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Red-figured water jar (hydria), signed by Meidias as potter


Height: 52.500 cm

Hamilton Collection

GR 1772.3-20.30* (Vase E 224)

Room 19: Greece: Athens

    Red-figured water jar (hydria), signed by Meidias as potter

    Greek, about 420-400 BC
    From Athens, Greece

    Scenes from Greek mythology

    The figures on this hydria are divided into two zones. The upper zone illustrates the abduction of the daughters of Leukippos by the Dioskouroi, Kastor and Polydeukes (Castor and Pollux). Aphrodite, goddess of love, sits in the lower part of the scene, clearly conniving in the abduction. Her attendant Peitho, goddess of Persuasion, flees from the scene, but Aphrodite and Zeus, father of the Dioskouroi, do not seem moved. The scene in the lower zone shows Herakles performing his final Labour, receiving the golden apples of the Hesperides from the nymphs responsible for guarding the tree in a garden at the end of the earth.

    Both scenes are remarkable for their peaceful treatment of violent subjects. Other versions of the story of the daughters of Leukippos show the daughters struggling to free themselves. Here, they seem more concerned with displaying their beautiful clothing in the most elegant way possible. Similarly, earlier illustrations of Herakles's final Labour show him fighting a terrible serpent. Here the nymphs seem perfectly happy to surrender their apples, while the serpent coils limply and unthreateningly round the tree. This softened mood, along with the delicate treatment of the drapery, is very characteristic of late fifth-century Athenian vase painting.

    This vase was the finest in the first collection of Greek vases formed by Sir William Hamilton and sold to the British Museum in 1772. It appears with other antiquities at Hamilton's side in the portrait of him painted in the studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, now in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Artists of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries often copied groups of figures from the vase to decorate walls, furniture, silverware and pottery. Josiah Wedgwood, for example, quoted from it on his 'First Day's Vases'.

    L. Burn, The Meidias painter (Oxford, 1987)

    D. Williams, Greek vases (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)


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    On display: Room 19: Greece: Athens

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