- Museum number
- Object: The Hamilton Vase
Pottery: red-figured volute-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water).
Designs red, white, yellow, and purple, on black ground. Round the lip, each side, egg-moulding; underneath, wave-pattern and astragalus. On the neck, (a) above the design, rosettes, alternately open and closed; (b) laurel-wreath and palmettes. Above each design, tongue- and egg-patterns; below, all round, maeander; below the handles, palmettes. The handles terminate below in swans' heads, and above in Gorgoneia; on obverse, white with yellow hair and black ampykes; on reverse, red with black hair and features.
On the neck (a): Female head to the front, inclined to right, resting on the calyx of a flower which branches out on either side into luxuriant tendrils and blossoms; the head painted white with yellow hair, sphendone, earrings, and necklace.
(a) Offerings at heroon: A distyle Ionic heroon painted white, the inner part left red, the beams of the roof being shown in imperfect perspective; in the tympanon of the pediment is a white disk, with six small ones on either side; above are anthemia, and on the base, a spiral pattern in white on red ground between two black bands. In it is the statue of a youth looking to left, standing by the side of his horse, which paws the ground (cf. Pausanias, i. 2, 3); the horse has a top-knot and purple bridle; on the wall at the back hangs a cuirass, yellow with purple lining. The youth's flesh is painted white, and hair yellow, and he has a purple chlamys fastened with a fibula in front, petasos at back of neck, spear in left hand, and white wreath in right. On the left of the heroon below is a female figure leaning forward with left foot on a rock, holding out a mirror in right hand and a wreath in left; her hair is gathered under an embroidered cap, and she wears earrings, necklace, bracelets, long girt chiton, and white shoes. Above her is a youth seated to left, looking back, with wreath, and drapery round thighs, holding out a pilos and embroidered taenia in right hand, in left a spear; his left elbow rests on his shield, which is painted yellow, with red rim. On the right is a female figure to left, with hair in a bunch behind under an embroidered cap, earrings, necklace, bracelets, long girt chiton, white sandals; in left hand a white prochoos, in right a situla, which she is about to place on the base of the heroon. Above her is a youth seated to left, with wreath, and drapery under him, holding in left hand a lustral branch with fruit, in right two large phialae and an embroidered taenia. In the field is an ivy-leaf; ground-lines of white dots throughout. [A similar scene on a similar crater in the Louvre, signed by Lasimos.]
(b) Offerings at stele: The stele is painted white, and stands on a high base on which is a spiral pattern (white on red ground) between black and white bands; along the top are horizontal bands of white with a zigzag pattern in white between, and round the stele are tied a black and a yellow taenia. On the left is a female figure to right, with hair gathered under an open embroidered cap, earrings, necklace, bracelets, long girt chiton, and sandals, holding in right hand a bunch of grapes, in left a tympanon. Above her sits a youth to left, looking back, with fillet, drapery under him, and wreath in left hand, holding up in right hand a pyxis (on which is a cross patee) and an ivy-leaf; in the field, a rosette. On the right, below, is a female figure (attired as the last) approaching the stele, with ivy-leaf in left hand, and in right a large circular basket, the lid of which has fallen on the step of the stele. Above her is a youth seated to left (as the other), with situla in left hand, and a pyxis held up in right ornamented with a pattern of diagonals and white dots; in front of him is a taenia.
- Production date
- 330BC-310BC (circa)
Height: 88.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Jenkins & Sloan 1996
Of all the shapes of Greek vase, the volute-krater was that most admired in the eighteenth century. Wedgwood produced replicas of Hamilton's vase in black basalt and, during the French occupation of Naples, a similar Apulian volute-krater (the name-piece of the Capodimonte Painter, now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York) was smuggled out of Italy and purchased by James Edwards, the wealthy and eccentric bookseller, at the astronomic cost of one thousand guineas. The Hamilton Vase was given star treatment in d'Hancarville's Antiquites Etrusques, Grecques et Romaines (AEGR), being illustrated in no less than three single black-and-white and two double-page coloured engravings. In the black-and-white images the subjects of the vase painting are reversed, which accounts for David Allan's reversing his reproduction of the principal scene in his portrait of 1775 (cat. no. 1). In AEGR d'Hancarville explained the figure in the naiskos as Castor, one of the Dioscuri or twin sons of Zeus, standing in a temple. The identification was made on the basis of Homer's literary epithet for Castor, 'hippodamos' (horse-taming, quoting Iliad 11. 237), and on the basis of a pictorial comparison with the Dioscuri as they are shown on Roman Republican coins. The swan-head protomes ornamenting the shoulders of the vase were ingeniously interpreted by d'Hancarville as betokening the union of Leda and Zeus, who took the form of a swan during the love-making that resulted in the birth of the Dioscuri. The female head on the neck of the vase must, according to d'Hancarville, be Leda herself or her daughter Helen.
D'Hancarville gives a fuller version of the iconography of the vase, as he saw it, in the manuscript catalogue of Hamilton's collection, where he includes the vital information, curiously omitted in AEGR, that it was found at Bari together with another Apulian volute-krater also in the Hamilton collection (BM Vases F282 attributed to the Varrese Painter; see Trendall, RVAp, p. 341, 27). The principal scene of this vase is similar to that of the last, except that the youth, who carries two spears in one hand and a shield in the other, has no horse. D'Hancarville thought the one vase was a companion to the other, and identified the second figure as representing Castor's twin brother, Pollux. Of the two, according to d'Hancarville, Castor is given greater prominence, being celebrated, by virtue of the crown he holds in his right hand, as victor at the Olympic Games. He cites Pausanias as the source for knowledge of Castor's Olympic victory, but omits all the information that might otherwise weaken his argument: Pausanias (Description of Greece, v.7.2) explains that both Castor and Pollux were Olympic victors, the first in a foot-, not a horse-race, the second at boxing, and both were crowned by Herakles. Such was the authority with which d'Hancarville wrote, however, that he seems in this case to have persuaded even the usually more sceptical Winckelmann.
In the fourth volume of d'Hancarville's publication of Hamilton's vases, which appeared some nine years after the first, he revised his interpretation of the scene on the reverse. In the earlier version he saw the central funerary stele as an altar, but in keeping with his later, more developed theory of 'signs' (see p. 50), he now took it for a column, symbolic of Castor, to whom the vase was dedicated.
LITERATURE: AEGR, 1, pls 52-6, commentary in II, p. 163 (pl. 55); iv, pp. 38-9; d'Hancarville, MS Catalogue, 11, pp. 63 ff; Winckelmann (Lodge), pp. 392-3; Trendall/Cambitoglou, RVAp, 11, p. 860, 1, pls 319, 1-2; Jenkins, 1988, p. 455, for Edwards's thousand-guinea volute-krater; Young, pp. 59-60, c6, for Wedgwood's reproduction. NB The sum paid by the British Museum for Hamilton's first collection was not £84,000 as given in this last source but £8,400.
- On display (G73/dc74)
- Acquisition date
- Greek and Roman
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: 1772,0320.14.*