Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Classroom Connections: Formal Analysis of an Attic Black Figure Neck Amphora

Dr. Kris Belden Adams brought her intersession Art History 201- History of Western Art class to the Museum last week for an introduction to the David M. Robinson Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities as well as a talk by collections manager Marti Funke about the challenges of preserving a classical collection. Below is a student response to one of the pieces in the collection.

Quinith Kipchumba
Paper Assignment
AH 201 – History of Western Art
12 January 2015

Warrior between horsemen
Woman, bearded man, youth departing
Neck Amphora (540-530 BCE)

Viewed at The University of Mississippi Museum David M. Robinson Memorial Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities (January 7, 2015)

A Formal Analysis of an Attic Black Figure Neck Amphora
            The David M. Robinson Memorial Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities is considered one of kind for its varied collection. The items range from wall and floor plaster fragments to everyday items like candles and children’s toys. Each piece allows us to understand the every day lives of Greek and Romans citizens. During the sixth century BCE Athenian pottery tended to focus on multiple facets of Greek culture including but not limited to: athletics, warfare, and mythology. Pottery vessels provided a lens into the Greek value system, gender role norms, culture, and habits.
Neck amphorae were often decorated in the black-figure style and were used for storing wine, food, or oil. A neck amphora type vessel is characterized by two handles, a clearly defined neck and in this case, an obvious ‘shoulder’ region – where the neck meets the body at an angle. The black-figure style originated in Corinth from approximately 700 to 500 BCE. This vessel is dates back to around 540 BCE. It is illustrated on the front with a warrior wearing a large shield flanked by two horsemen.  On the back of the vase, there is an image of a woman and a bearded figure next to a departing youth. The male figures – the warrior, horsemen, bearded man, and youth – are detailed in red while the female figure is depicted in a pale yellow. Other objects and animals, like the horses and the shield are also detailed in red.
Decorative registers divide the two compositions – a common theme in Greek and Roman pottery. There is a palmettes lotus chain motif on the neck of the amphorae; the pattern looks like beautiful plant life growing and the vase. On the foot of the amphorae there is a geometric key pattern motif, and below it, ornamental rays rise up and create a sense of drama. The figures are centered on the vessel within these registers that provide a natural frame. The vessel stands at approximately 15-18 inches tall and although the image of the woman, bearded man, and departed youth are slightly faded, it is considered to be in excellent condition. The figures have an element of naturalism even though they are drawn very simply. The horses are drawn facing the viewer and they dominate one side of the vase while the warrior is drawn in profile. The size of the horses and the size of the shield carried by the warrior in the middle dominate the composition on the front of the vase. The figures atop the horses are small and drawn very similarly, almost as if they are in uniform. The plume on the warrior’s helmet also stands out. All of these features work together to create a sense of strength in the face of battle.

The Greeks and Romans used pottery for utilitarian and ceremonial purposes. Highly decorative pieces tended to be reserved for important events; they were often presented as prizes to the winners of athletic events. The piece being discussed may have been an athletic trophy; however, such vessels were generally larger and would depict figures participating in sports and athletic feats. Wide-mouthed, painted amphorae were often used as wine decanters during social gatherings – wine being an ever-present drink in Classical culture. The representation of war related images imply that this vessel was used for entertaining purposes and used primarily by men.

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