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Mouseion: Journal of the Classical Association of Canada, Volume

12, Number 2, 2012, LVI -- Series III, pp. 143-154 (Article)


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Mouseion, Series III, Vol. 12 (2012) 143–154
© 2015 Mouseion (published in 2015)

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U B C ’ M

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A /R

The University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology possesses a fifth-

century Athenian white-ground lekythos, which has not, until now, received the
scholarly attention it deserves. The scene on the lekythos depicts an unusual funerary
offering, unprecedented in white-ground decoration. The colour scheme and ico-
nography allude to the style of the famed Achilles Painter of the late fifth-century
, but this attribution presents problems. This article examines the question of, and
the evidence surrounding, the attribution of this lekythos with the aim of proving
that this piece, regardless of whether it is ascribed to the fifth-century master, is a
unique example in the corpus of white-ground lekythoi and a significant contribu-
tion to scholarship.

Le Musée d’anthropologie de l’Université de la Colombie-Britannique possède un

lécythe athénien à fond blanc du Ve siècle avant J. C., qui, jusqu’à présent, n’avait
pas reçu de la part des chercheurs l’attention qu’il méritait. La scène représentée
sur le lécythe dépeint une offrande funéraire inhabituelle, sans précédent dans la
décoration à fond blanc. Le modèle de couleur et d’iconographie évoque le style du
célèbre Peintre d’Achille de la fin du Ve siècle avant J. C., mais cette attribution pose
problème. Cet article examine la question de, et les éléments de preuve concernant,
l’attribution de ce lécythe, dans le but de prouver que cette pièce, quoi qu’il en soit de
son assignation au maître du Ve siècle, est un exemplaire unique dans le corpus des
lécythes à fond blanc et une contribution significative à la recherche.

The collections of the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University

of British Columbia (UBC) include a fifth-century Athenian white-
ground lekythos, known simply as MOA M1.68 (fig. 1).1 Although the vessel

The author wishes to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments
as well as E. Hector Williams, Caroline Williams, John H. Oakley, Gwynaeth McIntyre,
and the staff at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology (MOA)
for all of their generous advice and time, without which the present article would have

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Figure 1. Profile of MOA 1.68

Drawing by author

has been badly damaged and several details have faded, it is still possible to
detect the characteristic colours of the white-ground style: gold, deep pur-
ple, and black adorn the figure and grave stele in the scene on the body of
the lekythos. The decoration, colour scheme, and iconography of the vessel
are unquestionably—yet suspiciously—in the style of the Achilles Painter,

been impossible. For online information regarding the vessel as well as additional pic-
tures, see http://collection-online.moa.ubc.ca/collection-online/home.

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the mid-late fifth-century Athenian vase painter “par excellence.”2 Over
200 individual vases are attributed to the hand of the Achilles Painter, and
they can be found in museum collections worldwide, including the British
Museum, which is the very source of UBC’s lekythos.3 Should MOA M1.68
be included in the corpus of vases attributed to the Achilles Painter? This
article critically examines this question and the evidence surrounding this
potential attribution with the aim of proving that this piece, if it is indeed
ascribed to the fifth-century master, is a unique specimen in the painter’s
corpus to date.4
The scene on the lekythos is funerary in nature—the most common
iconographic representation on these vessels after 470 .5 A solitary youth
stands adjacent to the grave; he is clad in a himation and quietly reaches
toward the funerary monument in a scene depicting either a visit to, or an
offering at, a tomb (fig. 2). The grave stele itself rests on a single-step base
and consists of a straight shaft that reaches to the decorative border on the
upper portion of the vessel (fig. 3). The funerary monument is crowned
by a thin, rectangular capping block that extends laterally over the top of
the stele. Below the capping block, there is a decorative egg moulding. The
entire monument is surmounted by a palmette and acanthus finial. The
acanthus leaves seem to radiate outward from behind the anthemion, giving
a sense of depth. Three taeniae (ribbons or pieces of fabric especially signif-
icant in cult and ritual activity) adorn the monument and are tied around
the upper-middle section of the stele, affording a sense of uniformity as they
hang parallel to one another. The grave and its decoration are extremely
faded but were once either brown or red in colour.
On the left side of the scene is the fragmentary depiction of a youth in
right profile, whose arm reaches out, either toward the monument or to grasp

Beazley 1938: 13; Oakley 1997: 1–3; Mertens 2006: 191. Information regarding the
acquisition of the vessel is simply noted as a transfer during the 1950s from the British
Museum’s Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities. No further documentation
or information has survived regarding the details of the transaction (cost, motiva-
tion, persons involved, and so on). According to MOA conservators, MOA M1.68 was
broken in transit and repaired upon arrival—the breaks, therefore, did not occur in
According to Oakley (1997: 3), the Achilles Painter has 307 attributed, individ-
ual vases in his corpus, of which 131 are in the white-ground style.
There has been controversy regarding the validity of attribution studies, how-
ever, the present author shares the opinion expressed by Oakley (2009: 605 ff), namely
that “not only does attribution bring life to the pottery industry by revealing artistic
personalities, but it also is an ‘enabling tool’ that enhances the study of other areas,
such as excavation pottery, trade, images, and pottery production” (605).
Oakley 2004; Mertens 2006: 190. For early studies in Athenian white-ground
lekythoi, see Fairbanks 1907; 1914.

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Figure 2. Sketch of the scene on MOA 1.68.

Drawing by Patricia Leidl, provided by E. Hector Williams

Figure 3. Detail of MOA 1.68 showing the funerary monument

Photo by author

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Figure 4. Detail of MOA 1.68 showing a “youth”

Photo by author

the long, slender staff immediately in front of him (fig. 2 and fig. 4). One is
not able to make out the hand or the portion of the arm beneath the forearm,
but the golden outline of the youth’s shoulder and upper arm are evident
and, therefore, allow for such a reconstruction. The appellation “youth” is
tentative, as the majority of the face of the figure is not extant (fig. 5). The
outline of the staff is drawn in the same gold dilute as the arm of the figure;
however, the outline of the feet seem to be slightly darker—a golden-brown
hue. The youth wears a himation, which is deep reddish-purple in colour, and
although no details of the folds survive, one is able to discern a contrapposto
pose beneath the heavy garment—the right knee is bent, shifting the weight
of the figure to the left foot, which is placed in front of the right, allowing
the audience to understand motion toward the funerary monument at the
centre of the scene (fig. 6).
As mentioned earlier, the face of the youth is missing, and, therefore,
we cannot discern any facial characteristics save for the fact that his hair is
light brownish-red in tone and that the hairline seems to stop at the jawline,
implying that the figure did not wear a beard. The central scene is framed
horizontally by two delicate, parallel lines of added golden dilute that encir-
cle the bottom limit of the vessel’s body and by at least four lines at the top.
Two of these latter bands, light brown in colour, serve to indicate the upper

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Figure 5. Detail of MOA 1.68 showing the upper portion of the body of the “youth”
Photo by author

Figure 6. Detail of MOA 1.68 showing the lower portion of the body of the “youth,” including
contrapposto pose and golden dilute lines
Photo by author

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limit of the funerary scene and are therefore located immediately above the
finial and the head of the youth—only the tip of the staff permeates through
this boundary, but any further details of this feature are not distinguishable.6
Above these lines are two additional bands that encircle the pot, both thicker
and darker brown than those located below the lines. In its original state,
there may have been a decorative maeander pattern included within these
two sets of bands.7
On the shoulder of the lekythos, there are three palmettes with reddish
petals. One palmette rests immediately above the central scene, flanked by
the other two on either side of the vessel (fig. 2). Too little detail survives
on the shoulder decoration for this feature to be included as comparanda
in the discussion that follows.8 The black slip adorning the handle and foot
is in excellent condition, particularly when compared to the fading colours
that decorate the white slip on the main body of the vase. Several fragments
of the vessel are lost, including the mouth. In spite of this absence, a suffi-
cient amount of the lekythos is preserved to conclude that the youth and the
funerary monument are the sole pictorial decoration.9
The decoration, as it has been described earlier, is consistent with the
trends in Attic vase painting during the middle of the fifth century .10
More specifically, the imagery is comparable to that found on white-ground
lekythoi that have been attributed to the Achilles Painter, an artist who was
first identified by Beazley in 1914 and who was named after the representa-
tion of Achilles on the obverse of a red-figure amphora.11 While the Achilles
Painter depicted scenes that were mythological and domestic in nature, he is
most famous for his renderings of mortuary iconography.12 Various scholars
describe the funerary scenes of the Achilles Painter as serene, sparse, and

Namely, one is unable to make the distinction between whether this object is a
staff or another, similar object such as a spear.
Oakley 1997: 76.
Oakley (1997) remarks that: “[t]he standard shoulder ornament for Middle
and Late white-ground lekythoi is Kurtz’s type IIA drawn in dilute golden glaze with
crossover tendrils on the central palmette and matt red leaves that alternate with
the five per palmette in golden dilute. In many cases all or many of the red leaves
have disappeared, sometimes leaving only a shadow that can be seen in good light-
ing.” There is no reason to believe that the decoration on MOA 1.68 differs from this
description, as the outline of the palmettes are somewhat discernible and seem to
correspond to this description.
A hand-held long-wave ultraviolet lamp provided by the MOA was used to
investigate the entire body of the vessel to determine whether additional decoration
could be discerned. Nothing was revealed, allowing for the conclusion that the soli-
tary youth was the sole figure to grace the lekythos.
Beazley 1938: 5–6; Mertens 2006: 190.
Beazley 1914; Carpenter et al. 1989; Oakley 1997: 1.
Beazley 1938: 5–6; Beazley 1946.

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simply balanced, which has led to the tentative attribution of MOA M1.68 as
“Achillean.” As Beazley writes, for example,

simple compositions based on the upright, the horizontal, and the

rectangle, the sureness and fineness of his strokes, and the natural
grace of his figures. What does not come out in the photographs is
the charm of his colour: the white ground, the golden-brown out-
lines, the ochre, rose and dark red ... Grief is not rendered by a dis-
torted face, but by bended head, by gesture of hand or arm, by the
attitude of the whole body.13

The Achilles painter was active from circa 470/460 to 430/425 ,

while his floruit occurred from circa 460/455 to 430/425 . His sub-
ject matter, distinguished by stillness and emotionally pregnant scenes, can
therefore be said to derive from the contemporary stylistic trends found in
relief sculpture and statuary on Athenian public architecture. Oakley, the
preeminent authority on the Achilles Painter, describes the characteristics
of the painter’s style as such:

The calm, emotionless countenance, the use of slight gestures to

indicate action and interaction, and the ability to do things seem-
ingly effortlessly are all hallmarks of the classical style and charac-
teristic of both the Frieze and Pediments of the Parthenon and vases
by the Achilles Painter.14

Oakley proposed chronological divisions for the work of the Achilles

Painter based upon stylistic variation, technological changes, and colour
preference. Upon closer scrutiny, one can situate MOA M1.68 within Oak-
ley’s Middle II–III phase (445–435 ), based upon a number of factors: the
bright white slip background, the golden dilute outlines, the tilted head, the
effortless motion of the arm, the red garment, and the closely cropped hair-
style found on the young man.15 The Middle II–III phase is categorized by a
marked uniformity, wherein “[t]he same figure types are constantly repeated
with minor deviations in pose of arms, hands, legs, and feet. This is in some
ways to be expected, since the same few scenes are consistently employed.”16

Beazley 1938: 21–22. Elsewhere, Mertens (2006: 191) describes the scenes as fol-
lowing: “The spare, direct images are perfectly disposed on the cylinders. The white
surface provides a cool, clear background—painted stillness—against which the
resonant colours, when preserved, infuse the scenes with immediacy.” Oakley (1997:
2) describes his work as employing a “fine line, simple balanced compositions, and
serene spiritual ethos of his drawing.”
Oakley 1997: 6.
Oakley 1997: 9 and 25.
Oakley 1997: 25.

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Several examples of lekythoi attributed to the Achilles Painter bear
remarkably similar iconography to that found on MOA M1.68.17 However,
there are several discrepancies between MOA M1.68 and other Achilles
Painter lekythoi, and these inconsistencies subsequently thwart an attempt
to claim definite attribution to the Achilles Painter. The first discrepancy
concerns the physical properties of the vessel itself. The majority of the
lekythoi attributed to the Achilles Painter measure between 30 and 39 cm
in height and feature a globular false interior.18 MOA M1.68 boasts no such
interior and measures only 22.5 cm in height. The latter deviation is not as
consequential given the fact that vases from the Achilles Painter range in
height from 20.4 cm to 46.5 cm. However, it is nonetheless worthwhile to
note that this vase is already atypical with regard to its dimensions.19
The grave monument itself presents a further problem. Oakley identi-
fies all of the Achilles Painter’s stelai using the type of grave monuments out-
lined by Nakayama. Specifically, the Achilles Painter employed three types
of finials: a flat capping block (Nakayama Type A), a pediment (Nakayama
Type B), or a palmette (Nakayama Type D).20 It is obvious that MOA 1.68
possesses a palmette finial, but the presence of the palmette in conjunc-
tion with the acanthus ornamentation, the rectangular capping block, and
a one-step base is unparalleled in the lekythoi heretofore attributed to the
Achilles Painter.21 This discrepancy, while troublesome, does not eliminate
the possibility that it is simply a unique example in the painter’s corpus—
other lekythoi display singular stelai and are nonetheless attributed to the

See especially (1) Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum 3746 (AV 1088) (Oakley
1997: pl. 116A and 117); (2) Athens Dinopoulos 6 (Oakley 1997: pl. 118 A–B); (3) Oxford,
Ashmolean 1896.41 (545) (Oakley 1997: pl. 118 C–D); (4) Marburg, University 1016
(Oakley 1997: 121 A–B); (5) 232 Athens National Museum 1980 (CC 1748) (Oakley
1997: pl. 122 A–B); and (6) 233 Basle, Antikenmuseum und Sammlang Ludwig, Lud-
wig L-62 (Oakley 1997: pl. 122 C–D). All of these examples are white-ground lekythoi
that have been confidently attributed to the Achilles Painter’s Middle II–III phase
and date from 445 to 435 .
A false interior allowed for the vessels to retain the appearance of normality
but restricted the amount of costly oil that the vessel contained, presumably so that
offerings to the dead would not bankrupt the living! For construction techniques see
Schreiber 1999: 171–186, especially 178–183 (“Lekythos with Inner Oil Cup”).
Oakley 1997: 73.
Nakayama 1982; Oakley 1997: 68–69.
For examples of a palmette finial, see Oakley 1997: nos. 241, 251, 253, 259, 273,
and 295.
See especially Oakley 1997: no. 274 (egg-shaped finial), no. 225 (five-step base),
no. 222, and no. 275 (these latter two are noted for their short, thick stelae atop two-
step bases). Oakley (1997: 69) notes these four exceptions but provides no suggestion
as to why they might be different from the traditional Achillean iconography.

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However, the combination of these idiosyncrasies is difficult to ignore,
especially in light of the following, most glaring, deviation from what has
come to be considered the Achilles Painter’s conventional model: namely
the fact that nearly every single funerary lekythos accredited to the Achilles
Painter comprises a two-figure composition. There is one notable exception,
but the composition offers three figures rather than a solitary individual
such as is displayed on MOA M1.68.23 In his conclusion, Oakley remarks that
“[t]he iconography of almost all the white-ground lekythoi is based on a sim-
ple two-figured composition, a grave monument being depicted between
the two on the approximately one-third that have scenes at tombs. The fig-
ures are for the most part in simple, quiet, relaxed poses, either standing or
sitting in profile or standing frontally looking to one side in profile; there are
several, notable, and remarkable exceptions.”24 If this is true, then questions
of authenticity and identification are immediately raised. Must this lekythos
be associated with a different painter, or could MOA 1.68 truly be a unique
specimen of the Achilles Painter’s corpus?
In order to successfully answer the second question, the first must be
addressed. Due to the incontrovertible similarities between the iconogra-
phy on MOA M1.68 and on the Achilles Painter’s lekythoi, it is safe to make
the preliminary conclusion that the painter of MOA M1.68 was associated in
some way with the Achilles Painter’s workshop. Therefore, there are 11 possi-
ble alternative painters, based on known interaction with the Achilles Paint-
er’s workshop and on vessel choice: the Phiale Painter, the Sabouroff Painter,
the Kleophon Painter, the Painter of Munich 2335, the Thanatos Painter, the
Bird Group, the Eretria Painter, the Persephone Painter, the Painter of Athens
1943, the Painter of Boston 93.104, and the Group of Naples Stg 252.25 There
are, however, problems with every single one of these possibilities—the scenes
of some artists are too turbulent;26 others are too emotional;27 oftentimes, the
trends of composition are incompatible;28 or the figures themselves are too

Oakley 1997: 68 n58; Tzachou-Alexandri 1998. This third figure may have been
a later addition.
It is important to note that the “exceptions” to which Oakley is referring are
not in the number of people involved in the composition but, rather, in the objects
included in the scenes. Oakley 1997: 69.
This list is derived from Oakley’s chart (1997: 93), which highlights the rela-
tionships between painters and workshops. The Painter of Munich 2335 was removed
from this list due to the fact that it is questionable as to whether he painted on
For example, the Thanatos Painter, such as London, British Museum D 60
(Kurtz 1975: pl. 32.3).
For example, the Phiale Painter (see Oakley 1990).
For example, the Sabouroff Painter, such as New York, Metropolitan Museum
of Art 07.286.40 (Kurtz 1975: pl. 29.1) and the Painter of Munich 2335, such as New
York, Metropolitan Museum of Art 34.32.2 (Kurtz 1975: pl. 42.2), respectively.

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linear.29 Altogether, the features of the iconography of the Achilles Painter
himself (as opposed to a member of his workshop) most resemble those of
MOA M1.68, and the most inescapable discrepancy between MOA 1.68 and
the Achilles lekythoi—that is, the presence of a solitary figure—persists upon
examination of the alternative candidates for attribution. The depiction of
two-figure compositions seems to be a benchmark of funerary representation
on all Athenian white-ground lekythoi, perhaps as a direct derivative of the
earlier, popular, “mistress-and-maid” scenes.30
Regardless of the origin, the prevalence of the two-figure configuration
is undisputed, and the asymmetrical arrangement found on MOA M1.68 is
indeed abnormal and neither immediately nor easily resolved. Countless
hypotheses may be put forth regarding the motivation for such an irregu-
lar depiction: perhaps it was a specially commissioned piece or simply an
experiment. Such postulations are impossible to corroborate. The only evi-
dence that is devoid of speculation is that certain features of the vessel (the
single-figure iconographic composition, the finial atop the grave stele, and
the physical dimensions of the lekythos itself) are unusual if not unique, but
these abnormalities cannot, and do not, rule out the attribution of MOA
M1.68 to the Achilles Painter.
Concrete attribution is difficult and rarely incontrovertible without
the occasional presence of definitive markings, stamps, or signatures. At
present, it is impossible to indisputably attribute MOA M1.68 to a particu-
lar artist, despite the earlier-mentioned evidence that suggests the Achilles
Painter himself. While future proposals for alternate attribution are encour-
aged, the goal of this current work is to make the existence of an unpublished
specimen from UBC’s MOA known to the scholarly world and to present
this vessel not only as a potentially unique specimen in the Achilles Painter’s
repertoire but also as an unparalleled example of fifth-century funerary ico-
nography to date and, therefore, ultimately, as a contribution to the existing
corpus of Athenian white-ground lekythoi.

D C ,N E , R S

Beazley, J.D. 1914. “The Master of the Achilles Amphora in the Vatican,” JHS 34: 179–
226. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/624499.
———. 1938. Attic White Lekythoi. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
———. 1946. “A Lekythos by the Achilles Painter,” JHS 66: 11–12. http://dx.doi.org/

For example, the Bird Painter, such as London, British Museum D 66 (Kurtz
1975: pl. 40.2).
Kurtz 1975: 46; Oakley 1997: 66.

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Carpenter, T.H., J. D. Beazley, T. Mannack, L. Burn and M. Mendonça. 1989. Beaz-
ley Addenda: additional references to ABV, ARV² & Paralipomena, 2nd ed. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Fairbanks, A. 1907. Athenian White Lekythoi, vol. 1. New York: MacMillan.
———. 1914. Athenian White Lekythoi, vol. 2. New York: MacMillan.
Kurtz, D. 1975. Athenian White Lekythoi: Potters and Painters. Oxford: Clarendon
Mertens, J.R. 2006. “Attic White Ground: Potter and Painter,” in B. Cohen (ed.), The
Colors of Clay: Special Techniques in Athenian Vases. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty
Museum. 186–193.
Nakayama, N. 1982. Untersuchung der auf weissgrundigen Lekythen dargestellten
Grabmaeler. PhD dissertation, Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg, Breisgau,
Oakley, J.H. 1990. The Phiale Painter. Mainz: Philip von Zabern.
———. 1997. The Achilles Painter. Mainz: Philip von Zabern.
———. 2004. Picturing Death in Classical Athens: The Evidence of the White Lekythoi.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
———. 2009. “State of the Discipline: Greek Vase Painting,” AJA 113 (4): 599–627.
Schreiber, B.M. 1999. Athenian Vase Construction: A Potter’s Analysis. Los Angeles:
J. Paul Getty Museum.
Tzachou-Alexandri, O. 1998. Zωγρ́αφου του Aχιλλ́εως στο Eθνικ́ο Aρχαιολογικ́ο M.
Athens: TAPA.