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Panathenaic Prize Amphora with Lid
Athens, Greece (Place Created)
89.5 cm (35 1/4 in.)
The Panathenaia, a state religious festival, honored Athena, the patron goddess of Athens. Held in its expanded form every four years, the festival included athletic, musical, and other competitions. Amphorae filled with oil pressed from olives from the sacred trees of Athena were given as prizes in the Panathenaic Games. These amphorae had a special form with narrow neck and foot and a standard fashion of decoration. One side showed Athena, the goddess of war, armed and striding forth between columns, and included the inscription "from the games at Athens." The other side showed the event for which the vase was a prize. Leading vase-painters, commissioned by the state, decorated these vessels, which continued to be decorated in the black-figure technique long after it had gone out of fashion for other vases, probably due to religious conservatism. The same conservatism applied to the depiction of Athena.
On this example, the figure of Athena is portrayed in an Archaistic or old-fashioned style. The Nike figures atop akanthos columns flanking Athena are a detail that allows scholars to date this vase precisely to 363/2 B.C., and an inscription records the name of its maker, Nikodemos. The back of the vase depicts Nike, the goddess of victory, crowning the winner of a boxing match between young men, while an older, bearded judge looks on. The leather thongs held by the youths identify them as boxers; they were wrapped around the hands and served as the ancient equivalent of boxing gloves. In 370 B.C. the victor in youth boxing won forty amphorae of oil; the second place winner took home eight.
The Merrin Gallery (New York, New York), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1993.
Rings: Five Passions in World Art (July 4 to September 29, 1996)
- High Museum of Art (Atlanta), July 4 to September 29, 1996
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- The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), March 16, 1999 to May 23, 2004
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