Red-figure column krater with Amazon
The Eupolis painter
- c. 470–460 BCE
This Attic Greek krater painted in a red-figure style features the classical image of an Amazon on the obverse, and a youth striding with a torch on the reverse. Amazons were thought to be Asian women warriors who participated in the Trojan War on the Trojan side. They appear in Homeric epics and were figures of mythic imagination to the classical Greeks. The Greek hero Achilles was believed to have fallen in love with the Amazon queen Penthesileia at the moment he killed her, a scene appearing on a famous vase by the Penthesileia Painter. Herodotus considered them historical figures—women who devoted their lives to war and who cut off one breast in order to shoot better with a bow and arrow. In recent archaeological research, graves in southern Russia have in fact revealed distinguished female figures, presumably queens, buried with armor and weapons.
In the fifth century BCE, Amazons (alone or engaged in battle) were popular figures in Attic art, because the Greek states, led by Athens, had just defeated the Persian Empire, the greatest world power then known. Hence, the Persian costume of the Amazon on this vase. Battles with Amazons appear on the Parthenon, Athens’s greatest classical monument, both on the frieze and on the shield of the giant statue of Athena.
The vase has been attributed to the Eupolis Painter. A number of works by this artist survive, including one in the Louvre. The Amazon wears very detailed Asiatic clothing, including a figured oriental tunic, leggings, and a large shield with a scorpion device, as well as an axe and spear. The simplicity and elegance of the draftsmanship is striking and is complemented by the figure of the youth with a torch on the reverse, an image associated with funerary games. The work comes from the high point of Attic red-figure vase painting, at the point when Archaic art styles were shifting to a classical style. The single image of the Amazon warrior against a plain background is purely classical in design.
Anne Bromberg, DMA unpublished material, 2008.