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My Favourite Planet > English > People > Exekias

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Ancient Greek mythology, religion and art

Exekias (Ἐξηκίας; signature ΕΧΣΕΚΙΑΣ, Exsekias) was a potter and vase painter in Athens, active around 550-525 BC. He is considered to be the best black-figure painter. His signature as painter and potter has been found on two vases, and another ten as potter only. Around 30 vases are attributed to him. He is also credited with inventing new pottery shapes: the calyx-krater and the standard "type A" cup.

He taught the Andokides Painter, who with Psiax, is among those credited with the invention of red-figure painting.

His most famous work is a signed black-figure amphora, dated circa 530 BC, showing Ajax and Achilles playing a board game (with the return of the Dioskouroi on the reverse), in the Gregorian Museum of Etruscan Art, Vatican Museums, Rome. Inv. No. 16757 (344). The image is still mass-reproduced on ceramics today and sold in tourist shops across Italy and Greece (see Now wait for last month at The Cheshire Cat Blog). See depictions of this scene by other vase painters on the Homer page.

Other works attributed to Exekias include:

The "Dionysus Cup", 540-530 BC, a black-figure Type A kylix (an eye-cup) decorated on the inside with a painting of Dionysus in a ship surrounded by dolphins. signed on the foot ΕΧΣΕΚΙΑΣ ΕΠΟΕΣΕ (Exsekias made it). Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich. Inv. No. 2044.

A black-figure neck-amphora, signed by Exekias as potter, with Achilles killing the Amazon queen Penthesileia, and Ajax preparing his suicide. British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1849.5-18.10 (Vase B209).

A ceramic tablet plaque by Exekias at My Favourite Planet

Fragments of an Attic black-figure
ceramic funerary plaque (pinax),
painted by Exekias around 540 BC.

One of a number of fragments of
funerary plaques found in 1872
in Outer Kerameikos, Athens.

Altes Museum, Berlin.
Inv. No. F1811-1826. Acquired in 1875.
Detail of an Attic calyx-krater by Exekias depicting Hermes at My Favourite Planet

Detail of an inscribed Attic black-figure calyx-krater by Exekias,
showing Hermes and other deities taking part in the deification
of Herakles and his introduction to Olympus.

Around 530 BC. Found in 1937 in a well in the Athenian Agora.

Museum of the Ancient Agora, Athens. Inv. No. AP 1044.

The name ΗΕΡΜΕΣ (Hermes) is painted clearly above the god's head. Typical of Exekias' style are the bold composition and the finely incised drawing of contours and details, such as Hermes' hair and beard, and the patterns of his garments: the meander on the collar of his tunic, and flowers/stars and swastikas on his cloak.

Hermes is finely dressed for the special occasion. He carries a long kerykeion (caduceus), and wears a petasos over his elaborately styled hair. To the right, tendril-like vines, loaded with bunches of grapes, fill the space and seem to dance in the breeze. The grapes are made plastic by the simple trick of indicating the highlighs of individual fruits with simple C-shaped incisions.

Side B of the krater shows the fight between Greek and Trojan warriors over the body of the fallen Patrokles; in the lower zone lions attacking a bull.
Photos and articles © David John
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