The Cantor Arts Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University is a beautiful museum that showcases artworks of many different cultures. Long steps lead up to the entrance of the building with four pillars and two statues on the outside. The building looks to be inspired by greek architecture.
Traversing the museum is easy because it is a linear path that leads from room to room full circle back to the entrance. Different rooms divide each exhibit by the type of art and era it is from such art from Asia and Europe. Replicas and valuable works of art are displayed within glasses cases to prevent viewers from touching them. Some of the smaller artworks are displayed together within the same glass case because they relate to on another. Larger artworks such as sculptures and busts are not encased in glass. All of the art is evenly spaced from each other so viewers don’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of art there is and just focus on one specific piece they want to look at. Finally, you may exit the museum through a beautiful garden of sculptures.
While traversing the Cantor Arts Center, a particular work of art caught my eye in the Gallery for Early European Art. The art in particular was an Oil flask or Lekythos as the ancient Greeks would call it. It was a beautiful jar that had a interesting and descriptive plaque. The title of the art piece is “Oil Flask (Lekythos)”. The Athenians used the word lekythos and lekythoi to mean any small oil flask.
The lekythos appeared around 1000 to 480 BCE. This lekythos was created during the 5th century BCE. The historical art style that the lekythos is from is the Archaic Period of Ancient Greece. The Archaic Period was a time of artistic development that lasted from 1000 to 480 BCE. During the Archaic Period, art and architecture changed drastically. Older art styles were replaced by newer styles of art such as the black-figure technique. Greek art became more naturalistic. The paintings such as the one on the lekythos portray the human figure in a less rigid way.
These oil flasks were originally used for storing olive oil. They also had functions as a jug container for water at baths and gymnasiums. Lekythos had a function for funeral services, but White-ground lekythos were primarily used for funeral. They stored olive oil used in burial rituals and then the vessels were left to decorate gravesites. The lekythos were important during funeral practices because the rituals they were used in depict a story of a person’s life and values before they passed. The specific function of the vessel during a funeral is misconceived, but there is physical proof that the vessel was burned during the cremation of a deceased body. The patron of this specific lekythos is unknown.
Many of the patrons that commissioned the lekythos and the skilled artisans that crafted them are unknown. The reason they were commissioned are most likely for their primary reason for holding olive oil and funeral rituals. The lekythos were painted to depict the deceased, how they passed, or the funeral. This lekythos is painted white with an image over the white background. The lekythos depicts a funeral scene with two figures at a gravesite. A seated woman holds up a tray of offerings and a boy soldier, a representation of the deceased, moves toward her, carrying his spear.
The boy soldier depicted in this painting is moving on to the afterlife. The seated woman may represent a goddess assisting the boy into the afterlife or may be the boy’s mother giving the boy items from the tray before he moves on into the afterlife. Lekythos were an artistic innovation because they took advantage of two new painting techniques that had emerged.
The lekythos are painted in the black-figure and red-figure technique. Black-figure technique is when a black image is painted over a red background and red-figure technique is when a red image is painted over a black background. Red-figure technique was used, but the majority of lekythos was decorated in the black-figure technique. The colors are usually black and red because they provide a bigger contrast than if there were more color. A new technique call white-ground technique came into use when lekythos were painted with a white background and an image is painted over the white.
However, the lekythos are more fragile when painted this way. Lekythos found painted with this technique are found from Athenian graves. The vessels that decorated the Athenian graves show a high amount of detail, and the artists that painted them are skilled in these painting techniques. Black-figure and red-figure lekythos were mostly used over the white-ground lekythos because they were the most durable. The medium of this lekythos is terracotta. Terracotta is an unglazed, clay-based earthenware used to shape the vessel before it it fired and painted over. The style of this lekythos is painted in white-ground technique. The main body of the lekythos is white color and the texture is smooth because it is glazed.
The neck and base is a glazed black color with the bottom of the vessel being a red-brownish color. The darker colors of the top and bottom of the lekythos compliment the lighter color of the main body. There are many gold or brownish colored lines that go around the lekythos. These lines are likely part of the painting that has faded away.The lekythos has a long cylindrical oval shaped body, a narrow neck, and a single handle.
The handle is on the opposite of the painting so that the painting can be displayed more prominently. The opening or lips of the lekythos is flared out to assist is pouring liquids or olive oil with ease. The style is similar to the Greek or Roman amphora, but the amphora has two handles and is much more rounder. The Archaic art that the ancient Greeks produced was beautiful and magnificent for its time and is still today.