Large pyxis (container for cosmetics) by the Francavilla Painter, with scenes of worship; final quarter of the 8th c. BC. Height 22cm. Cahn Sale Catalogue 1998, present location unknown
Large pyxis (container for cosmetics) by the Francavilla Painter, with scenes of worship; final quarter of the 8th c. BC. Height 22cm. Cahn Sale Catalogue 1998, present location unknown

V.B.4A. Pyxis with scenes of worship by the Francavilla Painter, looted from the Athenaion, Timpone della Motta

This important vessel was first published by Prof. Hans Jucker, who stated that it was in the possession of a dentist in Ticino. It is no longer, because it figures in a Cahn Sale catalogue. Jucker’s publication associated the vase with important objects, according to him all looted ‘from a hill-site beyond Policoro . This provenance, however, has been proven to be false by the work of Madeleine Mertens-Horn and Marianne Kleibrink.

Instead, the objects should be assigned to the Timpone della Motta, Francavilla Marittima. The connection between the vase and the Athenaion (already suggested in 1993 by Kleibrink) was established in 1999 when a large fragment of the lid of the pyxis was found on the Timpone della Motta (cf. Museum no. V.B.3.).

The ‘Ticino vase’ has now become the ‘pyxis by the Francvilla painter’, a perfect example of a welcome transition from collection to archaeological context.

This is the more important since the same painter decorated a number of similar vases, including a crater in Basle that also depicts a scene of worship.

Thus, a painter (itinerant?) at Francavilla- Lagaria decorated a series of important vessels, which – as their themes suggest – were probably used during religious ceremonies at the Athenaion.

The style of these first manifestations of figurative Greek art in Italy can be traced back to Athens, where our painter probably learned his trade. A deep bowl from the Athenian Kerameikos depicts an enthroned goddess in a very similar fashion, and details in the scenes from Italy are also found on other Athenian Late Geometric vessels.

But those scenes were not invented in Athens. Earlier Cypriote silver bowls (cf. Fig. A. with a bowl from Idalion) show that these were the prototypes that inspired the Athenian vase painters.

The Attic religious scenes certainly betray Levantine inspiration, but this only increases our admiration for the Francavilla painters’ power of adaptation. For instance, contemporary elements such as the figures of the dancing boys (Fig. B) and girls have replaced the broader Levantine prototypes.

The painter probably struggled when trying to render the goddess on her throne, the most important element of his scene. That he wanted to stress the importance of the throne (and hence of the goddess) is suggested by the fact that he showed the volute ends of the back rest in oblique perspective, while the goddess herself is shown in profile. The volutes themselves were also copied from Levantine examples (cf. Fig. C with the goddess Kybele). Levantine scenes of this kind always show the divinity or king with their feet on a footstool. Our painter, however, wisely left the goddess’ feet dangling in the air, since he didn’t feel up to the challenge of painting a footstool in perspective.

In combination, the A- and B sides of the pyxis by the Francavilla painter can be interpreted as a rendition of sacred line dances. Boys and girls dance separately before ending up in front of the enthroned Athena, where the female leader of the dance (a priestess?) offers her a drink (presumably water) from a large hydria.

The boys’ dance (Fig. B) is not a Pyrrhic dance of warriors, nor is the dance clearly labyrinthine, because the dancers do not hold hands.

As was stated before, the present location of the vase is unknown.