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The Meidias Hydria

  • Object type

  • Museum number

    1772,0320.30.+

  • Title (object)

    • The Meidias Hydria
  • Description

    Pottery: red-figured hydria (water-jar).
    (1) The carrying off of the Leukippides. In the centre of the scene, on a high level, is a xoanon (wooden cult image) of a goddess (Chryse ?) en face, on a pedestal, holding up the left hand, palm outward, and holding out in the right a fluted phiale; the statue is stiff and archaic in form, with legs close together and elbows at side, and wears a long tied chiton decorated like those of the Dioscuri, and a radiated polos decorated with egg pattern. On each side of the head are drawn wavy lines indicating hair (?); and below the arms hang the ends of a fringed mantle. The pedestal is damaged, but it appears to have been in the form of an Ionic capital. On each side of this statue is a quadriga. That on the left is the chariot of Polydeukes, who drives it at full speed away to left, standing in it with Helera, whom he has seized; she holds the front rail with her right hand, and is further supported by the right arm of Polydeukes, who holds in that hand the goad, and in each hand a pair of reins; he wears a short tied chiton, elaborately decorated with palmettes, maeander, egg pattern, and two laurel-wreaths, and a mantle decorated with stars floats back from his arms; above him, his name, ΠΟΛYΔYΚΤΗΣ, Πολυδεύκ(τ)ης. Helera with her left raises from her shoulder part of a short mantle decorated with stars, and her head is bowed as if in grief; she wears a long chiton with apoptygma, a necklace, earrings, bracelets, and a radiated stephane decorated with egg pattern. Over her her name, ΕΛΕΡΑ, Έλερα. The car of the chariot is richly decorated with palmettes and egg patterns; the horses have beaded bridles and collars decorated with egg pattern; their manes are coloured with a wash of yellow; the corona of hair at the junction of each leg with the belly is treated decoratively, like a sprig of foliage; the nearest horse has a cross branded on the upper part of the flank, which has been covered with minute dots. The third horse turns its head to right; the chariot-pole, with its ζνγον, is drawn between this and the fourth horse. At the foot of the statue is a group of Castor seizing the other Leukippid Eriphyle; she tries vainly to escape to right, raising her skirt with her right, and with her left raising her mantle beside her head; but Castor, standing firmly on a rocky hillock, clasps her with both hands locked around her waist, and head resting against her right shoulder. Castor is dressed like his brother; his chlamys is fastened with a brooch on the chest, and he wears sandals of open work; Eriphyle is dressed as Helera, but has a double sphendone decorated with net and maeander, and plain sandals. Above this group is inscribed ΚΑΣΣΤΩΡ, Κάσστωρ; on the right, ΕΡIΦUΛΗ, Έριφύλη. On the upper level, to the right of the statue, the quadriga of Castor stands ready to right, and in it the charioteer Chrysippos, dressed as Castor, but without chlamys, in three-quarter face to left, looking on, holding reins and goad; he is beardless and of youthful appearance; above him his name, XPYΣIPPOΣ, Χρύσιππος; the chariot and horses are like those of Polydeukes, and the horses paw the ground impatiently. The lowest level is occupied with a group of spectators: in the centre is an altar having an Ionic capital with necking of egg pattern and three splashes of blood on the drum; against this Aphrodite is seated on raised ground on left, leaning back; she turns round to look at the scene last described, resting her left against the altar, and raising her right to arrange her hair; she wears a long chiton with studded sleeves, a mantle around her legs, earrings, a necklace of pendant beads, bracelets, and a headdress like that of Eriphyle; over her her name, ΑΦΡΟΔΙΤΗ, Άφροδίτη. Beside her Chryseis, dressed as Eriphyle, crouches seated on her heels to right, making with her left a lap of her chiton, which is filled with fruits; she looks up towards Castor, raising her right in surprise; above her, her name, XPYΣEIΣ, Χρυσηΐς. On the extreme left Zeus, seated on a rock to right, with right foot crossed over left, looks on; he is bearded and wreathed with laurel, and has a mantle with maeander border round his legs; a sceptre rests along his right arm, and his left rests on his lap; above him his name, IEYΣ, Ζεύς. The hair between his breasts is decoratively treated as a sprig of foliage. To him runs Agave, an older woman in a bordered Doric chiton with apoptygma tied, earrings, bracelets, necklace of pendant beads, and radiated stephane; she looks round in three-quarter face to right, raising, with a hand over each shoulder, a bordered mantle decorated with stars, which has at the lower edge a long fringe, indicated in purple strokes, now almost faded; above her, ΑΓΑYΗ, Αγαύη. On the extreme right Peitho runs away to right, looking back, holding with right arm extended and left over her shoulder her bordered mantle; she wears a chiton with apoptygma and ornaments like Aphrodite; her hair is knotted behind with a beaded fillet; above her, her name, ΡΕΙΘΩ, Πειθώ. All the women except Aphrodite and Agave have a band passed round each shoulder; this may be part of the girdle, and intended to keep it from slipping down. Beside the altar and at each extremity of the lower level, is a laurel bush, and flowers spring from various parts of the ground.
    (2) The lower frieze of figures falls into two main groups, corresponding with the two side handles.
    (2a) Occupying the front, Heracles in the garden of the Hesperides. In the centre is an apple-tree with bare trunk and a few branches with apples at the top: around it, along the trunk, a serpent is twined, which turns its head to left towards Chrysothemis, who, raising an edge of drapery from her side with her left, advances to pluck an apple with her right; she wears a Doric chiton with apoptygma, jewellery, and a sphendone decorated with chequers; over her, XPYΣOΘEMIΣ, Χρνσόθεμις. Behind her, and leaning left arm on her shoulders and right hand on her side, stands Asterope, with left foot drawn back; she is dressed like Peitho, but has no mantle; over her, AΣTEPOPH, Άσστερόπη. Next, on left is Hygieia seated on a hillock to left, but looking round in three-quarter face to right; with her right she lifts an edge of drapery from her shoulder; along her left she has a sceptre; she is dressed like Agave; over her, YΓΙΕΑ, Υγίε(ί)α. On the left Clytios stands to right, bending forward with left arm resting on raised left knee: round his left arm a mantle is twisted, and two spears rest against it; he raises his right as if addressing Chrysothemis; over him, KΛYTIOΣ, Κλντιος; behind him a laurel bush, which closes the scene on this side. On the right of the apple-tree is Lipara moving towards the tree, with an apple in her left hand; she is dressed like Agave, and turns in three-quarter face to right, raising with her right the drapery on her shoulder and looking at Heracles, who is seated to left on a lion skin behind her; over her, ΛΙΠΑΡΑ, Λιπάρα. Between her and Heracles is a laurel bush. Heracles is beardless, and has a sword hanging from a cross-belt; he rests his right on his club and his left on the lion-skin; over him, ΗΡΑΚΛΗΣ, 'Ηρακλής. Behind him Iolaos moves away to right, looking back; he has a long chlamys fastened with brooch on chest, petasos at back, sword at waist, and open-work sandals, and holds two spears upright in his right hand; over him, ΙΟΛΕΩΣ, Ίολεως.
    (2b) Athenian tribal heroes. Seven male figures are grouped in various attitudes, and at each end are women. Next to Iolaos in the last scene come three women moving to right; foremost is Helera (Hilaeira) in Doric chiton with apoptygma, and hair knotted behind with a beaded fillet; over her, ΕΛΕPΑ, Έλέρα; she looks back at Medea, who follows, dressed in a long chiton decorated with dotted circles, a wreath, bands of egg pattern, and a broad central stripe black with M-shaped purple marks, a mantle like that of Agave, a beaded girdle, and a kidaris decorated with stars; with her right she raises her mantle from her shoulder; on her left she has a rectangular box; over her, ΜΗΔΕΑ, Μηδε(ί)α. Last comes Arniope, with long chiton and apoptygma and double sphendone, jewellery, and right hand on hip; over her, ΑΡΝΙΟΠΗ, Άρνιόπη. The heroes fall into three groups: first on left are Philoctetes and Acamas, confronted. Philoctetes wears a long bordered chlamys fastened on the chest, and open-work sandals, and holds two spears upright in his right hand; over him, ΦΙΛΟΚΤΗΤΗΣ, Φιλοκτήτης. Acamas is seated, with left leaning on a rock and a sceptre resting against his right knee and arm; he is bearded, and wears a broad fillet and shoes, and a mantle which leaves only the chest bare and is passed over the back of the head; over him, AKAMAΣ, Άκάμας. Next on right is a group of three youths: first Hippothon, with mantle over his arms, two spears resting against his left arm, sandals, sword at waist, and right hand resting on his hip; over him, ΙΠΠΟΘΩΝ, Ιπποθόων; he looks to right at Antiochos, who is nude, and seated on a mantle to left, holding up his right as if conversing; his right foot rests on higher ground than the left, and the right elbow rests upon it; over him, ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΣ, Άντίοχος; behind him Clymenos, with chlamys on left arm and shoulder, sword at waist, and two spears under left arm, moving away to right, looking back and extending right arm towards Hippothon; over him, ΚΛΥΜΕΝΟΣ, Κλύμενος. Next on right is Oineus dressed as Iolaos, with two spears sloped over his left shoulder; over him, ΟΙΝ.YΣ, Oίv[ε]ύς; he moves to right, extending his right towards Demophon, who stands en face, but looks to left, pointing downwards with his right at the feet of Oineus; he wears petasos at back, a mantle over both arms, and holds upright with his left a pair of spears; over him, ΔΗΜΟΦΩΝ, Δημοφών. Last is a woman, Chrysis, seated on high ground to left, leaning on her left, and holding up her right as if beckoning to Oineus; she wears a long chiton with double side band, a broad stephane, and jewellery; over her, XPVΣIΣ, Χρνσίς.
    Later fine style. Gilding on a raised ground has been used for jewellery, laurel-berries, fruit, and details on the statue; also the centres of the palmettes round the neck. The flesh of the statue is white with brownish details; the colour has faded from its drapery and phiale, but it was probably gilt. Purple is used for inscriptions, some fruits, hair of statue, and fringes of garments. Brown inner markings, and for shading of altar, and other details throughout, and for throwing into relief the deeper folds of drapery. The hair is drawn in wavy strokes of thinned black on a brown wash. Ground-lines and flowers, &c, lightly incised in the black varnish, the leaves being in some cases indicated by minute incised strokes on each side of the stalk. This incising seems to have been executed subsequent to the laying in of the purple, as in the case of the names Agave and Chryseis the incised lines pass over and through the letters. The face is in six instances drawn in three-quarter view, and an attempt is made to give expression (e.g. in face of Polydeukes) by wrinkles in the forehead. The body of the vase is divided into parts by a band composed of sets of three maeanders separated by dotted chequer squares, which just touches the lower part of the side handles. Above this is 1, below it 2, and below 2 a similar band. Round the neck, a band of palmettes laid obliquely to right; round the lip and round each handle, egg pattern. Below the back handle, a palmette springs from the upper band, and from it branches on each side a long tendril with another palmette and a flower at end. On the shoulder of the vase is an inscription.

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  • Producer name

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 420BC-400BC (circa)
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Ware

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 52.1 centimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

        inscription
      • Inscription Content

        ΜΕΙΔΙΑΣ EΠΟΙΗΣΕΝ, Mεδιας έποίησεν.
      • Inscription Translation

        Medias made it.
  • Curator's comments

    BM Cat. Vases

    D'Hancarviile, i, pll. 127-30, ii, pl. 22; Maisonneuve, Introd. pl. 3; Millin, Gal. Myth. pl. 94, fig. 385; Inghirami, Mon. Etr. v, pll. 11-12; Gerhard in Berlin Abhandl. 1839, pll. i-ii, p. 295; Gesammelte Abh. pll. 13-14; and in Trans. Roy. Soc. Lit. 2nd ser. vol. i. (1843), p. 192 (plate); Guigniaut, Nouv. Gal. Myth. pl. 187bis (737 a), and foll.; Harrison and Verrall, p. 161, fig. 37 (upper scene); Daremberg and Saglio, s.v. Dioscuri, p. 251, fig. 2430 (gives 1); Roscher, s.v. Hesperiden, p. 2602, gives 2a; Wiener Vorlegebl. iv, 1-2; Klein, Meislersig.2 p. 204; Arch. Zeit. 1852, p. 437; 1854, p. 299; 1856, p. 190; 1858, p. 129; Brunn, Künstlergesch. ii, p. 706; Rhein. Mus. N. F. 30, p. 529; Comm. Mommseni, p. 178; Jahn, Arch. Aufs. p. 132; Overbeck, Kunstmyth. (Zeus), p. 182, no. v; Luckenbach, Verhältniss, p. 514, note 3; Robert, Bild. und Lied, p. 40, note 50; Kretschmer, Vaseninschr. p. 116 and p. 145; Class. Rev. 1888, p. 123: J.H.S. vol. 13, p. 119; C.I.Gr. 8487.
    Gerhard's publication was the first to give the inscriptions, which had previously not been noted.
    For Chryse, see Class. Rev. 1888, p. 123. For Helera, see Kretschmer, op. cit. p. 208.
    For the subject of 1, cf. Paus. i, 18, 1: ‘The picture of the marriage of the daughters of Leukippos in which the Dioscuri were concerned’ (in the Anakeion at Athens) ‘is by Polygnotos.’ The statue is regarded (Baumeister, i, p. 452) as that of Artemis, and as marking the locality as Limnatis in Messenia: cf. Ephem. Archceol. 1885, pl. 5, 1 a; Jahrbuch, i (1886), pl. 10, 2, and ii. (1887), p. 271; and for a general discussion of the vase paintings with this subject, Roscher, s.v. Leukippiden, p. 1993.
    For various views as to the explanation of scene 2a, cf. Roscher, s.v. Jason, p. 34.
    With scene 2b may be compared the mention by Paus., i, 5, 1, of the statues at Athens of the eponymous tribal heroes; these statues were grouped with others of heroes not eponymous. The name Acamas was formerly read Α[ίητη]ς; Robert, loc. cit., proposed Α[τλα]ς. The inscriptions, since the vase was cleaned, are all perfectly legible.Jenkins & Sloan 1996

    This vase, also known as the Meidias Hydria, was, together with the volute-krater (GR 1772.3-20.14* - BM Vases F284), the most celebrated vase of Hamilton's first collection. In addition to the usual manner of reproducing the figured scenes in AEGR, d'Hancarville had the painter L. Pecheux, whom he had consulted on matters relating to the ancient technique of vase-painting translate the scene on the shoulder into a remarkable trompe l'oeil, showing the figures standing in a landscape, those at the front highlighted with lead white. (See Jenkins & Sloan 1996, p. 180 for the image.) His stated purpose was to give artists the opportunity of seeing what use they could make of vase-paintings as models, by abstracting and correcting the figures from them. In the main text of AEGR, moreover, d'Hancarville discusses the vase in the same breath as he mentions Raphael, and it seems clear that his intention in commissioning a more painterly version of it was to put before the viewer an impression of what it might have looked like, had it been Raphael's own work. The strange luminosity of the picture, which was engraved by Carmine Pignatari, the flatness of the landscape and the hard edge of the division between the ground and the black 'sky' beyond, is curiously suggestive to modern eyes of television pictures of the American moon landings of the 1960s. Much artistic licence was used in adapting the scene and much is altered in the process.
    D'Hancarville correctly interpreted the frieze around the belly of the vase as showing Herakles in the Garden of the Hesperides. Herakles is the figure seated on his lion skin to right of centre, his right arm supported by a club. Close to the centre is the tree that bore the golden apples, the fruit Herakles has come to fetch out of the Garden of the Hesperides, nymphs of the evening. Two of them are shown to the left, and one more to the right of the tree, which is guarded by a scaly serpent. These and the other mythological figures ranged to right and left were identified by their names, written above them. D'Hancarville was unaware of this, and his identification of the other figures in the scene as the daughters of Atlas and the Argonauts is mere guesswork.
    D'Hancarville was similarly unaware that the subject of the scene on the shoulder of the vase, the carrying away of the daughters of Leucippus by Castor and Polydeuces, the twin sons of Zeus, could be identified by its inscriptions. The names were painted in added white clay, which fused with the body of the vase at the firing stage of its manufacture. Subsequently these inscriptions flaked off, leaving only a ghost of what was once there. On close inspection, however, the relict inscriptions are still legible. Either d'Hancarville and his contemporaries did not look sufficiently closely or more probably, the inscriptions were obscured by the eighteenth-century practice of overpainting and varnishing the vases to improve their condition and lustre. Without this information d'Hancarville interpreted the scene as the race of Atalanta and Hippomenes. This was a curious choice, since Atalanta's race against her suitors took place on foot, rather than by chariot. He perhaps thought the chariots were incidental, for he identified the two main protagonists of the story with the figures on foot wrestling immediately in front of the statue. One advantage of his interpretation, if correct, would have been to provide a link with the subject-matter of the lower frieze through the golden apples which Hippomenes is said to have strewn in the path of Atalanta, in order to slow her down.
    In the revised edition of his History Winckelmann came rather closer to the actual subject of the shoulder scene. This was for him the most beautiful vase in the Hamilton collection and he thought the chariot scene the very best specimen of drawing to have come down to us from antiquity. My first thought', he says, 'fell upon the chariot-race which Oenomaus, King of Pisa, had established for the suitors of Hippodamia, and in which Pelops obtained the victory and a bride. This conjecture seemed to be supported by the altar in the middle; for the course extended from Pisa to the altar of Neptune at Corinth. But there is no token of this divinity here, and as Hippodamia had only a single sister, named Alcippa, the other female figures would be imaginary.' He goes on to explain that he subsequently changed his mind in favour of the race which Icarius proposed to the suitors of his daughter Penelope at Sparta, 'who would fall to the lot of him who outstripped the others', namely Odysseus, Winckelmann's imprimatur, together with the star treatment it had received in AEGR, ensured that the vase took pride of place in Reynolds's portrait and in the Hamilton Room of the British Museum. Its figured scenes, and the lower frieze in particular, were much reproduced in fashionable decorative arts, making this one of the great icons of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century taste.
    LITERATURE: D'Hancarville, AEGR, 1, pls 127-30; 11, pp. 142-3 and 166-8, pl. 22 for the trompe l'oeil; d'Hancarville, MS Catalogue, p. 660; Winckelmann (Lodge), pp. 397-9; Constantine, 1993, p. 67; Beazley, ARV2 1313, 5; Burn, pp. 13-25, 1a-9b.

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  • Bibliography

    • Old Catalogue 1264 bibliographic details
    • Jenkins & Sloan 1996 55 bibliographic details
    • Vase E224 bibliographic details
    • CVA British Museum 6 III Ic Pl. 91, 1 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G19/dc2

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date

    1772

  • Department

    Greek & Roman Antiquities

  • Registration number

    1772,0320.30.+

  • Additional IDs

    • 1772,0320.30.*
Pottery: red-figured hydria (water-jar): above, the Rape of the daughters of Leuchippos by the Dioskouroi, Kastor and Polydeukes; below, Herakles in the Garden of the Hesperides with Attic heroes and others.

Pottery: red-figured hydria (water-jar): above, the Rape of the daughters of Leuchippos by the Dioskouroi, Kastor and Polydeukes; below, Herakles in the Garden of the Hesperides with Attic heroes and others.

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