The François Vase is a large Attic volute krater decorated in the black-figure style. It stands at 66 cm in height and was inspired by earlier bronze vases (not existing so early; it was inspired by a Lakonian shape, produced in terracotta - M.I.). It was used for wine (and water - M.I.). A milestone in the development of ancient Greek pottery due to the drawing style used as well as the combination of related stories depicted in the numerous friezes, it is dated to circa 570/560 BCE. The Francois Vase was discovered in 1844 (and 1845 - M.I.) in Chiusi where an Etruscan tomb in the necropolis of Fonte Rotella was found located in central Italy. It was named after its discoverer Alessandro Francois, it is now in the Museo Archeologico at Florence. It remains uncertain whether the krater was used in Greece or in Etruria, and whether the handles were broken and repaired in Greece or in Etruria. Perhaps the François Vase was made for a symposium given by a member of an aristocratic family in Solonian Athens (possibly for a special occasion, such as a wedding), then broken and, after being carefully repaired, was sent to Etruria, perhaps as an instance of elite-gift exchange. It bears the inscriptions "Ergotimos mepoiesen" and "Kleitias megraphsen", meaning "Ergotimos made me" and "Kleitias painted me". It depicts 270 figures, 121 of which have accompanying inscriptions which is highly unusual for so many to be identified; the scenes depicted represent a number of mythological themes. In 1900 the vase was smashed into 638 pieces by a museum guard by hurling a wooden stool against the protective glass. It was later restored by Pietro Zei in 1902, followed by a second reconstruction in 1973 incorporating previously missing pieces.
Descriptions of the Decorations
The uppermost frieze, on the neck of the krater, depicts on side A the Calydonian Boar Hunt, including the heroes Meleager, Peleus, and Atalanta. The scene is flanked by two sphinxes which are separated from it by a band of lotus blossoms and palmettes. On the other side of the vessel, this zone features the dance of Athenian youths led by Theseus who is playing the lyre, standing opposite Ariadne and her nurse.
The second band on side A shows the chariot race which is part of the funeral games for Patroclus, instituted by his lover Achilles, in the last year of the Trojan War. Here, Achilles is standing in front of a bronze tripod, which would have been one of the prizes, while the participants include the Greek heroes Diomedes and Odysseus. On side B, the painted scene depicts a battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs. The most famous of these conflicts took place at the wedding party of Pirithous and Hippodamia, which is probably depicted here, as the hero Theseus is found among the combatants, a friend of Pirithous who himself was not a Lapith, but said to be among the wedding guests. The scene also includes the demise of the Lapith hero Caeneus.
The third frieze on both sides, the highest and also most prominent one because of its location on the top of the body vessel, depicts the procession of the gods to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. Because of its large number of figures, the procession is a suitable topic to decorate the long band. The end of the procession shows Peleus between an altar and the house where Thetis can be seen sitting inside. He is greeting his teacher, the centaur Chiron, who is heading the procession together with the divine messenger Iris, followed by many other deities.
The fourth frieze on side A depicts the ambush of Troilus by Achilles. Side B shows the return of Hephaestus to Olympus; sitting on a mule, he is led to the Olympian gods by Dionysus, followed by a group of silens and nymphs.
The fifth frieze shows sphinxes and griffins flanking lotus blossom and palmettes ornaments and panthers and lions attacking bulls, a boar, and a deer.
On the foot of the vessel, there is on both sides a depiction of the battle between the Pygmies and the cranes.
The handles are decorated as well, showing on their outer sides the so-called Mistress of Animals above a vignette showing Ajax carrying the dead Achilles. The fields on the inner sides of the handles above the rim of the pot each feature a Gorgon in motion.
Interpretation of the Decorations
The wedding of Peleus and Thetis provides the central image on another signed Athenian pot, the Francois vase made by Kleitias and Ergotimos. Here only one of the six friezes which cover this pot is an animal frieze, and even that is quite remote in style from Corinthian work. All the others show episodes from myth, and labels are copiously used, even for inanimate objects such as fountains and seats.
With the combination of related stories and the unique drawing style by kleitas, this pot constitutes something new in Athenian painting. The scenes on this pot include both crucial moments in stories, including when Peleus and Meleager are about to spear the Calydonian boar (top frieze). The moments where the crucial action is past with the dance of the Athenian maidens and youths freed from the Minotaur (top frieze) or the marriage of Peleus and Thetis. Also, as well as Achilles' pursuit of Troilos in the second frieze up. Past or future episodes are frequent in the friezes. The body of Antaios beneath the boar seems likely to allude to the death of the man who taunted Atalanta, seen here just behind Meleager, with not hunting in a manly enough way; beside Atalanta is Melanion, the man who won her hand in marriage either by his prowess as a hunter or by using trickery to beat her in a race. A fountain house, a dropped water jar, and the running figure of Polyxena signal the circumstances in which Achilles ambushing Troilos, but the gods around the fountain house seem to allude to Achilles' subsequent killing of Troilos in a sanctuary.
The various scenes on the pot seem to be held together by two sorts of association. On one hand there are a set of scenes which trace the story of the house of Peleus from his participation in the hunt for the Calydonian boar, through his marriage to Thetis. It goes all the way to the role in the Trojan War of their son Achilles, who puts on funeral games for his companion Patroclus (second frieze down), ambushes Troilos and finally is himself carried dead from the battlefield by Ajax. The kneeling figure of Ajax carries the corpse of Achilles from the battlefield at Troy. Achilles thus appears twice close on one side of the vase: alive while organizing the funeral games for his dead companion Patroklos and immediately adjacent, he is dead himself.
On the other hand there are scenes which offer parallels to these episodes: the processional return of the god Hephaestus to Olympus (second frieze up) parallels the celebration of Peleus' wedding to Thetis. The battle of lapiths and centaurs and the liberation of the Athenians from the Minotaur parallel the deliverance from the Calydonian boar, and link Peleus' exploits to those of the Athenian hero Theseus. Such typological parallels are one of the means by which poets too from Homer on have enriched their narratives
Kleitas and Ergotimos
During the Archaic Period, Kleitas (Cleitas) (c. 580- c. 550 BCE) was a well known potter and painter. He was the painter of one of the greatest vases ever made from Greek art, the Francois Vase. Kleitas signature has been found on five vases, four of them are signed by Kleitias as the painter and Ergotimos as the potter. Other collaborations of the two include two cups and some cup fragments, from which their signatures were lost. Other vases have been attributed to Kleitas on the basis of style. Kleitas was detailed in his drawings especially with animal and human anatomy and when showing textiles making him a unique artist of his time. He engages his viewers by bringing variety to every image allowing the viewer to discover each figure differently each time. He pioneers the use of paired figures: particularly in the topmost friezes on each side, the boar hunt. The boat returning from Crete, he makes repeated use of figures who are side by side and engaged in similar actions so that one sees only part of the figure behind, which becomes a sort of shadow of the figure in the front. Other collaborations of the two include two cups and some cup fragments, from which their signatures were lost. Other vases have been attributed to Kleitas on the basis of style.
- Osborne, Robin. Archaic and Classical Greek Art. p. 93.
- Iozzo, Mario. The Francois Vase.
- "Making"/"poiein" and "painting"/"graphein" as two different activities in pottery are distinguished in painted signatures on ancient Greek pots as early as the middle of the 7th century BCE; while the first extant signature stating that someone "made" a pot comes from the late 8th century BCE, we find the earliest reference to its "painting" in an inscription on a pot dating from the middle of the 7th century BCE (see R. Wachter, Non-Attic Greek Vase Inscriptions, Oxford 2001, EUC 1 and IOI 5, respectively).
- "Francois Vase". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
- Cartwright, Mark. Francois Vase. Ancient History Encyclopedia.
- So-called because it depicts the culmination of the procession shown on the vessel’s main frieze, the top band on the body, which is also the highest of all.
- For the exact nature of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, see the article on Achilles and Patroclus.
- Osborne, Robin. Archaic and Classical Greek Art.
- Osborne, Robin. Archaic and Classical Greek Art.
- Barringer, Judith. Hunters and Hunting on the Francois Vase.
- "Ergotimos and Kleitas".
- Antonio Minto: Il Vaso François, Florence 1960
- Mauro Cristofani et al.: Materiali per servire alla storia del Vaso François (Bollettino d'arte, Serie speciale 1), Rome 1981
- John D. Beazley: The Development of Attic Black-Figure, 2nd rev. ed., Berkeley 1986, 24-34
- Thomas H. Carpenter: Art and Myth in Ancient Greece: A Handbook, London 1991
- H. A. Shapiro, Mario Iozzo, Adrienne Lezzi-Hafter, The François Vase: New Perspectives (2 vols.). Akanthus proceedings 3. Kilchberg, Zurich: Akanthus, 2013. Pp. 192; 7, 47 p. of plates. ISBN 9783905083330; 9783905083323
- Mario Iozzo, Il Vaso François. Rex Vasorum, Florence 2018.
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