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Featured Item: The Chariot-Race Stamnos

Hicham Aboutaam discusses the newly acquired Chariot-Race Stamnos

Interviewer: What is the origin of this vase? And who made it?

Hicham Aboutaam: This is an Attic Greek black-figured stamnos. It is part of a group of stamnoi that are characterized by a short neck and a rather squat body. If you notice the shoulder is not particularly slanted. The group is known as “Miniature Class A.” This Chariot-Race stamnos is one of several black-figure vases made towards the end of the 6th Century B.C. These vases have two separate bands around the circumference. The one above features a banqueting scene and the one below features a racing scene. This stamnos is attributed to the “Michigan Painter.” There is a graffito (K) on the underside of the vase.

Interviewer: What was the function of this stamnos?

Hicham Aboutaam: There are many shapes, functions, and sizes in Greek vases in antiquities. For instance a kyathos is a small ladle, an oinchoe is a wine jug, a kylix is a shallow footed drinking cup, a hydria is a three-handled water pitcher, olive oil would be stored in a small suspending alabastron, a pyxis is a lidded toilet-box, a krater is a large bowl used to mix water and wine. The water would be stored in a hydria and the wine in an amphora. Our stamnos is a wine storage vase that is probably the most rare shape in Greek vases.

Interviewer: What can you tell us about the subject matter of this Greek vase?

Hicham Aboutaam: The Michigan painter was active in this type of small black vases and had a knack for capturing movement and the intensity of a scene. Notice the heads of the charioteers. Even their eyes have an intensity that is striking. Their hair is either swept by the wind or moving backwards from the speed of the chariot. The horses’ legs even show effort and the spirit of competition. I find it quite moving!

Two celebrated subjects are beautifully drawn on this black-figure stamnos: a banqueting scene on the shoulders and a chariot race on the body. If you look closely at our chariot stamnos, you will notice that there are two galloping teams on one side and a third one on the other. An amusing feature is the presence of a dog with a bone in its mouth, possibly a left over from the feasting banqueters. It’s unusual and nice to see women in a banqueting scene, here three women are reclined and alternate with three reclining bearded men.

Interviewer: Are there any other vases by this painter that you know of?

Hicham Aboutaam: It is recorded that the Michigan Painter painted seven other stamnoi. # currently reside in Wurzurg, Germany; one in Los Angeles, California; one in the Vatican, one in Northwick, England, and one at the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. One of the Wurzburg stamnoi depicts two women and four men. In addition, there is no dog. While the rest of the design, namely the chariots and horses, is the same, the lack of a dog in the Würzburg stamnoi is meaningful. In our stamnos, you see below the single chariot side another dog displayed, but this time in white wash-with a black collar. One gets the impression that the white dog is racing with the chariot or perhaps deeply devoted to his master, the charioteer and trying to keep up with him. Because a race or a banquet occurs on a special occasion the events depicted are meant to create distance from everyday life. The dog, which in ancient Greece did not enjoy the level of domesticity it does today, was a symbol of an ideal way of life. For this reason, this stamnos might have been an offering at a banquet honoring somebody’s death.

Interviewer: Where was this stamnos before Phoenix Ancient Art acquired it?

Hicham Aboutaam: The Stamnos was part of the collection of Mr. Ferruccio Bolla, a banker in the Canton of Ticino, Switzerland and was published in 1976. We also learned that it was exhibited at the J. Paul Getty Museum of Art, Malibu, in 1980.

Hicham Aboutaam discusses the stamnos on behalf of Phoenix Ancient Art S.A. Geneva. Ali Aboutaam is the President of Phoenix Ancient Art S.A. Geneva.