Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Classroom Connections: Students Respond to Greek and Roman Art

The following essays were the top essays from Dr. Kris Belden-Adams's Intro to the History of Western Art, Part I Intersession class. The students visited the David M. Robinson Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the UM Museum and wrote responses to several works in the collection.

Congratulations to Angelique McCrary and Walker Oglesby!

Angelique McCrary
Art 201
Dr. Kris Belden Adams
January 11, 2016

The Hydria stands next to the Lebe Gamikos. A Greek red figure ceramic which was used to hold holy water that was used in wedding ceremonies. (Lebe Gamikos, Gallery 1977.3.91) This lovely piece, Hydria, was created around 440-420 BCE. (Hydria, Gallery 1977.3.100) However it is not known for sure what the Hydria was used for. From the shape of this piece it was most likely a pitcher used for wine or water. According to the museum speaker, it could have been a gift to the daughter after the wedding to remind her of that day. Today that custom has not died, contrary to belief it can be seen in many cultures but in different forms.
            The Hydria is a medium sized red figure pitcher. Red figure is a technique used by the ancient Greeks. This means the painter first covers the piece in slip then cuts out the image with a sharp tool. According to Art a Brief History, Slip is a mixture of clay and water that is fired on top of the clay piece. (Art a Brief History, p. 108)
            The Greeks could use the handle in the back of the Hydria or horizontal handles on the sides. It has a small opening at the top for the water to pour out. From observation, the neck is about three inches long and the body is about eight inches wide. It is half as tall of the Lebe Gamikos which has a small bowl standing on a long stand. Unlike the Lebe Gamikos, the Hydria has a big bowl and a small stand.
 The narrative wraps only on the front of the Hydria framed by geometric squares top and bottom of the picture. The geometric squares form a line around the front.  In the squares there are patterns in each of them. Such as tiny squares in black slip and red. Others have small leaf like lines painted in the middle of the square. At the base and lip of the neck, half arches wrap around either black or red. The handles are in black slip with no decoration.
            As you look closely, the women stand out on the pitcher because of the red figure technique. Their skin, hair, and clothes are chipped out of the black slip. Not only did painters cut out details, they would use a small brush to paint on the smaller details. (Art a Brief History, p. 108) It can be seen throughout this piece. Especially in the hair, clothes and face. Very thin lines adorn the hair curving to the shape of probably the latest hair style.  The texture of the Hydria’s the top coat is glossy black with some wear from over the years giving areas a marble effect. Since the figures and background are cut out from the glossy slip, the material underneath has a sandy texture.
However, the proportions of the figures do not fit on the Hydria perfectly. The heads of the figures slope into the base of the neck which distorts them a little. Perhaps the artist did this because they did not have enough room for the body and head. The figures are flat looking along with the clothes since there is no shadows.   
Ancient Greek attire is worn by the women. The women wear dresses that flow to the ground. Some wear jewelry around their necks. Every woman’s hair is worn up in the latest style of that time.  Most importantly, the bride’s dress is the most detailed than the others. The scene behind them is of the ancient Greek homes with curtains, house plants, columns.  
             On the front of the Hydria is a narrative of a young bride and some of her friends. This piece seems to portray the bride after her wedding. The bride sits in front of the room as her mother stands behind her chair watching friends mingle in the room. The other women turn left toward the bride and her mother giving their undivided attention. For that day she is the most important person. The mother raised the young woman and is now letting go of her.
When Greek painters wanted to show the main person of the story they would make them larger, more elaborate, or have other figures pointing towards them. An example is Krater with the death of Sarpedon. A red figure punch bowl created around 515 BCE. The narrative of this piece is based on Homer’s Iliad story. Sarpedon, a demigod, is being carried to the underworld after being killed by a Greek warrior, Patroklus. ( Art A Brief History, p. 109) The demigod is covered in blood and the figures that on the krater all look at him. The crane stands in the room to the side looking away from the bride. It could mean the bride and her husband will have a long journey ahead of them. In Greek culture cranes are seen as good luck because they mate for life. (Hydria, 1977.3.100)  The crane is red with little detail. Hydria has the mood of a joyous event because of the theme and the activity of the room.
When I saw this piece I enjoyed what it could stand for. A gift for the bride from the mother. The love the bride receives from her family and friends being with her preparing her for the next journey in life. Which I believe is needed to survive in life. The artist portrayed the scene wonderfully with the positions of the women and the crane. It is very interesting the artist added the beautiful bird because of it symbolism. Forever with the man she married on a journey.   Seeing their customs throughout this piece, the ancient Greek ceremonies is like a window into a fascinating world we no longer seen today.

Works Cited

Cothren, Stokstad and. "Art A Brief History." Art A Brief History. London: Laurence King Publishing , 2016. 108-109.
 Hydria, c. 440-420 BCE, Gallery 1977.3.100
Lebe Gamikos, 450-440 BCE, Gallery 1977.3.91


Walker Oglesby
Dr. Beldon-Adams
Art History 101
10 January 2015

Herakles and the Boar

Sometimes even the strongest people have weaknesses. Some things require more than just physical strengths, they may require intellect, wisdom, charisma, etc. All of an individuals’ strengths can help them survive and do tasks that normal people couldn’t. One such individual that can do almost anything is the Greek demigod Herakles. Herakles is said to be the son of the mighty Greek god Zeus. The Antimenes Painter, a Greek vase painter between 540-510 BCE, depicts Herakles doing a daunting task. The vase paining does not have a set name but many call it Herakles, Eurystheus and the Erymanthian Boar. The neck amphora, a vase which handles are attached to the neck, is said to be from 540-520 BCE (Museum Label 77.3.63). The vase is painted in the black-figure style, it was of norm for the time period for the background of the painting/vase to be red but in this instance it appears to be orange; probably the cause of 2500 plus years of aging. In the painting Herakles is holding the huge boar over his head while, Eurystheus hides in fear of the beast in his storage container pleading with Herakles to take it away. This neck amphora painting is trying to depict the utter strength and the lack of fear
Herakles has that even a king would not dream of having.

The strength of Herakles was coveted by even some of the gods and goddesses. Hera, wife and sister of Zeus, sought to ruin the hero’s life because of Herakles being Zeus’s bastard and her jealousy of his fame and heroism. Hera eventually drove him so insane he killed his own wife and children. Once Herakles was cured of his insanity he looked for forgiveness of his grave sins and asked Apollo, the Greek god of the Sun, what he could do to be forgiven. Apollo told him that if he is to be forgiven he must serve 12 years under Eurystheus, King of Tiryns and Mycenae. Thus giving us the 12 Labors of Herakles we know of today. All 12 labors no human could accomplish yet Herakles, sometimes with the needed help of gods and goddesses who favored him, accomplished all 12. These 12 labors helped Herakles be the most famous and respected hero in all of Greek and even Roman empires. The vase illustrates the end of fourth labor; the fourth labor is given to Herakles by Eurystheus and he instructs Herakles to bring the mighty Erymanthian Boar to him alive. The boar had killed many Greeks as well as animals; anything that stood in its path would be killed by its enormous tusks that protruded from his mouth. Herakles chased the animal around and around a mountain until it got winded, then drove him into a patch of snow and caught him with a net. He then carries the heavy boar all the way to Mycenae. The part of the story that the neck amphora pictures is the scene where Herakles tries to give/show the vigorous boar to Eurystheus and Eurystheus smartly hides in astonishment and fear of both the boar and even more so of Herakles himself.
            Herakles, Eurystheus and the Erymanthian Boar is a beautiful display of art on a neck amphora, made with a black-figure style by one of the best known vase painters in Greek history. The painting composite is unique compared to most black-figure of the time period. The mouth of the amphora is black as well as the handles that come from the body to the neck of the vase. The neck has an orange background with clear bead-like images across the middle of the neck and on both sides of the beads or bubbles is a five finger branch or flower. There is a column like
structure that is between each flower and makes rows. This pattern is repeated around the whole neck of the amphora. From left on the body of the amphora we see a striped black and orange pattern on both the top and bottom. In between these patterns and to the far left there appears to be a vine with spiral scrolls on the top and bottom of the vine with the same five finger flower as the one circling the neck. The same patterned vine is found on the far right side as well. These are all decorative styles to fill in the empty space behind the story. These feminine décor with flowers and vines also adds to Herakles’s masculinity and strength.
The first character we see in the painting is some kind of jester holding a guitar. The jester looks to be showing Herakles, who is the next character in this piece, to the king,Eurystheus. Herakles is the biggest character in this paining and is the only one not clothed. Herakles is very defined and muscular, he is holding the boar over his shoulders. Herakles has a sword in his sheath and has a red beard. One of his muscular legs is on the container, that is half in the ground, that the king is cowering in. It looks almost like Herakles is trying to intimidate the king and intimidated he should be. A man killing beast is in his face and the person holding it is naked and the biggest man he has ever seen. The king is in a vase like container begging Herakles to leave with the beast. The king himself is even smaller than Herakles, you can tell by the size of his head and arms that are not in the container. You would never see this in Egyptian or Mesopotamian art where the ruler would always be bigger than everyone else regardless if they are a hero or part god. Behind or to the right of the king is a guard. This guard is odd though, he is the only character that isn't black-figure; he’s a white figure. He is wearing a black dress/skirt with red and orange designs running down his legs. In the middle of the designs are golden stars that trickle down. Could be a female character, would make sense of the dress and pale skin. Yet the white figure is holding a shield with a dolphin on it and has something that looks like a spear coming from where his hand would be. The guard also seems to be wearing a long thick feather on his head that sticks out like antlers. It’s hard to make out what sex this guard is. He is standing directly over the king and looking down at him. All characters besides the boar are looking down at the king in the container. Most cultures art are done the exact opposite ways as this, the king is always the biggest and highest character. In this neck amphora Herakles is figuratively and literally the centerpiece of this artwork.

This vase was made to show the bravery and strength of Herakles. It is done with constant reminders, the size and strength of Herakles, the king cowering in fear of Herakles and the boar, the size of the boar on his back and its mean looking eyes, the feminine decor, and Herakles’s nudity, which only gods tended to be depicted as. This exquisite painting shows how Greek’s view Herakles and their gods, better than any of the living even the king or emperor. Whether he was more man or more god it is clear that Herakles was one to be reckoned with and a hero all men aspired to be.

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