Photographer's Note

From my trip to the Met. This is one of the more famous pieces of ancient Greek pottery in their collection, which is substantial.

This incredible terracotta Black Figure Geometric krater, a funerary vessel (monumental grave marker), is believed to have originated in the "Hirschfeld" workshop, and dates to about 750-735 BC. It's sometimes also called the Dipylon krater, as it was found at the Dipylon Cememtery in Athens. It's now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It measures about 43" (108 cm) x 28" (72cm), standing about four feet tall, so it's an extremely large ceramic vessel.

Notwithstanding its size, it was apparently thrown on a wheel, as it is actually comprised of several segments, which were assembled later to form the final product. It is a prime example of "Black Figure" pottery, known as "slipware," as it is decorated with "slip" rather than glaze. During this period, the ancient Greeks did not have kilns hot enough to use glaze, so the vessel is not glassy and shiny, as much of our ceramic ware is today. This is very characteristic of ancient pottery in general.

These types of vessels were used to mark graves, like headstones, as stone sculptures only began to be used in the Archaic period. The bottom of the vessel is actually open, to either allow for votive offerings such as wine, to be made, or simply for drainage. The Geometric Period flourished between about 900-700 BC. The scenes here are laid out in multiple friezes or registers, and depict many interesting things, providing us with insight on the funeral rites of this period. Pictorial evidence is key to understanding this period, as little written material survives.

The multiple registers or bands are covered in the abstract geometric shapes which gave this period its name, including diamonds, triangles, circles and meanders, the design shown here at the very top of the photo (a stylized reference to the sacred Meander river), all of which are characteristic of Greek art of this period.

Somewhat unusual for this period, however, are the depictions of human and animal figures, albeit highly abstract ones. The main scene in the top registers, here depicted, shows the deceased laid out on a bier, surrounded by members of the household, in addition to other mourners. To the bottom left, a woman sits with a child on her lap. Other elements seen here include the carcasses of deer and birds, under the bier, probably grave goods or sacrificial offerings made during the funeral rites.

The scenes are all depicted in a highly abstract, stylized manner, featuring a "twisted" perspective, including the main scene where the deceased is shown on his side, The checkered burial shroud, seen above the figure, in the photo, is raised to actually show the individual in the scene. The mourners, some of whom are seen here at the far right, have raised arms, representative of mourning. The circles surrounding them have been suggested to represent tears. The forms are highly abstract, as you can see: the torsos are primarily triangles, the legs are lozenge-shaped, and the heads are simple circles.

It is thought that the decedent may have been a military figure, as the lower register depicts a procession which is military in nature, featuring items such as chariots, stylized soldiers and shields, the latter of which form the actual bodies of the figures. Three horses pull the chariots, but, again, everything is "flat," without any attempt at simulated depth.

This astonishing and quite poignant vessel is a major piece, clearly commissioned by a wealthy figure or family. It's astonishing that it survives in the condition in which it was found; clearly, these vessels were far more fragile than stone, so very few have survived, and almost none in condition this pristine. This is one of the major works of surviving art from the period of ancient Greece, and, as an ancient historian, it's humbling and a privilege to see surviving examples of ancient art firsthand.

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Photo Information
  • Copyright: Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 92 W: 78 N: 1188] (2104)
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  • Date Taken: 2011-09-00
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  • Date Submitted: 2021-06-20 11:42
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Additional Photos by Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 92 W: 78 N: 1188] (2104)
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