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Griffin Gallery Explores the Artistic Evolution of the Ancient Hydra Handle

The Griffin Gallery ‘s newest exhibit reminds us that ornamentation on every day objects was as popular in  early human history as they are today. The Hydria, primarily a pot for fetching water, derives its name from the Greek word for “water”. Hydriai were often seen on painted Greek vases, showing scenes of women carrying water from a fountain.  A hydria has two horizontal handles at the sides for lifting and a vertical handle at the back for dipping and pouring. Of all the Greek vase shapes, the hydria probably received the most artistically significant treatment in terracotta and in bronze. The Rickie Report shares the details of this exhibit, as we find ancient design the initial map to modernity.
griffinlogo

Griffin Gallery

Invites you to

ARTISTIC EVOLUTION OF THE ANCIENT HYDRIA HANDLE

 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

5:00 P.M. until 7:00 P.M.

The exhibition continues through May 07, 2014

Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10:30 A.M. until 5 P.M., Monday by appointment only and closed Sunday.

Gallery Center, 608 Banyan Trail Boca Raton, FL

 

The evolution of the terracotta hydria from the 7th century B.C. to the 3rd century B.C. is well represented in the Greek collection of the Metropolitan Museum. The earliest vessels typically have a wide body and broadly rounded shoulder. Sometime before the middle of the 6th century B.C., however, the shape evolved into one with a flatter shoulder that meets the body at a sharp angle. By the end of the 6th century B.C., a variant, known as a kalpis, developed. With a continuous curve from the lip through the body of the vessel, it became the type favored by red-figure vase painters. Terracotta black-glaze hydriai of the late Classical period were sometimes decorated with a gilt wreath that was painted or applied in shallow relief around the vase’s neck. These gilt wreaths imitated actual gold funerary wreaths that were placed around bronze hydriai, examples of which have been found in Macedonian tombs. Hydriai from this later, Hellenistic, period tend to be more slender and elongated.

 

Greek Bronze Hydria, Roaring Lion

Greek Bronze Hydria, Roaring Lion

Bronze hydriai consist of a body, which was hammered, and a foot and handles, which were cast and decorated with figural and floral motifs. Sometimes the moldings and other decorative elements of the foot, handles, and rim were embellished with silver inlay. The green patina evident on many Greek bronze hydriai is a result of corrosion over the centuries. Originally, these vessels had a gold, copper, or brown tint, depending on the particular bronze alloy that was used. The cast vertical handles could be particularly elaborate, taking the form of human figures and powerful animals. Images of deities and other mythological figures appear on some of the more ornate vases of the Classical period. A particularly popular type of bronze hydria features a siren at the base of the vessel’s vertical handle.
Parthian Bronze Lionhead Handle

Parthian Bronze Lionhead Handle

Sirens—part beautiful woman and part bird—were mythological creatures that often had funerary connotations. Their legendary singing lured sailors off course to shipwreck and death. Frequently, sirens appear on Classical Greek gravestones as if lamenting or watching over the deceased. Perhaps their appearance on the handles of bronze hydriai signifies the vessels’ funerary function. Or, more generally, these mythological creatures may stand for female attendants. On the handles of bronze hydriai, sirens are represented with their wings open, as if in mid flight. Perhaps they are assisting in lifting the vessel and pouring out its liquid contents.
Roman Bronze

Roman Bronze

Like its terracotta counterpart, the kalpis became the most popular form of bronze hydria in the fifth century B.C. These metal vessels were used not only for water but also as cinerary urns, ballot boxes, votive offerings, and as prizes for competitions held at Greek sanctuaries. The occasional inscription on a rim describes their use as an offering to a god or as a prize for an athletic or music competition. Many well-preserved examples of these bronze vessels have been found in tombs.
Early Bronze Age Spouted Vessel

Early Bronze Age Spouted Vessel

Like many Greek vases, the hydria typically had a lid that is seldom preserved. This cover could be quite tall and taper to a point. When a hydria was used as an urn, the lid might be made of another material, such as lead, that was simply flattened over the rim of the vessel. Plaster was also used to seal the cremated remains. At other times, the lid was made of the same material as the rest of the vase.
Middle Age Bronze Juglet

Middle Age Bronze Juglet

In Hellenistic times, during the third and first half of the second centuries B.C., a new regional type of hydria developed, known as the Hadra hydria (water jar used as a cinerary urn). These vessels take their name from the Hadra cemetery of Alexandria, Egypt, where many examples were first discovered in the late nineteenth century. However, scientific analysis and research have revealed that the Hadra hydriai were made in western Crete, and exported to Egypt. They were also used for burials on Crete and have been excavated in tombs at Phaistos.
Roman Bronze

Roman Bronze

Hadra hydriai are typically decorated with black paint, and many of them bear ink inscriptions that identify the deceased and the year in which they died. In some instances, Hadra hydriai are coated with a white slip, and then decorated with polychrome paint. These particular Hadra hydriai are likely the product of local Alexandrian workshops, and they provide valuable information about the customs of Greeks living in Egypt during the reign of the Ptolemies in the Hellenistic period.
Pottery Twin Jug

Pottery Twin Jug

Colette Hemingway, Independent Scholar
Sean Hemingway, Department of Greek & Roman, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Griffin Gallery specializes in museum quality Ancient Art. Our holdings include over five hundred authentic artifacts that reflect a spectrum of the cultures of Antiquity in addition to Contemporary Fine Works of Art. Among our treasures are pieces from Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Far East, the Near East, the Holy Land, Pre-Columbian cultures, and pre historic Native America.

Griffin Gallery Ancient Art is located at Gallery Center, 608 Banyan Trail Boca Raton, FL 33431.  For more information please contact them via phone: 561.994.0811, fax: 561.994.1855 or visit www.griffingallery.net  or email griffingallery18@yahoo.com

Sponsored by: Beiner,Inkeles & Horvitz, P.A. 2000 Glades Road, Ste. 110, Boca Raton, FL, 33431, (561) 750-1800    Works cited: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/gkhy/hd_gkhy.htm

 

 

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