Intended as a grave gift, this Athenian white-ground lekythos depicts family members preparing to visit a loved one's grave. The woman holds a basket filled with standard funerary offerings: ribbons, wreaths, and aryballoi, a type of small oil vessel. The youth holds a pomegranate, a symbol of death.
In the late 500s B.C., Athenian potters began to cover the natural reddish color of their pottery with a highly purified clay that turned white when fired. Initially, artists applied this technique to a variety of shapes decorated with a wide range of scenes. Just before the middle of the 400s B.C., however, artists began limiting the use of this technique to a specific shape--the lekythos, a small oil container used in funerary ritual--and the decoration on the vessels shifted almost exclusively to funerary scenes. This change was due to the fragile nature of the white slip, which did not wear well but served the one-time usage of a funeral quite nicely.