Corinthian Olpai

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CORINTHIAN OLPAI

Olpe 1
Corinthian production
Ca. 600/590-575 BC (Middle Corinthian period)
Height 37 cm; Ø sup. 15.5 cm
Recovered by the Guardia di Finanza

This vase is made of a purified, rosy- and nut-colored clay. The pitcher has an extroflexed and pendulous rim, a trumpet-shaped neck with a sculptural collar at its base and brown over-painted bands. The vase has a pyriform (pear-shaped), slender body, a compressed ring-foot, and a vertical strap handle with three grooves, flanked at the rim by two small wheels. The inside of the mouth is glazed. The small wheels and the back of the handle are also glazed. The small wheels are decorated on the exterior with a rosette adorned with white dots; analogous rosettes, not all perfectly preserved, are added onto the neck at half of its height. The piece is intact but restored in the area of the neck. At the base is a design of thin, filled-in triangular rays; the exterior of the foot is glazed. The body is divided into three horizontal registers, separated by alternating bands of brown and orange; the registers each depict a series of animals facing both left and right. The top register features a panther, a winged figure, a bird and another panther. The middle register feautures a panther, a deer, another panther, a swan with open wings, and another deer. The bottom register features a panther, a deer, a panther, and two deer that stand back to back. The abundant decoration that fills in the space between the animals consists of rosettes marked by crossed etchings and flowers with stylized petals, over-painted and with white etched lines.

Olpe 2
Corinthian production
Ca. 600/590-575 BC (Mid-Corinthian Period)
Height 37 cm; Ø sup. 15.5 cm
Recovered by the Guardia di Finanza

This vase is made of a purified, rosy- and nut-colored clay. The pitcher has an extroflexed and pendulous rim, a trumpet-shaped neck with a sculptural collar at its base and brown over-painted bands. The vase has a pyriform (pear-shaped), slender body, a compressed ring-foot, and a vertical strap handle with three grooves, flanked on the rim by two small wheels, one of which is missing. The inside of the glazed mouth is chipped. The small wheel and the back of the handle are also glazed. The small wheel is decorated on the exterior with a rosette adorned with white dots; analogous rosettes are added onto the neck at half of its height. The piece is intact but restored from many fragments. The base, chipped, is decorated with thin triangular rays; the exterior of the foot is glazed.
The body is divided into three horizontal registers, separated by alternating bands of brown and orange; the registers each depict a series of animals facing both left and right. The top register presents, in order, a swan with closed wings, two lionesses with superimposed heads, and an owl. The middle register features a deer, a lioness, another deer, another lioness and a third deer. The last register presents a deer, a lioness, two deer that stand back to back and a lioness. The abundant decoration that fills in the spaces between the animals consists of both rosettes marked by crossed etchings and flowers with stylized petals, over-painted and etched with white lines.

The two olpai, produced by the same potter and painted by the same hand, belong to Corinthian ceramic production, manufactured by the homonymous Greek city after the seventh century BC, namely after the Proto-Corinthian period that saw the predominance of the Orientalizing style. The production following the seventh century BC was very abundant, and vases were exported throughout the entire Mediterranean basin.

The two olpai can be ascribed specifically to the Middle Corinthian period, although with doubts stemming from their stylistic particularities, and can be attributed to the Geledakis Painter’s workshop, active between the first and second quarters of the sixth century BC and influenced by the school of the preceding Dodwell Painter. The Geledakis Painter preferred figurative themes of Orientalizing origin, such as that of the series composed of animals and fantastic beings, inherited from the imagery of the Proto-Corinthian period.

The connection made between the two olpai and the Geledakis workshop is motivated by a few peculiarities in the rendering of the animals that, staying true to the Geledakian production, appear agile and meager and are rendered with deeply-incised scratches. Among the indicative details are the knuckles of the felines’ anterior paws and the claws of the deer’s posterior paws, rendered in an accentuated manner; the bean-shaped line that encircles the felines’ shoulders; the marked lines that emphasize the profile of the belly and the ribs; and the rendering of the full-cheeked faces, even if the characteristic small circles used to model the ears and nose are missing. The flower and large rosette designs used to fill in the spaces count equally among the peculiarities of the Geledakis Painter.

The aforementioned doubts regarding the attribution of the olpai to the Geledakis Painter concern rather some elements of the decoration, such as, for example, the overabundance of the filling-in retouches or the naturalistic rendering of the winged-figure’s arm, obtained by an incised parentheses-shaped line to indicate the folds. In order to exclude the hypothesis that these are not ancient pieces, the age of the clay must be established by means of chemical analyses.

A. Palladino

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