Black-figure panel amphora

Greek; Attic
last quarter of 6th century BCE
more object details

General Description

Throughout the 6th century BCE, Greek pottery painters experimented with ways to describe reality on the curved surface of a vase. In the best examples, the urge toward description is balanced by the necessity of creating an effective two-dimensional design. For instance, this stately amphora has two panel scenes representing combats from the Trojan War. The heroic ethos attributed to the contestants of this duel appears not in Homer's Iliad, but in the Aethiopis, an epic poem by Homer or Arctinus of Miletus. In this scene from the Trojan War, the Greek hero Achilles battles over the body of a fallen warrior with Prince Memnon of Ethiopia, who fought on the side of Troy. Combat here is frozen in a central heraldic group which maintains the nature of the vessel in its flat pattern. Although we know from texts that Achilles will kill Memnon, we also know that Achilles himself will die soon afterwards, having chosen a short but glorious life and heroic death. To either side of the heroes are their chinton-clad divine mothers, mourning a battle which can only end in loss for one of them. Recognizing the tragic nature of life, the mothers of both heroes raise their arms in mourning on either side of the struggle. The scene is both ornamental and filled with a sense of tragedy; it is purely humanistic, without any scenic distraction from the confrontation of armed warriors, one of whom must die.

The artist who did the painting on this amphora is unknown, only identified as a member of the Medea Group who was a part of the staff of a small, home-based pottery factory. The Group takes its name from an amphora in the British Museum showing a scene of the sorceress Medea rejuvenating a ram.

Drawn from

  • Anne Bromberg, Dallas Museum of Art: Selected Works (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1983), 101.

  • Sir John Beazley, Attic Black-figure Vase Painters, (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), 321.

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 132.

Fun Facts

  • This Greek vase was discovered in an Etruscan tomb at Montealto dei Castri which is on the site of the Etruscan necropolis of Vulci, located north of Rome in Italy.