Black-figured amphora

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Illustration

by Trustees of the British Museum
published on 26 April 2012

Greek, about 540-530 BC
Made in Athens, Greece; found at Vulci (now in Lazio, Italy)

Achilles killing the Amazon Queen Penthesilea

Penthesilea brought her Amazon warriors to help the Trojans defend their city, but was killed in combat with Achilles, the greatest of the Greek warriors. The scene on this vase shows Achilles looming above her as she sinks to the ground. Achilles's face is masked and protected by his helmet; Penthesilea's helmet is pushed back to expose her features and emphasize her vulnerability at this vital moment. Her spear passes harmlessly across Achilles's chest, while his pierces her throat and blood spurts out. According to a later version of the story, at this very moment the eyes of the two warriors met and they fell, too late, in love.

On the other side of the vase, Dionysos, god of wine, is shown with his son Oinopion.

The vase is signed, just behind Achilles's right arm, by Exekias as potter. The painting has also been attributed to him. The amphora's taut and rounded shape is emphasized by the spirals around each handle, and the figures, the pattern decoration and the writing are all immaculately rendered. Exekias was perhaps the finest of all painters to use the black-figure technique.

L. Burn, The British Museum book of Gre (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

D. Williams, Greek vases (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)



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