Black-figure band cup

Greek; Attic
last half of 6th century BCE
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General Description

War and fighting were common subjects in ancient Greek culture, and were frequently depicted in art. In the scenes on this cup, the artist seems less interested in depicting actual combat than in rendering different types of combatants. They are not engaged with one another but simply put on display as miniature studies. Band cups belong to the category of "Little Master Cups" and were popularized in Athens from the 550s to about 520 BCE. The reserved strip between the handles accounts for the name and carries the figure decoration. Painters of these cups preferred a miniature scale for the figures, and the cup pictured here displays the artist's ability to design his scenes with a multitude of characters with appropriate detail and still allow for adequate spacing.

The compositions on both sides of the cup depict crowded scenes filled with warriors and artificial inscriptions. Each frieze of armed men contains three horsemen holding spears, wearing short white tunics, and except for a figure in the center of one side, cloaks. Interspersed around the horsemen are three warriors in armor, all with spears, and two men wearing or holding cloaks. The warriors wear low-crested helmets and greaves and hold round shields. These last vary in decoration: a ram, a starburst, and a lion for shield blazons on one side, and a starburst and a lion on the other, with the middle shield once covered with white paint. The rows of dots in the field around the figures give the semblance of letters in inscriptions, often without meaning, that regularly contribute to the subsidiary decoration of a figured scene.

Adapted from

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), 67.

Fun Facts

This cup was broken and repaired in antiquity, the holes in this piece are from ancient staples which would have held it together, denoting how highly prized it was to its original owner.