A foundry of bronzeworkers


Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Berlin, Germany

The inside of the bowl is decorated with a scene from the battle of Troy: the god of blacksmiths Hephaestus is shown handing over skilfully crafted armour to Thetis, the mother of Achilles. Thus armed, the Greek hero returns to the battlefield to take revenge on Hector for killing his friend Patroclus. An anvil beside the goddess reflects the role of the god as divine craftsman. Whilst the image on the inside is set in the world of the gods which, regardless of the scene itself, is nothing unusual, the outside of the bowl offers us a glimpse into a workshop in which bronze statues are being made. On one side, the larger-than-life statue of a warrior in fighting pose is supported within a high wooden scaffold. He protects his body with a round shield and his elevated right hand is poised to throw the lance it holds. The cheek guards of the helmet are turned up which was not customary at the time, no doubt artistic licence taken by the sculptor to show off the face more clearly. The statue is not fully finished. Two workers, one with the characteristic leather cap of the smith, smooth the surface with scrapers. A second statue of an athlete with raised arms is lying down on a bed of sand or clay. An assistant is holding onto one of the arms and is aiming carefully towards the right hand with his hammer. A line on the wrist shows that the different parts were cast separately and have not yet been properly joined. The head of the statue still has to be mounted and lies on the floor between the legs of the artisan. A third group of artisans are busy with the kiln, which has a very tall chimney. A young man behind the kiln stokes the fire with a bellows. No doubt, they are heating the solder in the fire to join the parts of the reclining statue. Workshops of this kind were found all over the potters’ quarter or Kerameikos in Athens. The vase painters would have been familiar with the work that went on there from their own observations. Nevertheless, there are some things, for instance the kiln, which have been altered to suit artistic conventions. Social views are also reflected in the details. For instance, the fact that the worker sitting at the kiln is posed in such a way that his genitals can be seen would not have been socially acceptable – such a pose was only used to portray slaves or satyrs. Two men leaning on a staff and observing the goings on stand out from the workers. They are probably not the owners of the workshop but simply citizens of Athens who have stopped by the workshop on their way to the palaestra – or wrestling school. Evidence to support this hypothesis is provided by the sports equipment that is hanging up, namely oil vials and the strigil, which was used to scrape the mix of oil and sand off the skin after wrestling.


  • Title: A foundry of bronzeworkers
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: -490/-480
  • Location: Vulci
  • Physical Dimensions: h30,5 cm
  • Type: Bowl
  • Medium: Clay
  • Object acquired: Acquired through von Bunsen in 1837.
  • Inv.-No.: F 2294
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-814319
  • External link: Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: Text: © Verlag Philipp von Zabern / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Gerhard Zimmer || Photo: © b p k - || Photo Agency / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Johannes Laurentius
  • Collection: Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz

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