PATRICIA KARVELAS: This fine example of black-figure painting is attributed to the Antimenes Painter, one of the most prolific artists of the late 6th century BCE. Over 140 of his vessels survive and decorated amphorae seem to have been his speciality. Like much of his work, this vessel was produced in Athens and then exported to Italy where it ended up, like other examples of his work, in a grave in Etruria (modern Tuscany).
On one side of the vase is a conventional scene of warriors bidding farewell to their families as they head off to war. The more dramatic scene is the one facing you. This side of the amphora depicts the 4th of Herakles’ 12 labours, the capture of the monstrous boar that lived on Mount Erymanthos in the north-west Peloponnese. The monster was terrifying, but most Greek artists were drawn to an amusing anecdote about Herakles’ return with the animal. The story features Herakles’ enemy, cowardly King Eurystheus. We can see him hiding in a large storage vessel built into the floor of his palace. Eurystheus was responsible for commissioning the various labours of Herakles. He hoped to eliminate Herakles by sending the hero against impossible foes and so have him destroyed. Unfortunately, Herakles kept succeeding and Eurystheus grew increasingly alarmed by the monstrous beasts that Herakles kept returning with. In the scene, we see Herakles scaring the king with the captured boar. Eurystheus holds up his hands in supplication and fright. Watching the scene are Athena, the goddess who supported the hero as he carried out his labours, and his nephew (and according to some accounts, lover), Iolaus.
The labours of Herakles were popular subject matter in this period. In the exhibition, you can see other black-figure examples of his labours. Look out for him wrestling the invulnerable lion that was terrorising the community of Nemea, as well as his trek to the far west to defeat the triple-bodied monster, Geryon, and steal his cattle.
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Date published: 17 December 2021