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A Pseudo-Panathenaic Amphora by the Nikoxenos Painter

§1.1 A pseudo-panathenaic amphora in the David M. Robinson Collection at the University of Mississippi presents challenging questions about iconography and the viewer (Figure 1, Figure 2). I will begin to address these questions with a discussion of the history of the vase, a basic overview of its iconography and condition, a description of the artist, and finally attempt to provide an explanation for the iconography of the vase. I will show how the Panathenaic iconography was appropriated and altered to create a new statement about Athena’s role in Athens in relation to the citizen viewer. The side of the vase with Athena’s shield device visible will be referred to as “Side A,” and the side with Athena holding her helmet as “Side B.” Figure 1 Figure 2

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2

§1.2 The amphora (ARV2 221.6) was found in Capua and later became part of the Stroganoff Collection in Russia. A large number of Attic vases have been found in Capua, perhaps most famously in the Brygos Tomb. Although Campania was largely settled by Greeks centered around the city of Cumae, Capua is reported by Velleius Paterculus, ca. 19 B.C.E. to 31 C.E., in his Roman History to have been founded by Etruscans (Vell. Pat. 1.7). Capua may thus be assumed to have followed Etruscan tastes during the period when this vase found its way there, ca. 500 B.C.E.

§1.3 After its discovery in Capua, the vase remained in the Stroganoff Collection in St. Petersburg, Russia for several decades. The Collection was begun in earnest by Count Alexander Stroganoff in the mid-eighteenth century (Kuznetsov 2000:32), but Sergei Grigorivitch Stroganoff in the nineteenth century was in large part responsible for assembling the classical antiquities which make up the collection (Korshunova 2000:82). In 1912, the vase appeared in a catalogue of the Stroganoff Collection published in Rome (Muñoz 1912:56, pl. XXXIV). In 1931, following the Russian Revolution and the confiscation of the Stroganoff Palace by the Russian government, a number of pieces from the collection were auctioned off in Berlin (Korshunova 2000:87). After this point our vase made its way back to Rome, and was acquired by David M. Robinson.

§1.4 First, let us consider what a Panathenaic amphora is, how it relates to the Panathenaic Games, and what its standard iconography is. The origins of the Panathenaic Games are still an object of scholarly debate, but the worship of Athena is attested in Athens in the first literary reference to the city, which occurs in the Iliad. Homer states that there was a wealthy temple to Athena and a yearly sacrifice of rams and bulls to Erechtheus (Iliad 2.549-551). The Games, as they come down to us through literary and archaeological testimony, were established or reorganized in 566 B.C.E. during the archonship of Hippokleides (Marcellinus Life of Thucydides 3). It was probably Pisistratus, the tyrant of Athens, who reorganized the Panathenaic Festival, of which the Games were a part, as one aspect of his broad program of cultural and civic projects (Pinny 1988:446).

§1.5 Every third year of the Olympiad the Greater Panathenaia would be held between the 23rd and 30th of Hekatombaion, the first month of the Athenian year, which fell in our month of July. The most important day of the festival was the 28th of Hekatombaion (Neils 1992:14). This day was traditionally thought of as Athena’s birthday, although there is an alternate theory that the date of the Greater Panathenaia was the celebration of Athena’s victory in the Gigantomachy (Pinney 1988:472).

§1.6 The Games were initially divided into two age categories, boys and adults, although a separate category for youths was added in the course of the fifth century (Frel 1973:4). Prizes would be awarded on the eighth day of the Festival (Neils 1992:15). It was in the athletic competitions that victors received the Panathenaic amphorae, whose shape the vase under consideration mimics (Neils 1992:29), filled with sacred olive oil. Only the victor and first runner up in any given contest would win a prize, and the victor received a much larger one (Frel 1973:5).

§1.7 Panathenaic amphorae were produced on a vast scale, and it has been estimated that approximately 1,400 were made by Athenian potters every four years in preparation for the Games, of which about 1% survive (Neils and Tracy 2003:29). These amphorae have a narrow foot, wide belly, and tall lip. A fuller description will follow shortly. The event that awarded the greatest number of prize amphorae was the chariot race for adult horses, with a prize of 140 amphorae (Neils and Tracy 2003:29). When Alcibiades’ property was confiscated by the Athenian state in 415/14 B.C.E., almost one hundred Panathenaic amphorae were seized, selling for between 2.4 and 3.7 obols each, demonstrating that the used amphorae had some monetary value even in Athens, where they were abundant (Frel 1973:6).

§1.8 Returning to the provenience of our vase, the use of Panathenaic amphorae in Etruscan and southern Italian tombs could indicate either that the occupants of the tombs visited Athens themselves or that the amphorae arrived via a secondary market (Neils 1992:49). Their use as tomb decorations, along with the fact that many show signs of ancient repair, indicates their high value even when the sacred oil was depleted (Robinson 1950:59–64). The use of the prize amphorae in funerary contexts was widespread, with finds in Cyrenaica, Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, Chalkidike, and Crimea (Frel 1973:7). Etruscans favored scenes of athletic competitions, and the association of the Panathenaic amphorae with athletics could be one reason for their presence in the tombs (Osborne 2001:278).

§1.9 The standard iconography of the Panathenaic amphora can be illustrated by the so-called Burgon Amphora of ca. 560 B.C.E., now in the British Museum (ABV 89.1). Black figure continued to be used on all Panathenaic amphorae, long after it had fallen out of style for other types of vessels. Side A of a typical early Panathenaic amphora shows Athena striding to her right, brandishing a spear, and holding her shield so that the device faces toward the viewer. She wears a peplos, and she is usually without sandals. Her skin is often painted white. She wears an Attic helmet, the crest of which invariably extends into the tongue pattern above, and she wears the gorgoneion over her back, with curling snakes extending from the edges. The words ton Athenethen athlon ‘one of the prizes from Athens’ appear in a vertical line on her right. Beginning with a vase attributed to Exekias of ca. 540 B.C.E. (Paralipomena 61.8BIS), Doric columns without bases, surmounted by roosters, appear on either side of Athena.

§1.10 On Side B an athletic contest is usually shown, although on later amphorae musical contests are depicted. For the subsidiary decoration, the foot is black, and black figure rays extend upward from it. The figural scenes on both sides are enclosed by black, which covers the rest of the vessel up to the neck. Above the figural scenes, a tongue pattern extends downward from the neck. On the neck, which is separated from the shoulder by a thin raised line, is a chain of palmettes and/or lotus buds.

§1.11 In terms of its general condition, our vase is chipped and cracked in many places (Figure 3, Figure 4). In all places it appears the cracks were repaired with a fill, which has been painted over in an attempt to make the vase look pristine. In some places the damage is quite extensive. On Side B, approximately one third of Athena below the bottom horizontal line across her chiton is repair work (Figure 5). It is likely that the repairs are nineteenth century work (Dooijes 108). Figure 3 Figure 4 Figure 5

Figure 3

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 5

§1.12 Now I will move on to a formal description of the vase. The shape is frequently called “pseudo-Panathenaic.” This term means that it has the shape of a Panathenaic amphora but does not share in the standard iconography. In its dimensions, it stands 43 cm. high, and has a diameter at the top of 15.7 cm. Its greatest diameter is 27.9 cm. at the belly. The foot of the vase is echinus shaped, the handles are vertical and cyclindrical, and the mouth is an inverted echinus. Beginning at the top, the lip is solid black, while the neck is filled with a black figure palmette chain. Below the neck is a ridge, highlighted in red, which customarily separates the neck from the shoulders in Panathenaic amphorae.

§1.13 Framing the figural scenes above on both sides is a black figure tongue pattern descending from the neck ridge (Figure 6). Framing the sides of the figural scenes is a vertical checkerboard motif extending from the tongue pattern downward. Below the figural scenes on either side is a lotus bud chain. Two purple bands encircle the vase below the lotus bud chain (Figure 7). Black rays extend upward from the base. On the bottom of the vase, a graffito, which is either a kappa or a nu, appears (Figure 8). Figure 6 Figure 7 Figure 8

Figure 6

Figure 6

Figure 7

Figure 7

Figure 8

Figure 8

§1.14 Let us turn now to Side A. Athena stands with her spear and feet planted on the ground, looking over her shoulder to her right. Kalos is written to Athena’s right and Athenaia to her left. Before her is an altar streaked with blood. In her left hand, she carries a shield with a black figure dog and the inscription Nikoxsenos running along its outer edge, which we shall discuss a little later. She wears a chiton, sandals, a himation, and an Attic helmet. The Attic helmet is the usual choice when Athena is depicted on Panathenaic vases, likely because it allows her face to be seen and avoids what would be an awkward profile if a Corinthian helmet were pushed up on her head. The choice of the chiton and himation is also unusual, as the Panathenaic Athena of this period, around 500 B.C.E., always wears the peplos. The Nikoxenos Painter appears to favor showing Athena in a chiton in his other works, although he almost always depicts her wearing her aegis. Here, the aegis is either absent or is hidden behind her shield and himation. This Athena also wears sandals, unlike the Panathenaic Athena.

§1.15 On Side B, Athena stands at rest. Her spear is resting on her shoulder, and she gazes intently at a Corinthian helmet, which she holds over an altar. She wears a wreath, possibly of olive. The altar itself has a flame burning on top, but is otherwise identical to the altar shown on Side A, including the blood (Figure 9). To Athena’s right, kalos is written very faintly in purple. Roosters on columns flank Athena on both sides of the vase, which is not an infrequent occurrence on pseudo-Panathenaic vases, but it is unknown for them to be on both sides of an official prize amphorae (Figure 10). Figure 9 Figure 10

Figure 9

Figure 9

Figure 10

Figure 10

§1.16 Let us now briefly move on to the artist before discussing the details of the iconography. The appellation “Nikoxenos Painter” was devised by Beazley based on the Nikoxsenos inscription on this very vase, found on the shield of Athena on Side A (Beazley 1912:232). The Nikoxenos Painter worked in Attica during the late sixth and early fifth centuries B.C.E., during the transition from red figure to black figure, and was influenced by the Leagros Group. Accordingly, his work includes both red and black figure, of which the black figure is generally of a higher quality (Boardman 1993:111). He painted primarily amphorae, pelikai, and hydriai of the kalpis shape (Boardman 1988:113). Ninety-eight fragments and vases have been attributed to the Nikoxenos Painter. Although no prize amphorae have been attributed to him, he did paint five known pseudo-Panathenaic amphorae.

§1.17 Turning to the iconography of Side A, let us first examine the meaning of the rooster on the column. On this vase, the columns appear to be Aeolic, although they may represent a simplified form of Ionic (Betancourt 1977, passim). The rooster on top of the column is likely there because of the connotations of its name. The Greek word for rooster is alektruon, which means ‘defender’. The name of the rooster may simply be a reference both to Athena as a fighting deity and to the competitive nature of the games. A more nuanced theory has been put forward, however, that the roosters are a reference to Zeus, who is often seen giving a rooster to Ganymede in vase paintings, a common motif to indicate the interest of an older man in a youth (Neils 1992:37). Zeus Polieus and Athena Polias were both worshiped on the Acropolis as city gods, and it is not a stretch to imagine that the Athenians would try to incorporate Athena’s father into the iconography of the prize amphorae (Simon 1980:182).

§1.18 Athena’s shield device is a dog, which is not an animal that has any well-established links with her (Figure 11). There is one other example of Athena appearing with a dog in vase painting, on a hydria by the Eucharides Painter, now in the Antikensammlungen in Munich (ABV 397.33). On this hydria, what appears to be a statue of the Panathenaic Athena is shown on a base, with spectators on either side. At her feet, a dog gnaws on what is perhaps bone or a plant sprig. In total, Chase identifies 62 shield devices given to Athena in vase painting, of which only two, the gorgoneion and the owl, seem especially appropriate to her (Chase 1979:26). Two more, the thunderbolt and the eagle, refer to her descent from Zeus. The remaining 58 shield devices must have some other significance. One possibility is that the shield devices referred to workshops or individual artists who were commissioned to make Panathenaic amphorae. Figure 11

Figure 11

Figure 11

§1.19 In the late sixth century, the workshop of the Michigan Painter consistently used an owl on a twig as a shield device. Later painters, such as the Berlin Painter and the Kleophrades Painter, were also consistent in their use of shield devices (Neils 1992:48). The Nikoxenos Painter uses a wide variety of shield devices on his vase paintings, including: a dog, Pegasus, bukrania, tripods, a chariot box, ivy, snakes, a leg, and others. This vase is the only one on which he depicted a dog as a shield device, although dogs appear on a total of six vases by his hand.

§1.20 The other major item to consider on Side A is the altar which sits to Athena’s left. The altar has Ionic volutes at the ends of its crown molding, and an egg motif with inner black dots runs horizontally across the middle of the altar. Three vertical bloodstains in added purple run down the side. This style of altar with barriers on top was common in both the late Archaic and Classical Periods, and the volute was frequently used as a way of containing or channeling the offering placed on the altar (Yavis 1949:160–161). The altar is unlit, and it must have some relationship to the lit altar that appears on Side B.

§1.21 Regarding the inscriptions, Nikoxsenos may be a “kalos name,” and this is how Beazley interpreted it (Beazley 1912:232). If so, the kalos inscription is in reference to Nikoxsenos. Athenaia is a form of the name ‘Athena’. It appears in the Iliad and other Archaic texts, and may be translated ‘she of Athens’. This name is frequently used in vase painting.

§1.22 A few questions must be asked about Side B. Why does Athena hold a Corinthian helmet and is she about to sacrifice, or has she already sacrificed (Figure 12)? It is not unusual to see a non-Panathenaic Athena wearing a Corinthian helmet, and the most obvious explanation for this feature of Side B is that the full face-guard of the Corinthian helmet provides a better counterbalance to her gaze than would an Attic helmet. On another pseudo-Panathenaic amphora by the Nikoxenos Painter, now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Athena holds an Attic helmet in front of her as she strides to the right (ARV2 220.5). Because she is not looking into the helmet there, there is no need for it to be Corinthian. Figure 12

Figure 12

Figure 12

§1.23 As for why Athena is holding the helmet over a flame, it seems that she has disarmed in order to offer a sacrifice. The Nikoxenos Painter depicted a series of scenes of gods standing before altars. One, in the Louvre, (ARV2 220.10) shows Athena leaning over an altar holding a flower on Side A, and on Side B a woman standing before an altar holds a tendril of some sort of plant. In another, also at the Louvre, Athena holds her hand over an altar on Side A, while on Side B a possible priest prepares to offer a libation with a phiale (ARV2 221.9). A final example, now part of a private collection in Zurich, shows Hermes making a libation at an altar between two columns with roosters on both Side A and Side B (ARV2 221.8BIS). All of these vessels are pseudo-Panathenaic amphorae painted by the Nikoxenos Painter, and it seems clear from these and similar scenes he painted on other vase shapes that he produced several scenes with various personages making sacrifices at altars. Perhaps this was an appealing subject to buyers, especially when painted on a shape connected to the Panathenaic Festival, at which the people themselves would have taken part in a sacrifice.

§1.24 The two scenes of our vase are unlikely to be completely unrelated, as their similarity invites the viewer to compare them. The relationship between Side A and Side B may be temporal. On Side A, Athena appears to be preparing to sacrifice. The flame on the altar is still unlit, although it is stained with the blood of previous sacrifices. Athena still wears her helmet and has not yet put her spear to rest on her shoulder. On Side B, Athena has either offered her sacrifice or is in the process of doing so. She contemplates her helmet, perhaps a sign that she is offering it in thanks for a victory, which would tie in well with the theory that the Panathenaic Festival is in honor of her victory in the Gigantomachy (Pinney 1988:468).

§1.25 In conclusion, this vase by the Nikoxenos Painter provides a valuable perspective on several overlooked areas in the study of Greek vase painting. First, artists such as the Nikoxenos Painter are able to offer an intimate insight into Athenian society when we take a close look at what they depict in their painting. Second, the study of a relatively unusual vase type such as this gives a fresh look at what was appealing at a particular point in the development of Greek society. Finally, the reorganization of standard and non-standard Panathenaic iconography on this vase, and on other pseudo-Panathenaic amphorae, can help shed new light on the relationship of the viewer to the Panathenaic Festival and its themes. This vase, if its iconography is intended to have any link to its shape, suggests a link between a victorious/sacrificing Athena and the Festival. The viewer could see himself and his own actions mirrored in Athena, and reflect on the relationship of his status as a citizen to hers as Athena Polias, goddess of the city.

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