A Newly Acquired Ancient Greek Vase | by Cleveland Museum of Art | CMA Thinker | May, 2023


With slight variations, this band encircles the vase, connecting the front, the back, and the two side panels, which the painter has animated with profuse palmettes and tendrils surrounding the handles (fig. 2b). Three draped young men occupy the reverse, the one at right gesturing back toward the other two (fig. 2c). Above his outstretched arm is a small wine jug, connecting to the livelier komos of the other side.

Similar komos scenes appear on several other stamnoi attributed to the Kleophon Painter. One in the State Hermitage Museum (Saint Petersburg, Russia; BAPD 215147) bears the inscription Kleophon kalos (“Kleophon is beautiful”), lending a name to the otherwise anonymous painter.

Part of a larger group known as the Polygnotans (after its leader, Polygnotos), the Kleophon Painter was one of the most important vase-painters working in Periklean Athens, when the great buildings of the Athenian Acropolis were being built. Notably, their vases often show the influence of the sculptural style of the Parthenon, the famous temple of Athena built between 447 and 432 BCE. This is most apparent in the solemn sacrificial procession on a remarkable volute-krater now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Ferrara (BAPD 215141).

But the painter created much more lively figures as well, in the lower frieze of the volute-krater and on the stamnoi now in Cleveland, Saint Petersburg, and elsewhere. Despite the very different subject matter, several of the musicians and revelers on the Cleveland stamnos can be favorably compared with figures from the north frieze of the Parthenon, completed under the direction of the sculptor Pheidias. The bearded reveler on the stamnos, for example, strikes a pose quite like that of a nearly nude parade marshal gesturing dramatically behind a chariot on a frieze block in the Acropolis Museum in Athens (fig. 3).

Figure 3. Section of the north frieze of the Parthenon (Block 23 [XXIII]). Classical period (442–438 BCE). Marble from Penteli; 101 x 110 cm. The Acropolis Museum, Ακρ. 859

Before this vase was acquired, the CMA collection did not include a single stamnos nor any vases by the Kleophon Painter. Although komos scenes appear on several other CMA vases, all date earlier and none has the elegance of this stamnos, its delicate figures so well harmonized with its shape. So, in numerous ways — date, shape, painter, iconography — the stamnos has added to the CMA collection, transporting visitors across time and space to the world of Classical Athens.

But the vase can tell other stories, too, as a look beneath its foot suggests (fig. 4). Most of the marks seen here seem to match the recorded modern history of the vase (listed under “Provenance” in Collection Online, with corresponding publications in “Citations”).

Figure 4. Underside of the CMA’s Red-Figure Stamnos

The largest mark, in thick black paint, could be “080,” the earliest recorded number of the vase, number 80 in a catalogue of Greek vases and other antiquities from the collection of Henri De Morgan offered for sale at the Fifth Avenue Art Galleries in New York City on January 16, 1909. Here the vase is illustrated, described, and said to be from Southern Italy, though with no further information about its discovery or findspot. Thomas Barlow Walker, a Minnesota lumber baron and art collector, purchased the vase in this 1909 sale, and the two marks reading “WF2” must refer to its number in his Walker Foundation. Similarly, the red “09.6” corresponds to an old accession number at the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis institution Walker founded. The stamnos spent more than a century in Minneapolis, sometimes on display, until 2016. Then, with the Walker’s focus firmly set on modern and contemporary art, it deaccessioned the stamnos and a few other vases.

Now, in 2023, the latest chapter in the long story of this remarkable vase has begun. Safely installed in its new home in Cleveland, surrounded by vases and other artworks made in ancient Greece, this stamnos decorated by the Kleophon Painter nearly 2,500 years ago awaits its newest admirers.

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