Height: 37.400 cm
GR 1849.6-20.13 (Vase F 151)
Room 69: Greek and Roman life
Red-figured wine bowl (bell-krater), attributed to the McDaniel Painter
Greek, about 380-370 BC
Made in Apulia (modern Puglia), Italy
A scene from a comedy about the centaur Cheiron
Scenes from drama are only occasionally found in Athenian vase painting, but were popular among the Greek colonies of southern Italy. For settlers in a foreign land, going to the theatre and watching performances, both of contemporary work and of the 'classic' tragedies and comedies of fifth-century Athens, was an affirmation of their Greek identity and a way of maintaining cultural traditions.
The old man being pushed and pulled up the steps to the stage is labelled Cheiron, the wise centaur who acted as tutor to the Greek hero Achilles. Achilles may be the nameless young man shown at the right, while the other male characters, one named Xanthias ('red-head'), look like slaves, and the women set above the young man are labelled Nymphs. There are references to several comic plays about Cheiron of both the fourth and the fifth century BC, but it is impossible to identify which, if any of them, is the work shown here.
This painting sheds valuable light on the costumes, props and stage design in use in southern Italy in the fourth century BC. The grotesque masks and the padded costumes with enormous dangling phalluses are also shown on terracotta actor figures of the time.
R. Green and E. Handley, Images of the Greek theatre (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
D. Williams, Greek vases (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)