The ancient Greek artist Euphronios painted this magnificent image of the death of the hero Sarpedon in the red figure style. And it is easy to see why the work, which is referred to as the Sarpedon Vase, is one of the masterpieces in the history of art.
The vase painting is dominated by a scene that appears in the Iliad of Homer. In this ancient epic, the warrior Sarpedon dies the glorious death of a true hero - on the battlefield. He is mourned by his fellow heroes and also by the Greek gods. Indeed, the gods themselves attend to the dead hero. Hypnos, the god of sleep, and Thanatos, the god of death, together carry the body of Sarpedon away from the earth.
In this image, Euphronios follows the Homeric version, and depicts the brothers Hypnos and Thanatos gently lifting the slain warrior (notice that the gods here have wings). In the center of the painting, the god Hermes is seen assisting. The scene is surrounded by sumptuous decoration, including stylized plant and flower forms. All of these elements - a poignant and memorable story from epic poetry, ornately painted figures, the powerful composition, and the lyrical design details - make this vase painting truly one of the great images of ancient Greek art.
Learn more about the gods Hypnos, Thanatos, and Hermes at Mythography.
The Art and Culture of Early Greece
Professor Jeffrey M. Hurwit has written a wonderfully engaging book about the art, literature, and poetry of early Greece. Scholars and students alike should enjoy this book. Images of many works of ancient Greek art and an extensive glossary make this an excellent resource.
This beautifully illustrated book (from the Phaidon Art and Ideas series and written by Nigel Spivey) covers the subject of ancient Greek art brilliantly.