Digital Exhibits: Ancient Art 203

Starrs--Art of the Trojan War


This exhibit focuses on ancient art depicting the Trojan War. The Trojan War is a mythical war that took place between the Greeks and the Trojans from Anatolia. The war began when Prince Paris took Helen of Sparta to Troy after deeming Aphrodite the fairest goddess of all. The Trojan War raged for ten years following that before the Greeks managed to seize Troy. This legendary war, told in Homer’s Iliad, inspired many artists of in the late Archaic Period to create pottery as a way to tell the story of the war. The pieces in this gallery were all created during the late archaic period and all used either black or red figure technique to create artwork on household objects. During that time, people used pottery to create household items that also told stories. The items featured in this exhibit tell stories of the Trojan War but were also used as storage vessels and home décor. The pieces evolve from being more stylized to being more abstract and exemplify the artists of the time period. 

Judgment of Paris and the Recovery of Helen

The story of the Iliad begins with the judgement of Paris. Here, Paris, Prince of Troy, is tasked with deciding which goddess is the fairest and giving her the Golden Apple. Ultimately, Paris chooses Aphrodite, the goddess of love, because she promises him Helen of Sparta who was known as the most beautiful woman in the world at that time. One side of the Judgment of Paris shows this scene. Hermes, the Messenger god, leads the three goddesses to Paris for judgment. All three are depicted in black figure except for their faces and feet which coincides with the tradition of showing men in black and women in white.  The other side of the vase shows Helen ten years later, when the city of Troy is ravaged by the Greeks. She is being reclaimed by her husband Menelaus and returns to Sparta. Once again, the male figures are entirely in black figure while Helen has white on her face and hands. Another thing to note is that the proportions of the figures are off. The men are shown with small bodies while Helen is covered in clothing and her features are not as easily defined which may reflect the state of both parties following the war.

Terracotta Kylix 

The next piece is a terracotta kylix. Created in 540 BCE by the Amasis Painter, the drinking cup uses the black figure technique to tell a story of Poseidon in the Trojan War. The Sea God heavily favored the Greeks over the Trojans. Poseidon sees the Greek army struggling and decides to renew their spirit. In this scene, he has his army preparing his chariot under the sea. The workers have defined bodies but have abstract facial features. The Amasis Painter adds more detail around the lip of the cup, putting different figures inside the squares. 

Achilles Fights Hector

The volute krater was a vessel for diluting wine. The piece shown here depicts one of the most epic scenes in the Iliad. Hector of Troy and Achilles were the fiercest warriors on their respective sides. In the Iliad, the two engage in a fight to the death that results in the demise of Hector as Athena and Apollo look on. Unlike the two previous pieces, the figures here are done in red figure. The red figure technique was a newer style and shows that this piece is a bit newer than the previous two as this piece was created 490-460 BCE. This piece is attributed to the Berlin Painter, the best-known red figure painter of the late archaic period.

Helen led away by Paris

The skyphos is another kind of drinking cup. The design on this cup is attributed to the potter Hieron and the painter Makron. This piece, like the first in this gallery, shows the departure of Helen from Sparta and her return after the war. Unlike the other piece, however, this is done in red figure and was competed later in history, around 490-480 BCE. The styling of the figures appears to be more relaxed but also more realistic than that of the black figure technique. While there is less detail in the body, there is greater emphasis on the facial features and on the texture of the clothing which aptly demonstrates the differences between the two techniques.

Exekias' Terracotta Neck-Amphora

The final piece in this exhibit is the Terracotta neck-amphora. This work is done is black figure technique by an artist near Exekias.  Exekias was the best known creator of black figure. The vase has ornate designs around the shoulder and lip which is a trademark of Exekias’ work. The vase shows the fall of Memnon to Achilles in the Trojan War. Memnon led a group Ethiopians aligned with the Trojans into battle but was ultimately killed by Achilles in front of both of their mothers.





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