Terracotta bell-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water)

Attributed to the Danaë Painter

Period: Classical

Date: ca. 460 B.C.

Culture: Greek, Attic

Medium: Terracotta; red-figure

Dimensions: H. 11 7/8 in. (30.2 cm)
diameter of mouth 13 5/8 in. (34.6 cm)

Classification: Vases

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1923

Accession Number: 23.160.80


Depictions of women in intimate settings, such as on this bell krater, became popular in Attic vase painting in the second half of the fifth century B.C. Here, a woman seated on a cushioned chair plays a type of lyre, while two companions stand before her in rapt attention. The lyre she holds is known as a barbitos and is characterized by longer strings and, therefore, a lower pitch.
The painter of this vase illustrates his talent for depicting unusual poses–the lyre player is in three-quarter view with the back of the instrument turned toward the spectator. One of the listeners leans on her companion's shoulders as though the power of the song has rendered her weak; the other girl raises her hand to her throat as though she too were deeply moved. Although the painter positioned the two listeners at quite some distance from the seated musician, he successfully conveyed a sense of intense listening; the two columns framing the scene reinforce the intimacy of a domestic setting.
Perhaps the women represent the celebrated female poet Sappho with two of her pupils. Sappho is often depicted with a barbitos and in the company of women. Her poetry evokes the intimate mood she created for the circle of women she encouraged and educated.