Bowdoin College Museum of Art

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Sappho Painter


Bail-Handle Olpe Depicting a Funeral Scene

Creation Date

ca. 500 BC-475 BC


5th century BC


14 5/8 in. x 5 1/2 in. x 4 1/2 in. (37.15 cm x 13.97 cm x 11.43 cm)

Object Type


Creation Place

Ancient Mediterranean, Greek

Medium and Support


Credit Line

Museum Purchase, Adela Wood Smith Trust, in memory of Harry de Forest Smith, Class of 1891


Public Domain

Accession Number

Oinochoai were single-handled jugs used for pouring liquid such as wine (oinos in Greek is wine). This example, with its slender proportions and continuous curve from rim to foot, is a type of oinochoe often called an olpe. The rope-like handle would not have permitted pouring; rather the vase was designed specifically to be carried in a funeral. The jug is attributed to the Sappho Painter, who decorated the vase using the black-figure technique, in which illustrations are etched onto the vase using a slip that turns black when fired, causing the figures to appear in black silhouette. The scene on this oinochoe illustrates a Greek funeral and unfolds, uninterrupted, around the body of the vase. Central is a virtually unique view of a dead male being placed into a coffin in preparation for the ekphora, or procession to the tomb. Elements to suggest an interior scene reflect the fact that upon death the body would be laid out for viewing inside the home. This laying out of the body was called the prothesis and, in Athens of this period, lasted for two days. In the early hours before dawn of the third day, the body would be conveyed to the cemetery for burial. The central scene on this oinochoe includes details that recall this tradition. Lamps are suspended from the ceiling providing light to the mourners gathered for this ritual. They are young and old, male and female, and together provide a rare glimpse of the Greek family engaged in one of its most solemn tasks.

Additional Images

Additional Image recto

Keywords: antiquity   ceremonial object   death   figurative   funeral   Greek   man   pattern   vase   vessel   woman  

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