Dinos by the Gorgon Painter – Archaic period


© 1994 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

The Gorgon Painter is famous for this dinos (large bowl for mixing wine), but he also painted more modest sized vases such as amphora. He never signed a vase. The Athenian painter was influenced by Corinth’s vase painting, especially in the animal friezes. He also reinvented the narrative tradition for mythological scenes.

This famous dinos, preserved in the Louvre, was painted around 580 BC. With its stand, the vase is 93 cm high. Because of the disks on the stand, we can tell that this dinos copies existing bronze models. The whole is decorated with superimposed levels of panthers, sirens, wild boars and two masters of animals, which recalls Corinth’s influence, itself influenced by Orient. At the maximum diameter of the vase, there is a palmette and lotus frieze, which indicates its Athenian origin.

On the top level, the painter placed a narrative frieze. Perseus, assisted by Athena and Hermes, just killed Medusa the gorgon and he is being chased by her two immortals sisters (Stenno and Euryale). Hermes is identifiable by his traveler’s ankle boots and hat, and he also has his caduceus. Athena doesn’t have any attributes or armor but we know it is her because in the myth she is the one protecting and helping Perseus. The gorgons have wings and monstrous faces. By convention, the gorgons are running with bent knees in order to show their rapidity. Perseus, as Hermes, wears the traveler’s hat and the ankle boots. In the myth, he is suppose to wear a magical satchel to carry Medusa’s head, but here the painter omitted it. This is not a lack of detail, since the painter took time to depict the blood coming out of Medusa’s neck, but he didn’t paint it because this is the beginning of the representation. The other side of the frieze depicts an heroic fight where two chariots are waiting for the heros. All the ingenuity of the painter is there. Indeed, there is no separation in between the scenes, and  therefore the viewer can believe that Perseus is running towards one of the chariots when it is actually part of  another scene.

This vase is the first example of a continuous frieze and also one of the first black-figure vases. The black-figure technique consists of painting the figures with diluted clay which become black after firing. It also requires incision and red added color. Without any of these elements, we can’t call the technique black-figure. All those characteristic make this dinos an important piece for the Archaic period.


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