Slaughter of Iphigenia
Red-figured volute krater. Apulia.
Ca. 370—350 BCE.
Attributed to a painter close to the Iliupersis Painter (the sack of Troy).
Height: 69.5, width: 43.4, depth: 41 cm; weight: 12 kg.
Inv. No. 1865,0103.21.London, British Museum

Slaughter of Iphigenia.

Red-figured volute krater. Apulia.
Ca. 370—350 BCE.
Attributed to a painter close to the Iliupersis Painter (the sack of Troy).
Height: 69.5, width: 43.4, depth: 41 cm; weight: 12 kg.
Inv. No. 1865,0103.21.

London, British Museum.

Found in Basilicata, Italy.
Purchased in 1865 from Comte James Alexandre de Pourtalès-Gorgier (sale, through Rollin & Feuardent).

Apulian red-figured volute-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water).

Designs black on red ground, with white accessories. Round the lip, (a) egg-moulding, (b) wave-pattern; underneath, (a) ivy-wreath and wave-pattern, (b) ivy-wreath and astragalus-pattern. On the neck: (a) above, laurel-wreath; below, two Gryphons rushing at each other; between them a palmette; (b) laurel-wreath and palmettes. Above the designs, tongue- and egg-patterns; below, all round, maeander and crosses; below the handles, palmettes. The handles terminate below in swans’ heads, as before; above, in Gorgoneia, painted white, the hair yellow on obverse, black on reverse, the pupils of the eyes black.

(a) The sacrifice of Iphigeneia: In the centre is a white altar on two steps, with a chevron-pattern on the cornice and a knotted taenia hanging from the front. On the further side of it stands Agamemnon (or perhaps Calchas) to right, with face turned to front; he is bearded, with himation wound round lower limbs and left arm, in left hand a sceptre; in right hand he holds out the sacrificial knife with which he is about to slay Iphigeneia, who stands before him. She has dishevelled hair, bracelets, and long chiton with apoptygma to the hips, and looks downwards; on the further side of her are visible the head, legs, and hinder parts of the hind substituted for her as a victim, which stands on its hind-legs to left. Behind her, on a higher level, is Artemis to left looking down at her, with hair gathered under a double fillet, earrings, bracelets, short embroidered chiton with girdle and cross-belt (both black with large white studs), bordered chlamys fastened with a fibula in front, and endromides with tops turned over, and white buttons, laced up the front; bow in right hand, two spears in left. On the left is a youth leaning forward to right, with left foot raised on a rock, embroidered himation over body and left arm, in right hand, a purple prochoos, in left a phiale in which are branches and fruit. Above his head is Apollo seated on a rock to left, looking back, beardless, with drapery under him and a laurel-branch in right hand; on the extreme left of the scene is a female figure to right with hair in a knot behind, necklace, bracelets, long girt chiton and apoptygma, himation round lower limbs, in left hand a flower (?). Over the altar are two white bucrania with chaplets of beads; the ground-lines are indicated by white dots.

(b) In the centre is a youth seated on drapery to right with white fillet, and two spears in left hand; facing him is a female figure with hair in a knot, earrings, necklace, bracelets, long girt chiton and apoptygma, and sandals, holding up a phiale in right hand. Behind her is a youth to left with fillet, drapery on left arm and staff in right hand. On the left is a female figure to right, with hair in a knot, earrings, bracelet on right arm, long girt chiton and apoptygma, himation over left arm, and sandals; right hand extended, in left she holds up a mirror. Above the head of the first youth is seen the lower part of a shield with device of a star.

BM Cat. Vases:
Inghirami, Vasi Fitt. iii. 251; Raoul-Rochette, Mon. Ined. pl. xxvi. Β; Overbeck, Her. Bildw. pl. xiv. 9, p. 317; Baumeister, p. 756; Duruy, History of Greece, iii. p. 54; Creuzer, Zur Archaologie, i. p. 165; Ann. dell’ Inst. 1830, p. 131; Jahn, Arch. Beitr. p. 387; Vogel, Scenen Eurip. Tragod. p. 116; Murray, Handbook of Gk. Archaeology, p. 390; Overbeck, Kunstmyth. (Apollo), p. 327; Arch. Zeit. 1869, p. 8, note.
For side a, cf. the picture by Timanthes, mentioned by Pliny, Hist. Nat. xxxv. 73.
More recently bibliography: O. Taplin, Pots & Plays. Interactions between tragedy and Greek vase-painting in the fourth century B. C. (Los Angeles, 2007), no. 52. Catalogue text for loan to exhibition:
Beyond; Death and Afterlife in Ancient Greece
Museum of Cycladic Art, 11. 12. 14—8. 2. 15

Red-figured volute-krater.
Ca. 370—355 BC.
Apulian workshop. Attributed to a painter close to the Iliupersis Painter.
Clay, H 69 cm D 43.5 cm.
From Basilicata, South Italy.
London, British Museum GR 1865,0103.21 (Vase F159).
Completely preserved.

The main decoration on this large and elaborate volute krater is a rare image of an episode from the Trojan War: the sacrifice of the young Greek girl Iphigeneia. The episode is set at the very beginning of the war. The Greek fleet is held at Aulis by bad weather sent by Artemis, because the fleet’s commander, king Agamemnon of Mykenai, had offended the goddess by killing a stag in her sacred precinct. The seer Kalchas pronounces that the only way to placate the goddess and to set off for Troia is for Agamemnon to sacrifice his own daughter, Iphigeneia, to Artemis. The scene on the krater shows the very moment that the sacrifice takes an unexpected dramatic turn.

The scene is played out on several levels, having been painted at a time when multi-register compositions were beginning to become common in Apulian pottery. In the centre is a white altar on two steps, with details painted in gold-brown. Behind it stands Agamemnon (more likely than Kalchas) to the right, his face turned to the front; he is bearded, with a himation slung around his hips and left arm, and holds a sceptre; in his right hand is the sacrificial knife with which he is about to slay Iphigeneia, who stands before him. Having been summoned under the pretence that she is to wed Achilleus, she appears to have accepted her fate; she looks downwards, with dishevelled hair, wearing a long peplos and bracelets. However, already a miraculous event is taking place: Iphigeneia is seemingly being transformed into a deer. Behind her appear the head, legs, and hind parts of a deer, which the goddess Artemis at the last minute substitutes to take her place as a victim, while Iphigeneia herself is whisked off to the Taurians. This twist in the story is first attested in the later 5th century BC, when it was staged most famously in Euripides’ play Iphigeneia among the Taurians of 413 B. C.

Directly behind Iphigeneia, but on a higher level, is the goddess Artemis herself, looking down at her; she appears in her guise as a huntress, wearing a short belted chiton with crossbands, a chlamys fastened at the front, laced-up boots, and carrying a bow and two spears. Opposite her on the other side of the scene is the youthful god Apollon, seated on drapery on a rock to the left and looking back at his sister, a laurel-branch in his right hand. Below him, to the left of the altar, a young man dressed in a himation — Achilleus or merely a sacrificial assistant — is assisting Agamemnon with the sacrifice. He leans forward with his left foot raised on a rock while holding a purple oinochoe and a tray of branches and grain. Behind him, on the extreme left, a female figure (Iphigeneia’s mother Klytaimnestra?) stands to the right with her hair in a knot, wearing a long dress and himation, raising her hand to her face. Above the altar two white bukrania (bull’s skulls) further emphasise the sacrificial context of the scene.

On the other side of the vase a youth is seated on drapery to the right, wearing a white fillet, and holding two spears in his left hand; facing him is a woman who stands raises a phiale in her right hand. The scene is framed by a youth with a staff on the right and a woman with a mirror on the left.

Comments — Selected bibliography

The story of Iphigeneia is a classic version of the archetypal dilemma of having to sacrifice what is most dear as the only way out of a difficult situation, recalling especially the biblical story of Isaac’s sacrifice by his father Abraham, in which the son is also replaced in the last moment by a ram. First attested in literature in the post-Homeric epic Kypria, the sacrifice of Iphigeneia appeared in Greek art perhaps as early as the 7th century BC. The theme of the substitution is later and is rarely shown, but was taken up in a Hellenistic sculpture group. Given that Euripides’ plays in particular provided much inspiration for 4th century BC South Italian vase-painting, it is possible that the scene on this krater reflects theatrical renderings of Iphigeneia’s story.

The primary reason for the choice of the theme, however, was presumably the likely function of the vase as part of the funeral feast and its placement in a chamber tomb. This funerary aspect also shows in other aspects of the vase’s decoration, notably the confronted griffins flanking a central palmette on the neck, as well as the handles terminating in swans’ heads and featuring Gorgoneia in the volutes. The image of Iphigeneia’s heroic sacrifice and her divine rescue would have conveyed above all a message of hope that death might not be the end. This is a theme that is echoed also on many other vases for the tomb from Southern Italy, where Orphic and Bacchic mysteries provided popular paradigms for belief in regeneration, rebirth and a blissful afterlife.

Trendall and Cambitoglou 1978, 204 no. 8/104;
Walters 1896, 80—81 no. F159;
LIMC I (1981), 263 s. v. Agamemnon 30 [O. Touchefeu];
LIMC V (1990), 712—713 s. v. Iphigeneia 11 [L. Kahil and N. Icard];
LIMC II (1984), 729 s. v. Artemis 1373 [L. Kahil and N. Icard];
LIMC V (1990), 934, s. v. Kalchas 23 [V. Saladino];
Green and Handley 1995, 47—48, fig. 22;
van Straten 1995, 114, 267 no. V397, fig. 117;
Gebauer 2002, 279 no. SV28, p. 288, 734 fig. 159;
Woodford 2003, 6—7, fig. 3;
ThesCRA II (2005), 130 no. 588, pl. 34. 588 [A. Hermary];
Taplin 2007, 159—160 no. 52;
Buxton 2009, 107—109, fig. 45;
Hart 2010, 83 no. 36.

Dr Alexandra Villing, Curator, The British Museum — Department of Greece and Rome
(cc) 2019. Photo, text: The British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).
© The Trustees of the British Museum.
Keywords: κεραμικά ceramics clay terracotta ceramica keramik céramique ελληνική μυθολογία mythologia graeca greek mythology mitologia greca griechische mythologie grecque θεός ἀπόλλων απόλλων apollon deus apollo phoebus god dio febo gott apoll dieu ἄρτεμις dea artemis goddess artemide göttin déesse artémis γρύφων γρύπων gryphon grypon gryphus griffin griffon grifone grifoni greif greife grype νοτιοταλικό southitalian southern italy mezzogiorno meridione süditalienisch süditalien suditalien γοργών γοργώ gorgon gorgo gorgons gorgone gorgoni gorgonen gorgones ἰφιγένεια ιφιγένεια iphigeneia iphigenia ifigenia iphigenie iphigénie κάλχας calchas kalchas calcante βασιλιάς ἀγαμέμνων αγαμέμνων αγαμέμνονας rex agamemnon king re agamennone herrscher roi τρωικός πόλεμος bellum troianum trojan war guerra di troia trojanischer krieg guerre de troie technique tecnica vasenmalerei ερυθρόμορφος red figure red-figure red-figured a rosse rotfigurige rotfiguriger à figures rouges κρατήρ κρατήρας krater сrater cratere cratère apulia apulian apula apulische apulienne ελικοειδής volute volutenkrater volutes female dress clothes clothing garment abbigliamento femminile damenbekleidung vêtements pour femmes γυναικεία ρούχα male maschile herrenbekleidung hommes ανδρικά corona hedera ivy wreath edera efeukranz couronne lierre στεφάνι κισσού armilla bracelet braccialetto bracciale armband armreif armspange spange βραχιόλι ara altar altare autel βωμός oblatio sacrificium sacrifice sacrificio opfer θυσία endromis endromidis endromides cothurnus topboot boot boots stivali endromide stiefel stiefeln bottes ἐνδρομίς girl young woman ragazza mädchen mädel jeune fille κοπέλα earring earrings orecchino orecchini ohrring ohrringe boucle d’oreille gorgoneion gorgonion head of medusa testa gorgonenhaupt medusenhaupt γοργόνειον barba barbatum beard bearded man uomo barbuto bart bärtiger mann barbe homme barbu γενειάδα γενειοφόρος άνθρωπος hasta spear lancia speer lance δόρυ taenia tainia band ribbon fillet tenia tänie binden tænia ténia ταινία sceptrum sceptre scettro zepter σκήπτρο torquis necklace collana halskette collier κολιέ palmette palmetta laurel branch ramo alloro lorbeerzweig branche laurier hostia victima sacrificial animal victim animale sacrificale vittima opfertier sacrificiel victime θυσιαστικό ζώο θύμα belt cintura cingolo gurt gürtel ceinture ζώνη meander meandros meandro mäander méandre μαίανδρος leaves foglie efeu efeublätter feuilles κισσός φύλλα phial phiale φιάλη bucranium bucranio bukranion bucrane βουκράνιον βουκράνιο bow arco bogen arc τόξο hind cerva damhirsch hirschkuh daim biche hymation himation culter cultri knife coltello opfermesser couteau infula iliupersis ilioupersis painter pittore iliupersis-maler peintre l’ilioupersis egg moulding ovolo mouldings ovoli ove oves wave-pattern wave-like ornament wavy apoptygma prochoos immolatio immolo immolation inv no 1865,0103.21 f159~