Monday, February 6, 2012

Black-figure Amphora

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The piece of art I chose to discuss in my paper is a Black-Figure Neck-Amphora that came from Attica, Greece in the late 6th century B.C. There are a total of 5 characters depicted in the painting. The first is Herakles, who was the Greatest of Greek Heroes. Herakles was born in Thebes and the son of Zeus and Alkmene. Also in the painting is Kerberos who was Hades’ watchdog for the underworld and has three heads, a serpents tail, and a lion’s claws. The very relevant person for recognizing the paintings historical context is, Athena, who is the goddess of wisdom and Herakles half sister. And last but not least, Hermes, who is the god of speed.

In this particular piece Herakles and Kerberos are being watched by Athena and Hermes while they meet with a king. It is probably showing Herakles on one of his adventures to complete the twelve great labors. The objects in the painting are still life and they are standing in a throne room. How I can tell is by the position of the king, he is sitting down with an audience to the left. There is a very detailed design on the neck of the amphora but no real picture that would maybe describe its use.

The lines in the image are thin, suggesting that a very fine point tool was used to carve the detail into the clay surface. The lines show the masculinity of the heroes and give an impression that they were extremely strong beings. All of the characters in the painting are very organic in shape, but then the design on the upper and lower potion of the vase are very geometric with the same design wrapping around the entire vase. The organic shape of the gods and the mortal king show how the Greeks closely relate themselves with those of a higher entity. There are only two colors on the vase and that is, the brownish color of the clay that makes up the vase. And the black part of the vase which was neither glaze nor pigment but a slip of clay that was first made black by shutting off the oxygen in the second phase of the firing process. The artist creates an illusion of space by adding an intricate design of would looks like stems and flowers on both sides on the amphora near the handles. The space is neither deep nor shallow because there is no background to the painting. The atmosphere definitely sets the illusion of space but still the lack of background makes the image appear flat. The texture is very smooth as any other glazed clay vase would be, and you can feel the slips which are very smooth bumps almost unseen even from a profile view.

The reason I may know the story behind this painting is because of the presence of Athena and Herakles. That is also why I stated her as being a very relevant person for recognizing the historical context. Hera was the wife of Zeus but not the mother of Herakles. Since Herakles is the son of Zeus and Alkmene, Hera hated Herakles with a passion. Hera sent two serpents to attack Herakles in his cradle but he strangled them as an infant. After that she caused him to go insane and kill his wife and children. For his punishment he had to complete twelve great labors. And while Herakles was completing these tasks, Athena, who is watching over Herakles in the painting, watched over him throughout his adventures. And when Herakles was finally done with the twelve labors he was awarded immortality. I think this piece of work depicts that journey, but only a time when he was either completing a task or finding out his next mission. Or it is was when Herakles finished his twevlth labor, which was to kidnap Kerberos. And in the painting it shows Herakles taking Kerberos to Eurystheus, the king of Tiryns and Mycenae. It was Eursytheus who Herakles had to serve for his punishment.

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Well, in conclusion I feel that the painting on the amphora is an excellent work of art that shows how the Greeks were fascinated with the design of the human body and how well they are able to recreate that on any given canvas. And also from my own findings I think is it safe to say that the artist made a painting that was true to history or myth.

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