The depiction on this large bowl, which was created in the workshop of the potter Brygos, takes its inspiration from a scene in Homer’s Iliad: Achilles, the much-praised hero of the Greeks in the Trojan War, lies on a kline in his tent, enjoying his repast. He holds a knife in his right hand and a piece of meat in his left. Several other long slices of meat are hanging from the dining table, which is placed in front of Achilles’ couch. The hero turns his head towards the cupbearer standing behind him. The walls of the tent are decorated with the attire and arms of the Greek hero. Underneath the kline lies the body of the Trojan king’s son Hector, who is bleeding from a wound in his chest. His hands, stretched out behind his head, are tied because Achilles had bound the deceased to his chariot and dragged him around the grave of Patroclus, the inseparable companion whom Hector had slain. Unnoticed by Achilles, a procession of people approaches the scene from the left. It is headed by Priam, the aged king of Troy, who is standing at the foot of the kline. He has decided to make this difficult journey in order to redeem the body of his dead son. Servants and maids carry the ransom into the scene from the left: vessels of fine metal and boxes full of precious content.The theme of the redemption of Hector is already known from Archaic artworks of the 6th century BC. No earlier depiction, however, expresses as much sympathy for the fate of the Trojan king as the one by the Brygos Painter; his picture comes particularly close to Homer’s account in Book XXIV of the Iliad. A fondness for narrative and love of detail made the Brygos Painter, named after the eponymous potter, one of the most important vase-painters of the early 5th century BC. Most of his pictures are full of energetic action. With his quickly drawn lines he gives his figures sweeping outlines that raise tension; the subtle movement of the garments brings them to life, while quiet scenes, such as Hector’s redemption, have an atmosphere of subdued restraint.
© Kurt Gschwantler, Alfred Bernhard-Walcher, Manuela Laubenberger, Georg Plattner, Karoline Zhuber-Okrog, Masterpieces in the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2011