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4 1/2 x 14 1/2 inches (including handles)
A kylix is a shallow bowl with two handles projecting from the sides and a foot at the base. It was typically used as a drinking cup, but when lifted up to the face, looks like a mask. The mask decoration on the underside of the bowl was intended to protect against bad luck.
The Black-figure technique seen in this kylix is the earliest of the three main Attic decoration techniques. To create it, wheel-thrown vessels were covered with slip, a watered-down clay, which rendered a glossy reddish surface. The decoration was then painted in silhouette against the red ground with some additional incised and painted details, mainly in red and white. After the decoration had dried, the vessels were fired.
The interior of this kylix, depicts a triton—a mythical creature with a human torso and head attached to a serpent body. On the outer face of the cup, four apotropaic eyes, believed to ward off evil, are shown in the space between two narrative scenes depicting Athena, the warrior goddess of wisdom, battling the Giants. This mythological episode enjoyed widespread popularity in Athenian art during this period because it symbolized both the military prowess of Athens and the role of Athena as patroness and protectress of the city.
Although the name of the painter of this kylix is not known, it is thought that the artist worked near or within the workshop of Exekias, a potter and painter of the black-figure style who did sign some of his works.
Because signed works are rare, early scholars and collectors considered them to be highly valued. It is possible that the original owner of this piece associated it with Exekias in order to increase its market value. Although such an association may have been appealing, it may be more appropriate to appreciate this piece as a vehicle for glimpsing everyday life and aesthetics in sixth-century Athens.
Adapted from text by Christine Zitrides, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008