Amphoras, used for storing and carrying wine, oil, and other liquids, were two-handled vases with a wide body, a narrower neck, and a lid. In earlier times they also served as storage urns for cremated ashes. The decoration on this elaborately painted amphora, a superb example of the high aesthetic quality and iconographical complexity of Classical Greek pottery, is ascribed to the School of the well-known Athenian artist Polygnotos. The front is decorated with a scene from the battle of the Amazons, a popular artistic and literary theme representing the triumph of the civilized world over barbarism. Theseus, the Attic youth-hero of the Athenian democracy, attacks an Amazon. He is supported by Antiope, his Amazon wife who, according to legend, fought at his side until she fell in battle. Inscriptions next to their heads identify the principal figures. The other side of the amphora, decorated with a scene of an elderly man holding a staff ,between two young women, exhibits less confident draftsmanship. Palmettes below the handles separate the two scenes. The vase's large size, composition using only three figures, illusion of volume and movement conveyed by the elongated figures, and dramatic interrelation of their positions are all characteristic of Polygnotos' style.
Credit: Gift of Jan Mitchell, New York