on reserve

Measurements: 22.5 cm – height, 13 cm - width


Description: A beautiful Apulian pelike with Eros and Kore executed in black slip with red figures, with details emphasized in white pigment. This vase was given to Sir William Hamilton by a former slave from Algeria who thanks to his efforts was sent home free from the court of Ferdinand I, the King of Two Sicilies. On the side A of this wonderful pelike is a depiction of a seated winged Eros holding a large ornate fan. Eros is seated on a rock, leaning to the left, with the fan in his right hand. He is nude, yet wearing intricate beaded chains around his neck, torso and left leg. He is also wearing sandals, bracelets, anklets and earrings. His hair is tied in a bunch and decorated with an open beaded cap. Behind him, a plant with berries springs up and above him to the left side there is an ornate taenia and to the right a bunch of grapes.


On the side B, we find a Kore moving to the left, her lively stance indicated by the drapery of her long girt chiton. She is wearing white sandals, a necklace and her hair is gathered under a beaded open cap. In her right hand she is holding a mirror from which a taenia hangs and in her outstretched left hand she holds a phiale with fruits and cakes. As scene fillers on this side, we can observe a bunch of grapes above her and a rosette to her right. The scenes on this vase are framed with palmettes. On the neck is a band of four rosettes on each side. Below the scenes is a wavy border.


This vase features a standard depiction found on of the Apulian pelikes of the second half of 4th century BC. Eros in company of a young Kore, with various attributes dedicated to adornment, music and ritual celebrations are characteristic for this particular shape of pottery. Even the scene fillers such as rosettes, grapes, taeniae, berry and myrtle springs appear with regularity on most of the painted pelikes in the British Museum. What is distinctive about this particular vase is its astonishing provenance, which dates back to the end of the 18th century. 


Provenance: This vase has a provenance dating to 1796, which is a remarkable even for museum-quality pieces. The vase comes with a letter (pictured), for Sir William Hamilton, signed and dated to December of 1796.  It is written by a former slave from Algeria in Italian, on both sides, with accompanying text in English written by Sir William Hamilton, a British diplomat, antiquarian, archaeologist and volcanologist who served as British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples from 1764 to 1800. On the letter, Sir Hamilton noted in English that this was a “Thanks from an Algerian slave who by my doings was sent home free by His Sicilian Majesty” (Ferdinand I, King of Two Sicilies). The handwritten letter in elegant cursive by the former slave as follows: “Excellency, I would miss the duties of the most perfect gratitude, if I did not take advantage of the departure, of Mr F. Widau, an agent of His British Majesty. I requested this prince of mine, prime mover, to give thanks to Your Excellency for my freedom, from His Sicilian Majesty. Algiers, 25th of December 1796.” The back of the letter features the aforementioned note by Sir Hamilton and the address written by the former slave: “To His Excellency, Mr Hamilton, Ambassador of His British Majesty. Naples”


William Hamilton began collecting Greek vases and other antiquities as soon as he arrived in Naples, obtaining them from dealers or other collectors, or even opening tombs himself. In 1766–67 he published a volume of engravings of his collection entitled ‘Collection of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman antiquities from the cabinet of the Honble. Wm. Hamilton, His Britannick Maiesty's envoy extraordinary at the Court of Naples’. During his first leave in 1771 Hamilton arranged the sale of his collection to the British Museum. In 1798, as Hamilton was about to leave Naples, he packed up his art collection and a second vase collection and sent them back to England. A small part of the second vase collection went down with HMS Colossus off the Scilly Isles. The surviving part of the second collection was catalogued for sale at auction at Christie's when at the eleventh hour Thomas Hope stepped in and purchased the collection of mostly South Italian vases. Hamilton was also famous for his scandalous marriage to Lady Emma Hamilton who was openly a mistress and a great love of Lord Nelson. All three lived openly together and Emma had a daughter with Lord Nelson. For the short remainder of Nelson's life (and following Sir William's death in 1803) Emma and Nelson lived together as husband and wife in a small house in Merton. In his will, Nelson entrusted Emma's care to the nation but this was ignored by George III and his government. With her working class roots, questionable past and penchant for self-display Emma was an embarrassment. Left unsupported, she fled to Calais, where she died of alcoholism.


Ex. London auction house sale (in 2006) to the previous owner, a collector of Greek vases.


References: The British Museum

The British Museum

Further reading: Greek Vases in The J. Paul Getty Museum

Eros the mediator: Persuasion and seduction in pursuit, courting and wedding scenes


Period: 340-300 BC


Condition: Very fine, intact. No traces of restoration to the piece. Traces of encrustations and minor crazing to the surface. Some discolouration of the black slip all over surfaces as a result of the firing process.

About us | Antiquities | Contact us

St James’s Ancient Art

           Ground Floor

           10 Charles II Street

           St James

           London SW1Y 4AA

         Monday - Friday,

           10 am - 6 pm


(primary contact number)

              +44 2083644565

G E T   S O C I A L   W I T H   US