This detail of a vase painting by the Achilles Painter features a delicate rendering of one of the Muses. It was done using the white ground technique, and the shape of the vase is what is known as a lekythos. This type of vase was used as an oil flask by the ancient Greeks. Scholars have suggested that these lekythoi (the plural of lekythos) may have been intended to serve as funerary offerings. And judging from some of the scenes that adorn various Greek lekythoi this theory seems quite plausible.
On one side of this charming lekythos the artist has taken great care in depicting a wonderfully detailed image of a Muse. This lovely goddess is seated and is in the process of playing a musical instrument. She is shown in profile, and her features are typical of the Classical Greek tendency to represent idealized beauty. The word "Helikon" - which was the traditional home of the Muses - helps us to identify this female figure.
In Greek mythology, the Muses were nine goddesses who inspired the arts and humanities. Each Muse presided over a particular area. And while this Muse is not precisely identified by the artist, there are several Muses who were associated with music and poetry in ancient myth. Incidentally, the Greek lettering near the top of the vase is what is referred to as a kalos inscription. In this example, the handsome appearance of a youth called Axiopeithes is here celebrated by the painter.
Learn more about the role the Muses played in Greek mythology at Mythography.
Art and Experience in Classical Greece
Professor J.J. Pollitt puts the Classical period in perspective, using dynamic descriptions of some of the most memorable works from this time of artistic brilliance. There are insightful discussions of various Classical Greek vase paintings in this book, with many black and white images to complement the engaging text.
This beautifully illustrated book (from the Phaidon Art and Ideas series and written by Nigel Spivey) covers the subject of ancient Greek art brilliantly.