Published: May 10, 2018 By

Catalogue Entry Photograph of a lekythos, focused on main decorative panel on body, from the side against a neutral gray background.

This vase is one of a collection of Greek vases held by the CU Art Museum.

Gift to CU Classics Department
Transferred to CU Museum of Natural History
Transferred to CU Art Museum (2006)

Height: 15.9 cm
Diameter (max.): 5.7 cm
Date: 5th century B.C.E.
Origin: Attica (Greece)

Description: small black-figure lekythos with round base, relatively squat body, narrow neck, and slightly flared mouth. Body carries image of male figure reclining on a couch beneath a grape arbor. A female figure is seated on the other side of a vine and plays the double flute or aulos. Hastily drawn meander borders scene at top. Bottom portion of body decorated with solid black slip. Top of foot is black, while outer circumference of foot reserved in the color of clay. Shoulder decorated with parallel vertical black lines; shorter parallel vertical black lines encircle the bottom of the neck. Handle and mouth are black. 

Additional photos of this vessel show details of the mouth, rim, handle, decoration, and base.


Photograph of a lekythos, focused on right side of decorative panel, from the side against a neutral gray background.A lekythos is a vessel used to store oil used for religious or funerary purposes (1). This lekythos is an example of an ancient Greek vase decorated in the black-figure technique (2). The vase is made of a light red clay, with decorative elements, including the figural decoration, added in a black slip. Details of the figures are added by incision. The single handle on this vase is decorated with black slip on its top, exposed surface and is left in the color of the clay on its underside. The lip and mouth of the jar are covered in black slip. Short, parallel vertical lines encircle the base of the neck, while another series of longer lines decorates the shoulder of the vessel. A hastily drawn meander wraps around the top of the vessel's body above the figural panel. This same series of decorative elements -- two rows of parallel vertical lines and a meander -- is seen, also, on a red-figure lekythos in the CU Art Museum's collection. The body of this lekythos is decorated with a figural scene. At left is a male figure who reclines on a couch, resting on his left elbow. He wears a long cloak. One leg, presumably his left, is tucked beneath him, while his other sticks straight out from beneath his cloak. He turns his head to the right, toward a second human figure. This second figure, identified as female but with no discernible sex, sits, facing right with the back toward the reclining male figure. This second figure plays a double flute or aulos and wears a fillet in the hair, which is added in red or purple paint. A tree or stalk separates the two human figures and above both is a productive grape arbor, including many vines with leaves and bunches of grapes, with individual grapes indicated by dots of purple paint. The vines extend around nearly half of the circumference of the vase. Beneath the main figural panel is a horizontal band of black slip, of a medium-thickness, followed by a narrow band left in the color of the clay (3). Below this clay-colored band, the remainder of the vessel's body is covered in black slip. The base tapers inward and is attached to a relatively short base, which is decorated in black slip on its top; the sides of the base are left in the color of the clay except for a narrow ring around the very bottom of the base. 

Although the black-figure technique of vase painting was most popular in the 6th century B.C.E., this vase was probably painted in the 5th century B.C.E., after the invention of the red-figure technique. The dating of this vase is based on several factors. First, the figural representation of this vase compares favorably with other late black-figure vase paintings, including those by the Antimenes Painter, who worked from about 530 to 510 B.C.E., and the Leagros Group, who were active from about 525 to 500 B.C.E. Second, the quality of the painting, especially the hastily drawn meander and the uneven parallel vertical lines on the neck and shoulder, is relatively low, suggesting that its decoration was rushed, perhaps even mass-produced. Lekythoi were routinely buried in tombs as gifts to the dead and, as a result, a large number have been preserved. Artistically-speaking, many of these lekythoi are of a low quality, especially those in the black-figure technique that were made in the 5th century B.C.E., after red-figure had become dominant (4). 

Lekythoi were used by the ancient Greeks to hold oil. The narrow neck of the lekythos was designed so that the flow of oil was limited to a thin stream or perhaps even to drops, while its thick lip prevented spillage (5). Olive oil was valuable in the ancient Greek world. The olive tree was given to the Athenians by their patron goddess Athena. Harvested between November and March, the oil of olives was used for many purposes, including as offerings and dedications for the dead (6), as prizes for victorious athletes (7), as a scented perfume (8), for consumption, and for bathing. 


  1. Andrew J. Clark, Maya Elston, and Mary Louise Hart, Understanding Greek Vases (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Trust, 2002): 112.
  2. Chara Tzavella-Evjen, Greek and Roman Vases and Statuettes from the University of Colorado Collection (Athens: Archaiologikon Deltion, 1973): 194; Maria Ludwika Bernhard, Corpus vasorum antiquorum, Pologne Fasc. 4, Varsovie, Musée​ national (Warsaw: Panstwowe wydawnictwo nanhowe, 1960): pl. 28, 1-3; Corpus vasorum antiquorum, Deutschland Bd. 4, Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum (Munich: Beck, 1940): pl. 10, 18; Corpus vasorum antiquorum, Italia 18, Taranto, Museuo Nazionale ii (Milan: Bestetti e Tumminelli, 1942): pl. 8, 3. ADelt. 21 (1966): Chronika, Pl. 99ß.
  3. Tzavella-Evjen, Greek and Roman Vases: 195.
  4. Clark, Elston, and Hart, Understanding Greek Vases: 112.
  5. Clark, Elston, and Hart, Understanding Greek Vases​: 112.
  6. Christine Bron and François Lissarrague, "Looking at the vase," in ed. Claude Bérard, A City of Images: Iconography and Society in Ancient Greece (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989): 18.
  7. Jenifer Neils, Goddess and Polis The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992): 5.
  8. Clark, Elston, and Hart, Understanding Greek Vases​: 112.


  • Chara Tzavella-Evjen, Greek and Roman Vases and Statuettes from the University of Colorado Collection (Athens: Archaiologikon Deltion, 1973): 192-197.