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Vessel with a Comic Actor
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Gift of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman

Attributed to the Workshop of the Konnakis Painter
South Italian, Apulia, 360 - 350 B.C.
Terracotta
8 5/8 in.
96.AE.118

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Vase-painters working in the Greek colonies in South Italy frequently showed scenes of theatrical performances. Phlyax plays, popular in the 300s and 200s B.C., were farces parodying the heroes and themes of mythology or the comic elements of everyday life. The term phlyax, which is used for both the play and the costumed actors, probably derives from the Greek verb "to swell" and finds its meaning in the actors' costumes. They wore a mask, tights, a padded tunic, and a large artificial phallus; any other garments necessary for the role were worn over this.

This Gnathian ware situla depicts a phlyax moving to the right along a dotted ground line while looking back over his shoulder. The economical scene makes it impossible to know what play is shown, but the figure is meant to be an African.

As well as decorating vases in the red-figure technique, Apulian vase-painters created a type of pottery that scholars call Gnathian ware. In this technique, artisans glazed the entire surface of the vase black, then painted on the figures in added colors. This type of pottery began around 360 B.C. and was very popular in the period from about 350 to 325 B.C.