather than standing. There are also some examples of compositionally similar scenes depicting either Theseus meeting with his other mortal father Aegeus on his arrival at Athens, or farewelling his maternal grandfather Pittheus as he departs from Troizen (Paris G195, BAPD 204072; London E264, BAPD 206694; private collection, BAPD 9028595).
Publication History

G. Jatta, Ruvo di Puglia - Di una tomba con suppellettile funebre di vasi dipinti, scoperta presso l'abitato, Notizie degli Scavi di Antichità (Rome, 1893), pp. 242-52

A. H. Smith, Illustrations to Bacchylides, Journal of Hellenic Studies (1898), 18: pp. 267-80, p. 279, fig. 9

Paul Jacobsthal, Theseus auf dem Meeresgrunde: Ein beitrag zur Geschichte der griechischen Malerei, E.A. Seemann Verlag (Leipzig, 1911), pl. 3, fig. 5

J. D. Beazley, Two Vases in Harrow, Journal of Hellenic Studies (1916), 36: pp. 123-33, p. 132

David Moore Robinson, Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum U.S.A.: volume 3, The Robinson Collection, Baltimore, MD, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1938)

Bruno Gentili, Il Ditrambo XVII sn. di Bacchilide e il cratere Tricase da Ruvo (CVA, Robinson II, tav. 31-2), Archeologia Classica (1954), 6(1): pp. 121-5, pll. 30-31

Fogg Art Museum, The David Moore Robinson Bequest of Classical Art and Antiquities, A Special Exhibition, exh. cat., Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, 1961), p. 17, no. 98

J. D. Beazley, Attic Red-Figure Vase-Painters, The Clarendon Press (Oxford, England, 1963)

John P. Barron, New Light on Old Walls: the Murals of the Theseion, Journal of Hellenic Studies (1972), 92: pp. 30-45, p. 40 n. 150

H. Alan Shapiro, Theseus, Athens, and Troizen, Archaologischer Anzeiger, De Gruyter (Berlin, 1982), vol. 2: pp. 291-7, p. 294, fig. 4

F. Brommer, Theseus: die Täten des greichischen Helden in der antiken Kunst und Literatur, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft (Darmstadt, 1982), pp. 79-80

J. J. Pollitt, Pots, Politics, and Personifications in Early Classical Athens, Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (Spring 1987), pp. 8-15, pp. 11-12, fig. 4

Jenifer Neils, The Youthful Deeds of Theseus, L'Erma di Bretschneider (Rome, 1987), pp. 90 and 160 cat. 48, fig. 41

Thomas Carpenter, Thomas Mannack, and Melanie Mendonca, ed., Beazley addenda : additional references to ABV, ARV² & Paralipomena, Oxford University Press (UK) (Oxford, 1989), p. 207

H. Alan Shapiro, Myth into Art: Poet and Painter in Classical Athens, Routledge (London, 1994), pp. 119-22

Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), Artemis (Zürich, Switzerland, 1999), Amphitrite 78; Nereides 427; Nereus 128; Poseidon 209; Theseus 220.

Richard Neer, Style and Politics in Athenian Vase-painting: The Craft of Democracy, ca. 530-460 B.C.E. (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 162-3, fig. 76

C. Servadei, La figura di Theseus nella ceramica Attica: Iconografia e iconologia del mito nell' Atene arcaica e classica, Ante Quem (Bologna, 2005), pp. 88-9, fig. 35

Claude Calame, Pratiques poétiques de la mémoire: représentations de l'espace-temps en grèce ancienne, Éditions la découverte (Paris, France, 2006), p. 192, fig. C

Andrea C. Montanaro, Ruvo di Puglia e il suo territorio, le necropoli: I corredi funerari tra la documentazione del xix secolo e gli scavi moderni, L'Erma di Bretschneider (Rome, 2007), pp. 212-3, figs. 31-3

Claude Calame, Poetic and Performative Memory in Ancient Greece, Center for Hellenic Studies (Washington, DC, 2009), pp. 144-6, fig. 4a

Exhibition History

The David Moore Robinson Bequest of Classical Art and Antiquities: A Special Exhibition, Fogg Art Museum, 05/01/1961 - 09/20/1961

32Q: 3400 Greek, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu