Attic Little Lion Class Lekythos with Dancing Maenades
A fine Attic Greek black-figure terracotta lekythos featuring a tapered body with a narrow neck and a small, deep mouth. A single applied handle joins the neck to the shoulder of the vessel. The lekythos displays a beautiful decoration with glossy black slip against the red clay, visible to the vessel’s body, rim and base. The decoration which unfolds before our eyes is arranged in a frieze, running around the vessel’s body, featuring the depiction of three female figures portrayed dancing and wearing long, draped chitons and himations to their shoulders. Although the figures have been rendered in a stylised and crude manner, with details of the chitons’ and himations’ heavy folds deeply carved, the artist added a sense of naturalism and dynamism to the composition by arranging the arms of each figures in different positions, as it would have happened if the figures were dancing in real life. The space in between the figures is filled with depictions of stylised vine trellises, rendered through a series of dots. Further embellishments include two confronting lions to the vessel’s shoulders. The vessel can be attributed to the Little Lion Class, a group of small Attic black-figure lekythoi often decorated with small lions to the vessels’ shoulders.
Date: Circa 6th – 5th Century BC Provenance: From an early 20th century French collection. Condition: Fine condition, with abrasion to body which has resulted in loss of some black slip. Professionally repaired.
Lekythoi were used in Ancient Greece to preserve and pour perfumed oil and ointments: its particular shape limited the release of the content and was suitable to prevent waste. Lekythoi were mainly used at baths and gymnasiums and for funerary offerings, as they were sometimes used for anointing dead bodies. The tree female figures depicted on this beautiful example of Greek pottery, can be identified as ‘maenades’, known in Greek literature and mythology as the female followers of the god Dionysus. Here the connection with the deity upon wine, love and music, is emphasised by the grape leaves entangling the figures.