Red-figure patera with Atlas handle

Attributed to

Painter of Louvre

Greek; Apulian
last third of 4th century BCE
more object details

General Description

This patera, or offering bowl, is a rare type featuring a terracotta sculptural handle in the form of a male nude with a beard. He upholds the disk of the bowl in his upstretched hands which is likely a reference to the mythological character Atlas, a giant who carries the heavens on his shoulders. The temple of Zeus at Akragas, in Sicily, used such Atlantid figures as architectural supports, and this handle may have been inspired by sculptural prototypes. Only a handful of such Atlantid figures used as patera handles have survived.

Vessels such as these were used for pouring libations to the dead. The figures and the rich floral designs seen on the interior of the vessel have been interpreted as having Dionysiac or Orphic meaning, related to religious mystery cults popular in South Italy. The association of the new growth of green plants in the springtime with personal immortality for initiates was common in Dionysiac cults.

This patera is from Apulia, the southeastern area of south Italy settled by Greek colonists, a region that is known for a rich style of ceramics based on techniques of Attic red-figure pottery, emphasizing complex figural compositions, added colors, and a monumentality of conception and scale. It nicely complements the DMA's extensive collection of gold jewelry from South Italy, especially since the figures depicted inside the bowl are wearing types of ornament from the fourth century B.C.E. The Greek cities of Italy were often wealthier than the older states on the mainland and thus were able to commission lavish decorative arts.

Adapted from

  • Anne Bromberg, "Red-figure patera with Atlas handle," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 25.

  • Anne R. Bromberg, and Karl Kilinski II, Gods, Men, and Heroes: Ancient Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996), 73.