Attic black-figure

Exekias's Vatican amphora

[View larger image]

Photograph: J. Boardman, La ceramique antique

Exekias's Vatican amphora

[View larger image]

Photograph: M. Tiverios, Elliniki Techni

Museum: Vatican City
Size: 61cm. (amphora, Type A, signed by Exekias as both maker and painter)
Function: storage and display
Technique: black-figure
Style: Mature black-figure
Subject/s: Ajax and Achilles, seated on low stools, lean forward playing a board game that the helmeted Achilles is winning: tessara (four) is written beside his head, tria (three) by Ajax's (A), Dioskouroi return home to parents Leda and Tyndareos. Slave boy brings a change of clothes for Kastor, Pollux, who as already shed his travelling clothes, plays with the family dog.
Date: later 6th c.
Analysis: widely regarded as the masterpiece of Athenian black-figure (as preserved), this piece combines exceptionally fine potting and painting on a 'new' shape that bears Exekias's signature as both painter and maker. The large amphora with flat handles and a foot in two parts (Type A) provides a large picture panel with modest curvature. A wealth of detail has been incised, particularly on drapery and armour. The essence of the black-figure technique – incision on black silhouette – could not be bettered.

See more from Exekias