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White-ground lekythos with a scene at a tomb


Height: 33.000 cm

GR 1852.3-2.1 (Vases D 71)

Room 19: Greece: Athens

    White-ground lekythos with a scene at a tomb

    Greek, around 400 BC
    Made in Athens, Greece

    Bringing gifts for a dead woman

    A woman (the dead person, the occupant of the tomb) sits with folded arms on the steps of a tomb monument. Both her attitude and her facial expression suggest dejection and isolation. She does not appear to see the visitors who approach from either side, nor do they look at her. The figure on the right of the tomb is a woman, who carries a large basket on her left arm, with fillets or sashes spilling out of it, while her right hand places a large lekythos, similar in shape to this one, beside the seated woman. Other vessels on the monument must represent the offerings of previous visitors.

    The scene evokes real-life funerary practices in late fifth-century Athens, in particular that of family members or friends visiting the tomb and laying offerings there. Such a scene is especially appropriate for the decoration of a white-ground lekythos, as these vases are found only in or above graves. They contained a perfumed oil which was offered either to the dead person or to the gods of the underworld. Some lekythoi were fitted with a small, inner chamber so that they might appear full, while in reality they contained only a small amount of the expensive oil.

    The figures in this scene are drawn in matt grey outlines, with added washes of colour. Most of the colour was added after firing, and much of it has not survived.

    L. Burn, Looking at Greek vases (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 127-28