The Museum’s skyphos, a small wine cup, is from 5th century BC Apulia in Southern Italy, a Greek region at the time. It is in the style of red-figure vase painting, a progressive technique that allowed for greater perspective, contouring of human form, expressiveness and emotional dimensions than the earlier black-figure style. The technique, originating in Attica, an important cultural center and home to Athens, arrived in Apulia in 530 BC. The decoration of vase painting first reflected the cross-fertilization of influences from Attica, but over time, adaptations from classic themes blended with local tastes and styles. Finally, native themes emerged distinctive from Greek culture. Over 11,000 vases have been uncovered in excavations from this period, mostly in burial sites.
Apulian vase painting developed two stylistic styles, plain and ornate. The ornate style was used for large vases with complex multi-layered figures. The plain was reserved for smaller vases, simple in style, depicting four figures or less.
The Museum’s skyphos appears to be in the plain style. Two figures are depicted, each on opposite sides of the vessel. On one side, we find a young woman dressed in a long flowing garment called a chiton, arms outstretched, holding a wreath, and perhaps, running to the right. On the other side sits a naked young man on a draped rock, holding a staff and staring to the right. Stylized palmetto-like vines form scrolls under and beside the handles.
So, is the young woman on a romantic quest? Is she honoring a hero returning from games? Or does this scene represent part of the preparation for an “after -life”? Are the figures, Apulian or Athenian? The story depicted on this skyphos is yet to be identified.