Attributed to the Persephone Painter
Terracotta; H. 16 1/8 in. (41 cm)
Fletcher Fund, 1928 (28.57.23)
Obverse: The return of Persephone
Reverse: Libation scene
Persephone was condemned to spend one-third of every year with the ruler of the Underworld, Hades, as his wife. She passed the rest among the living with her mother Demeter. Here Persephone (Kore), shown in profile, ascends to earth through a rocky outcrop. With the right hand raised in a gesture of greeting, she gazes across to a solemn Demeter awaiting her at the far right. Richly draped as a young bride, Persephone wears a necklace with pendants and a high diadem adorned with palmettes and lotus flowers befitting her role as queen of the Underworld. Hermes stands behind the maiden in full frontal view and somewhat remote, having completed his mission to lead her out of Hades. In front of them, Hekate, goddess of crossroads and magic, lights Persephone’s path with two torches, whose flames, now faint, were once painted red. On the reverse, a woman, with hair gathered in a headscarf (sakkos) and holding an oinochoe, is about to fill the phiale of the man on her right for a libation. The man wears a long himation and a fillet, while another man, similarly dressed and holding a spear, looks on.
The figures on this vase share the monumentality of the contemporary Parthenon pediments not only in style but also in the restrained expression of emotion. Several features reveal the painter’s exceptional skill in composition and draftsmanship: experimentation with bold poses and foreshortening as well as utilization of strong diagonals and sharp angles to accentuate movement, as in the case of Hekate’s torches and body.
The krater preserves one of the most significant representations of the return of Persephone to the upper world. The story symbolizes the return of life on earth with the coming of spring. It is part of the foundation myth of the Eleusinian mysteries as related in the Homeric hymn to Demeter. We know that the cult of the two goddesses at Eleusis included a ritual search for Kore with torches during night time. The scene may also echo the Thesmophoria, an important women’s festival in honor of Demeter and Kore celebrated by mothers and married daughters throughout the Greek world. Interestingly, at Athens, the first day of this festival was called anodos (ascent).