White-ground jug, attributed to the Brygos Painter

Greek, around 490 BC
Made in Athens, Greece; said to be from Locri, Calabria, southern Italy

Spinning the thread of fate?

The finely-dressed woman on this vase is shown in the act of spinning woollen thread. In her raised left hand she holds a distaff on to which clumps of red wool have been pushed. With her right hand, she draws out a strand of wool, the end of which is attached to a hook at the top of the weighted spindle. At the same time she keeps the spindle spinning, so that the strand twists to form a strong thread. As the thread lengthens, the spindle sinks nearer and nearer to the ground. When it touches, the she will have to stop, wind the thread around the spindle, and start again.

Spinning wool and weaving cloth for the family were the principal activities of Athenian women and girls. This vase is said to have been found in a tomb; if it were that of a woman, it could have formed a fitting tribute to her domestic skills.

This vase represents an early and extremely successful experiment in the technique of painting in outline on a white ground. The Brygos Painter worked chiefly in red-figure, mainly painting cups. He was a distinctive painter: characteristic of his personal style are the flat top of the woman's head, the long, straight line of forehead and nose and, in the area behind her right heel, the way the pleats of her chiton (tunic) are not shown when seen from the inside. These same details can be seen on a cup also attributed to the Brygos Painter in The British Museum.

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More information


R. Woff, Bright-eyed Athena (London, 1999)

M. Robertson, The art of vase-painting in Cl (Cambridge, 1992)

J. Boardman, Athenian red figure vases: the (London, Thames and Hudson, 1975)

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


Height: 21.500 cm

Museum number

GR 1873.8-20.304 (Vases D 13)



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