Spherical siren whistle, circa 1890s.
From Magna Graecia, South Italy, Apulia, attributed to White Sakkos Painter, a pupil of the Baltimore Painter
A stunning pottery askos, the body of which is densely packed with scrolls, palmettes, vines, and flowers. A band of tongue-pattern in the red-figure technique runs around the base of the spout. The focus of the vase is the head of a winged woman (a Siren?) emerging from a patera and a pair of vines beneath the spout. The goddess and the surrounding vines are painted in red figure and then heightened and completed with several layers of added white and yellow fugitive paint to create a lively, dynamic, and three-dimensional effect. Behind this figurative design is a grand red-figure palmette pattern extending to the opposite end of the vessel and also accented with added white pigment. 10.5″ W x 10.25″ H (26.7 cm x 26 cm)
After the vase was fired to produce the red-figure designs, the painter colored in the goddess and picked out details around her with white calcite. He then used dilute glaze to produce modulated detail in the head and patera, and a second firing would have been necessary to fix the glaze. Finally the goddess’ ivy wreath was added with leaves in a rich brownish red color and white calcite. The variety of colors and the delicacy of the painting with dilute glaze create a sense of depth and naturalism that approaches panel painting. The three-quarter view of the goddess’ beautiful face and the spiraling, three-dimensional movement of the vines contribute to the sense of transitory reality. This composition is an important manifestation of the development of illusionistic art in Greece during the fourth century BC. This illusionism, which must be derived from the work of major panel painters, manifests itself in wall paintings and mosaics as well as in vases such as this.
This vase has been attributed to the White Sakkos Painter, one of the last high-quality producers of red figure vases in Apulia (southeastern Italy). He was probably based in Canosa and was a pupil of the Baltimore Painter, from whom he took up the motif of vines encircled by white, ribbon-like tendrils. Heads emerging from vines were common in Apulian painting in general and in the work of the White Sakkos Painter in particular, but this is among the loveliest and most detailed of these heads. The proportions are pleasing, and the features are soft and delicate; the slight puffiness of the upper lip and the locks of hair falling on the forehead are particularly charming details. The back part of the goddess’ hair is enclosed in a white snood or sakkos, a motif so common in the painter’s work that it has given him his name.
The Greek word askos refers to bags made of animal-skin used to contain wine. In scale and shape ceramic vases like this one recall small skin bags for alcoholic beverages with handy carrying straps produced in modern times. In ancient art, however, wineskins are large bags carried over the shoulder and lack the end-to-end strap. In spite of their apparent absence in ancient art, it is hard to believe that the small crescent-shaped, variety with strap did not exist in antiquity. It may be that wineskins were the attributes of comic figures, such as satyrs, silens, and drunks; the largest and most primitive containers were chosen to enhance the comic effect.