Lekythos (Oil Bottle)

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Athens, Greece
Lekythos (Oil Bottle), ca. 450–400 BC
White-ground terracotta
12 1/4 × 3 5/8 in. (31.12 × 9.21 cm)
Gift of Alfred F. James M1919.20
Photo credit: John R. Glembin
Not Currently on View

This lekythos, or oil bottle, provides a good example of white-ground painting, which came into its own in the High Classical period. In this technique, a matte black glaze was used to paint figures and decorative borders on a neutral white surface. Details were created with pigments of brown, red, and yellow. White-ground lekythoi were preferred as grave offerings, and consequently, many are decorated with subjects related to death. The two figures on this vessel probably represent the deceased and a mourner.

Publication History
Milwaukee Journal article and illus., Nov. 2, 1919. Old MAI Bulletin: JAN., 1920; Feb., 1921. Shape and design indicate that this was intended for funerary use during the second half of the 5th Century BC. It originally contained the perfumed olive oil with which the body of the deceased was annointed and was itself deposited in the grave as a final offering: See Joseph veach Noble: "The Techniques of Painted Attic Pottery", pp. 23-5 and compare #28 in "Classical Art from Carolina Collections", 1974.


This information is subject to change as the result of ongoing research.