In the classroom


Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Towards the end of antiquity, aspiring citizens had adopted the customs of the aristocracy – and not least of these were its drinking habits. A prime example of this development is the quantity, diversity and quality of the painted drinking vessels in an antique collection from the late 6th to early 5th century BCE. Drinking bowls and cups were at the height of their popularity at this time. Our bowl is signed on the inside: ‘Douris painted (it)’. We can trace the style of this vase painter from about 500 BCE over almost four decades. Over 250 bowls have been attributed to him so far. He developed a certain conventionality in his art that is, however, so distinguished and carefully cultivated that it makes him stand out anew. His subject matter is typical of the time, covering mythology and war as well as the concerns of the upper class – sport and banquets, the discussions of men and encounters with beautiful young boys and hetaerae. The outside of the bowl depicts an unusual scene: the average school day of Athenian boys from better families. The word for school stems from the Greek schole meaning ‘free time’, ‘leisure’. In fact, only rich free men had the free time for education. The boys in the picture are certainly learning for a better life, however, their end goal is not to find a way to earn their bread and butter (unlike their paid teachers) but rather to learn how to use their leisure time as adults in a way that befitted their status. And it is exactly this detail that is reflected in the overall tenor of the vase painting: the beautiful lives of the fine upper class. Every schoolchild has one teacher, every teacher teaches a different subject; what would in reality have taken place in different rooms has been brought together in this picture. Starting on the left on one side of the bowl, we see a lesson in playing the lute, teacher and child play in unison. Next comes a particularly dignified teacher in a comfortable armchair; he has opened up the scroll at the beginning of a heroic epic for the viewer of the picture to see, a subdued boy in a coat standing beside him has to recite it off by heart. To the right is a somewhat strange onlooker who seems to belong to the scene, yet is excluded from it at the same time. His manner is offhand, even coarse as he sits there with his legs crossed. He must be the ‘pedagogue’, which literally means ‘to lead the child’ and was a slave who brought the fine young boys to school and home again. The image on the other side of the bowl begins on the left with a schoolboy singing a melody accompanied by a young teacher on the aulos, a double-reeded pipe. The fourth teacher corrects his pupil’s work on a writing tablet. The scene ends again with a pedagogue. The objects hanging on the wall range from school materials such as scrolls and tablets, possibly lyres and flutes (in cases) to drinking cups and picnic baskets. The skills the boys are learning here – music, singing and dictating poetry – they will want to make use of as adults to practice the high art of leisure, to please themselves and others and at drinking parties, where people drank from bowls just like this one. The picture on the inside of the bowl (not shown here) depicts a young man who has just finished playing sports in the nude and is tying his sandals. This image leads us to one conclusion: a free man should be master of both his body and his mind.

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  • Title: In the classroom
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: -480
  • Location: Cerveteri (Caere) in Etruria
  • Physical Dimensions: w28.5 x h11.5 cm
  • Type: Bowl
  • Medium: Clay
  • Inv.-No.: F 2285
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-814319
  • External link: Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: Text: © Verlag Philipp von Zabern / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Bert Kaeser || Photo: © b p k - || Photo Agency / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Johannes Laurentius
  • Collection: Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz