To A Grecian Urn

Selections from DUMA

Black-figure Neck Amphora

 Black-figure Neck Amphora
Athens, 2nd quarter, 
6th century BCE
From the Duke Classical Collection


Mythological images of warfare were often used on ancient Greek pottery to explore issues of life and death. Warfare was part of the ancient Greek way of life, particularly for the aristocrats, among whom warriors made up the second-highest socio-economic class. In ancient Greek cemeteries, amphorae with scenes of heroic mythological battles were often used as grave markers.

An amphora at the Duke University Museum of Art depicts two battle scenes that, in all likelihood, refer to Homer's epic tale, the Iliad.

On either side of the amphora, we see two men engaged in battle, flanked by observers. It has been suggested that the side reproduced here represents the fight between Achilles and Memnon, with their mothers, Thetis and Eos, watching.

The DUMA amphora displays what is called black-figure technique, in which the artist painted figures and objects in black as silhouettes and then incised the details of facial features, hair, and other textures.

This technique, invented at the turn of the seventh century BCE, quickly became popular because it allowed artists to produce clearly conveyed gestures for narrative purposes. Dramatic action scenes provided opportunities to create innovative spatial arrangements.

In this work, the overlapping shields and raised spears breaching other areas of decoration combine with the angular forms of the figures' legs and arms, making a bold composition.

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