NUDITY IN FIGHTING SCENE OF ARCHAIC VASE PAINTING
NUDITYIN FIGHTING SCENE OF ARCHAIC VASE PAINTING
Mostof the artwork in the Greek world contains figures without clothing.It is imperative to note that when the Assyrianswon battles, their dead enemies were carved or painted naked onvarious artworks. It’s the victorious warriors who were fullyclothed. For the Civilizations that existed before the Greeks, nuditywas a sign of intrinsic weakness and a part of their soul beingripped out. Greeks were literally the first to portray nakedness as asign of heroism. Theactual nakedness represents a spiritual truth as truth wears no garbssince it’s open and honest about what lies within mankind himself. Nudity on the decoration of archaic vases related to fighting sceneswas aligned to the aristocrats who thought that it brought out ethosand logos1.Therefore, Greeks believed that nudity was a sign of righteousness. However, it is imperative to understand why Greeks were keen onrelating nudity to fighting scenes in archaic vase painting.
Theconcept of nudity was first introduced to the Olympic Athletes. Thereare many theories as to how nudity was introduced into the games. Oneof them being that Greeks believed that equal amounts of training andeffort was needed in preparations for both war and games. In 520 BC,the armed race was introduced into the Olympics. The armed race was arepresentation of the warrior-athlete. The athletes were usuallynaked except for a helmet and shield that they would be wearing. This could be related to the facts of why Greeks were painting theirarchaic vases with nude pictures while depicting fighting scenes.There are a small number of black figured Athenian vases whichportray athletes wearing loins. There is the other theory whichassumes that Spartans introduced nudity in the 8thcentury, as per their Spartan tradition. Spartans are known to havebeen involved in many fighting activities, which explains why theyare thought to have introduced nudity in archaic vase painting thatinvolved war.
Paintinga nude image requires more skill it requires the artist to haveperfect knowledge on skin tone, skeletal and muscular structures. TheGreeks used nudity in art to bring out different characteristics inmale and female nudes2.For example, male nudes would portray valor, courage, heroism, on theother hand female nudes would portray beauty, shyness and fertility.In this particular project I will focus on the red figure paintingand how it was used on decorating archaic vases to represent fightingscenes among the Greeks. It is crucial to note that the red figurevase painting technique was exclusively and repetitively used inGreek to portray nudity while relating it to war. The use of nudityon depicting fighting scenes on archaic vases can be witnessed invarious Greek pottery works.
Around530 BC the “red figure” technique was introduced by the potterAndokides.Andokides made the “Achilles and Ajax playing the dice game”3. It’s one of the “bilingual” vases. The development of thisvase means that this art work included both the black and red figuretechnique. The benefits of using the red figure pottery in developingvases can be associated with the clarity of decorations on vases. Thered figure technique included vases made out of red orange clay. Now,the advantage of this was that work done using the red figuretechnique provided more details than using the black figuretechnique4.This made the use of nudity to present fighting scenes on archaicvases more realistic. Furthermore, this technique gave the artistsmore room to work on, for example the artists could portray bodies intwists and turnings.
TheEuphronios krater (above) in ancient times was a Greek bowl used formixing water and wine around the year 515 BC5.It is one of the finest vases in history that use nudity to depictfighting scenes. It is the only complete example by Euphronios, whomade 27 other vases. The style used in the vase is red-figurepottery. The figure outlines, details, and the background are paintedwith an opaque black glaze6.Theartwork on the vase shows two scenes: the death of Sarpedon, son ofZeus and Laodamia, and the Trojan War. Euphronios draws the hero`sbody at the moment he surrenders to death. He vividly portrays threeopen wounds on Sarpedon`s body from which blood spills. Euphronios`spainting shows the cruelty which accompanies war, that is, needlessdeaths. His painting of Sarpedon`s naked body uses very finebrushstrokes, which brings out the picture of a violent and suddendeath. The detailed drawn figures convey the certainty of death, thegrief and the sorrow that is left behind.
Althoughthe find place and provenance of the vase cannot be established, itis clear that the potter was keen to illustrate fighting scenes onhis work. The potter’s mind was revolving around the battles thatwere taking place during that period, specifically the Trojan War.Unique about this vase is that it also includes the personificationof Thanatos (god of death) and Hypnos (god of sleep) on the frontside7.These two gods were much associated with fighting scenes during thisparticular period. In this case, the two gods are used to carry awaySarpedon away for his burial this is an indication that Saperdon wasa hero among the Greeks. Saperdon is also painted naked whichindicates that Greeks were much obsessed with using nudity to depictfighting scene. It appears like this particular fighting scene wasquite important to the Greeks considering that the potter placed iton the front side of the vase. The figures on the front face of thisvase appear to be stylized but they present a naturalistic pose thatis schemed with clear and concise anatomy8.However, it is imperative to note that the gods are clothed, whichindicates that while fighting scenes were imposed with nudity, theGreeks had respect for their gods. On that consideration, it would beaccurate to note that nudity and fighting scenes on archaic vaseswere directly related.
Thereverse of the krater is painted with Athenian youths who appear likethey are preparing or arming themselves for a looming war.Expectedly, the youths are also naked which confirms that there is nodogmatic separation between nudity and fighting scenes in archaicvase painting. The style used to paint the youths on the reverse sideof the vase is emblematic to ancient Greek archaic painters who usednudity to present fighting scenes on vases. Despite the youths beingknown to audiences the Euphronios krater reverse painting is a clearexpansion of the use of naturalistic poses in archaic vase painting.The nudity on the youths is supplemented by spatial illusion,foreshortening, and accurate anatomy to develop a unique pre-fightingscene9.The painting of the youths is used to supplement the fighting scenepainted in the front side of this vase. The important point thatshould be noted is that there is uniformity in using nudity topresent fighting scenes on this archaic vase.
Uniqueto archaic vases, this particular work has been able to createnarrative tension by using two peculiarly different situations. Whilethe demise of Saperdon is a semi-mythological narrative that could befamiliar with a lot of people, the three youths painted on thereverse side are expectedly anonymous to most people10.Moreover, the naked youths preparing for war appear to becontemporary while the death of Saperdon and his association with thegods appears to be extremely ancient. The difference in the timesthat the scenes indicate is a clear coincidence that over the historyof Greek nudity and war are directly related. At this point, it iscrucial to note that archaic vase painting was keen on creatingnarrative tension. However, irrespective of the indifferences on thetwo sides of the vase paintings, the two sides are keen on using asimilar style to depict fighting scenes. The use of nudity on thevase paintings indicates that the work was part of the archaicpottery. The style used on this vase is a conception of the fact thatarchaic Greek potters were keen to use naked decorations tosupplement their message regarding war irrespective of the historicalperiod being presented. This confirms that archaic vase painting wasquite keen on addressing the war thematic concern.
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1 Hedreen, The Image Of The Artist In Archaic And Classical Greece. Art, Poetry, And Subjectivity.
2 Oakley, Athenian Potters And Painters.
3 Sparkes, The Red And The Black.
4 Sheramy, "Selling Sacrifice On Classical Athenian Vases".
5 Brodie, "Euphronios (Sarpedon) Krater « Trafficking Culture".
6 Revolvy, ""Euphronios Krater" On Revolvy.Com".
7 Sadeh, "The Arena Of Thanatos: Psuché, Soma, And Sigalit Landau`s Body Representation—A Comparative Study".
8 Sheramy, "Recovering Rhapsodes".
9 Wickramasinghe, "Visual Representations Of The Trojan War In Attic Clay Vases".
10 Smith and Plantzos, A Companion To Greek Art.
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