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Identification and Creation
Object Number
1927.148
People
Attributed to The Alkimachos Painter, Greek (active ca. 475 -450 BCE)
Title
Nolan Amphora (storage jar): Theseus and Sinis Grasping Fir Tree
Classification
Vessels
Work Type
vessel
Date
c. 470-460 BCE
Places
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Athens (Attica)
Period
Classical period, Early
Culture
Greek
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/291412
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Terracotta
Technique
Red-figure
Dimensions
32.7 x 27.5 x 17.7 cm (12 7/8 x 10 13/16 x 6 15/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: NV scratched on bottom of amphora.
State, Edition, Standard Reference Number
Standard Reference Number
Beazley Archive Database #205978
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of E. P. Warren
Accession Year
1927
Object Number
1927.148
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
On one side: Theseus and Sinis. Sinis was a bandit who lived at the Isthmus of Corinth, the only land-route from the Greek mainland to the Peloponnesian peninsula, and would trick travelers into helping him bend trees down to the ground and releasing them so they were catapulted by the tree as it sprang back up. Because of this, he was sometimes called Pityokamptes, “Pine-bender”.

This scene shows the Athenian hero Theseus outwitting Sinis and using his own trick against him. The unbearded Theseus stands on the left, wearing a short tunic (chiton) and holding Sinis’ left wrist in his right hand, looking down at the crouching Sinis. In his left hand he holds a coniferous tree bent down towards the ground, with its leaves and branches painted in added red. Guidelines from a preliminary sketch can be seen at the base of the tree. Sinis is on the right, nude and with long hair and a beard, facing Theseus but crouching down with his left leg extended, and his left arm extended and held by Theseus. He clutches the tree with his right arm. Both figures wear wreaths in added red. Between the figures, in the curve of the bent tree, is a non-sensical inscription in added red.

On the other side: a youth draped in a cloak (himation) walks to the right looking back over his shoulder. He wears a wreath in added red.

Strips of meander pattern act as ground line for the figural scenes, and are the only ornamental decoration. On the bottom of the foot there is an incised trademark NV, which also is found on three other vases attributed to the Alkimachos Painter. A small trident/psi has also been carved into the foot, apparently in modern times; the same mark is found on the foot of 1927.150, another amphora donated by Edward Perry Warren.
Commentary
The approach of Athenian vase-painters to the depiction of coniferous trees, and in particular in scenes like this one which depict the encounter of Theseus and Sinis, has been the subject of a recent study by Elke and Hans-Joachim Böhr. Although the details of the depiction of the tree on this and other vases do not make explicit what species is represented, in this case the mythological context makes it clear that we must understand it as a pine. In general, as Jennifer Neils has shown, Athenian depictions of the exploits of Theseus make extensive and unusual use of landscape elements, like rocks and especially trees, to define and differentiate his different deeds and the specific sites where they took place.

One particularly important association of pine trees in Greek antiquity was with the biannual Isthmian Games, one of the four great Panhellenic Games along with the Olympic Games. Winners at the Isthmian Games were awarded a crown made from pine needles. Theseus was often considered to be the founder, or at least a reorganiser, of the Isthmian Games, and at least one source (the Parian Marble, CIG 2374, 1. 36) reports that he founded them specifically in honor of his defeat of Sinis, who lived at the Isthmus near where the games were held.

For further reading see:
Elke and Hans-Joachim Böhr, “Spruce, Pine, or Fir: Which did Sinis Prefer?” in Athenian Potters and Painters, Volume II, ed. John Oakley (Oxford: Oxbow, 2014), pp. 18-26.
Jenifer Neils, The Youthful Deeds of Theseus, J. Bretschneider (Rome, 1987), p. 147.
E. M. W. Tillyard, “Theseus, Sinis, and the Isthmian Games,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 33 (1913): pp. 296-312.
Publication History

Corpus of Attic Vase Inscriptions, website, https://www.avi.unibas.ch/DB/searchform.html?ID=4117, cat. 3907.

Fogg Art Museum Handbook, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1931), p.14.

George H. Chase and Mary Zelia Pease, Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, U.S.A.: volume 8, Fogg Museum and Gallatin Collections, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1942), p. 33, pl. 16.1.

J. D. Beazley, Attic Red-Figure Vase-Painters, The Clarendon Press (Oxford, England, 1963), p. 529, no. 7.

Jenifer Neils, The Youthful Deeds of Theseus, L'Erma di Bretschneider (Rome, 1987), pp. 115, 165 cat. 83.

Michael W. Taylor, Tyrant Slayers, Arno Press (New York, 1991), pp. 141-2, pl. 37.

Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), Artemis (Zürich, Switzerland, 1999), Theseus 67.

Alan W. Johnston, Trademarks on Greek Vases: Addenda, Aris and Phillips (Warminster, England, 2006), p. 156, 9F 4.

James Murley, "The Impact of Edward Perry Warren on the Study and Collections of Greek and Roman Antiquities in American Academia" (2012), University of Louisville, pp. 124-6.

Sara Chiarini, The So-called Nonsense Inscriptions on Ancient Greek Vases: Between Paideia and Paidia, Brill Academic Publishers (Leiden) (Leiden, The Netherlands, 2018), pp. 306-7

Exhibition History

[Teaching Exhibition], Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, 08/01/1995 - 01/01/1997

32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/23/2019 - 05/13/2019

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu