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Jeff Wells / © CU Art Museum, University of Colorado Boulder
Jeff Wells / © CU Art Museum, University of Colorado Boulder
© CU Art Museum, University of Colorado Boulder



Object Description
Title/Object Name
Red Figure Lekythos
c. 425 - c. 350 BCE
5th century - 4th century BCE
Height, 6 3/8 In, 16.1925 Cm
Diameter, 2 1/4 In, 5.7150 Cm
small glazed ceramic jar with image of woman in black glazing and geometric designs
Credit Line
University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, Transfer, CU Art Museum, University of Colorado Boulder
This lekythos, or oil jar, is University of Colorado's only example of red-figure decoration. It dates to the mid-5th century BCE. The clay is light red covered with black glaze. There is a black band around the lip of the vessel, with a double row of vertical lines extending down the neck, ending in a simple, single lined meander at the shoulder. The sole figure decorating the otherwise black-slipped body of the vase stands at the center of the belly next to a wool basket, holding a phiale. This woman is wearing a chiton and a himation which have been drawn in both thick black lines and thinner light lines. The lighter lines represent depth, and a sense of overlap of fabric. The artist also alludes to the young woman's figure by using a thinner line for the outline of her leg. Although no ground line exists on the vase, the presence of one is suggested by the placement of the wool basket at the horizontal line of the woman's feet. The base of the lekythos tapers to a small foot. Around the top edge of the foot there is a band of the natural red clay color. Below that lies another band of light black glaze.

The woman on this vase, who by her dress and attributes we can assume is a housewife or otherwise standard noble woman, is performing the righteous duties of a good woman. She is working wool and being religiously pious. The phiale, which is a libation bowl, represents the offerings she might make to the deceased or to the gods. The inclusion of this vessel in the imagery is meant to suggest this religious overtone. The phiale, together with the wool basket, suggests a good woman doing her duty for society; she is both pious and conforms to the role of a proper woman.

Women in ancient Greek society had a very distinct role; she was a wife, daughter, slave or prostitute. According to standard scholarship, there was little overlap among these class structures. Regardless of the position of the woman in the society, all women shared similar duties; the most important of those was working wool. A respectable woman, like the one seen on this vase, would spend her day spinning wool. Beside the overarching role of wife/prostitute/slave, the woman was expected to prepare textiles and spin fiber. This was one of her main roles in life, and it took up a great deal of her time. Today, four spinners working on wheels create enough wool for one weaver to stay busy. That means for every one textile created, it takes four times the work to create the yarn for that woven fabric. The spinning wheel was not invented until the 16 thcentury CE. It would have taken a Greek woman slightly longer to spin the same amount of wool because she would have been using a drop spindle. The ancient woman would have been an extremely skilled spinner, and therefore one can infer that the preparation of fiber is a job that is rarely ever done!
Author: Megan Aikman
Object ID
Greek and Roman Vases and Statuettes from the University of Colorado Collection



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