Terracotta lekythos (oil flask)

Attributed to the Amasis Painter

Period: Archaic

Date: ca. 550–530 B.C.

Culture: Greek, Attic

Medium: Terracotta; black-figure

Dimensions: H. 6 3/4 in. (17.15 cm)

Classification: Vases

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1931

Accession Number: 31.11.10


On this small lekythos (oil flask), the Amasis Painter has depicted a scene of women engaged in various stages of wool working. In the center of the vessel, two women work an upright loom. Weights tied to the ends of the warp threads hold them taut. The woman on the left pushes the weft thread, while her companion separates the warp threads with a headle rod. The finished portion of the woven material is rolled up at the top of the loom. To the right of the loom, three women perform the first step, which consists of weighing the wool taken from a basket; a third woman supervises the operation. Farther to the right, four women spin wool into yarn, while two others fold the finished cloth on a low stool.
The making of textiles was one of the most important occupations for women in ancient Greece. A woman would manufacture the clothing worn by every member of her family, as well as other household textiles. Fine weaving skills were testimony to a woman's industriousness and value. A good weaver was considered an attractive woman, as well as a good wife. Homer describes Penelope, the devoted wife of Odysseus, busy at her loom day after day. This lekythos seems to link weaving with marriage. Just above the loom on the shoulder of the vessel, there is a seated woman holding out her veil in a gesture associated with brides in Greek art.
Such scenes probably render quite accurately the activities of women and men, maidens and youths, in Athens during the sixth century B.C., and the Amasis Painter was one of the foremost black-figure artists active during that time. This lekythos displays the characteristic features of his art—the relatively small scale of the figures, the meticulous precision of the drawing, and the keen observation of details.