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Neither the potter or the painter signed the vase, and none of the figures are named.
Side A - Interpretation
Niobid Painter did not name any of his figures, so art historians have suggested different interpretations for the scene on Side A.
The story of “The Seven Against Thebes” is one possibility. “The Gathering of the Argonauts” is another possibility.
Another suggestion is “Herakles’ Voyage into the Underworld to Rescue Theseus”.
Herakles stands in the centre of the frieze, attracting the viewer’s attention. He is naked except for his lionskin (over his left shoulder), but wears a beard and a wreath, and looks to his right at the warriors. He also carries his trademark club and a bow. Herakles
Theseus pulls himself up using the spears he holds in his left hand. His pose is very natural and balanced, with his straight right arm, and bent left leg. His right foot is turned outward in frontal view. His sword is slung across his chest on a strap, while he wears a petassos – a travelling hat – around the back of his neck. Theseus?
Peirthoos sits to the right of Herakles. Naked, he sits on his himation, with his sword slung around his chest. This is an unusual pose. His head is ¾ view and, while appears to be looking at Theseus, he looks bored. Peirthoos?
These two figures are both shown in a combination of frontal, ¾ and profile views. They are the finest figures shown on the vase. These figures show the influence of the wall-painter Polygnotos.
To the right of Herakles, all these figures are arranged on an uneven groundline. This creates a sense of depth. On the far right of the composition, a man is depicted standing by his horse. It is possible that he is also one of Castor and Pollux.
wears a Thracian helmet with a horsehair crest. He wears greaves, carries a shield and leans on his spear. This warrior
Athena stands behind the warrior. She wears a chiton and an elaborate himation. She is armed with a spear, and wears an Attic helmet on top of her head. It has detailed, hinged nose and cheek flaps. Athena?
Behind Athena there are three warriors. One is armed with a corselet of metal scales, a helmet without a crest, a spear and a shield. He stands, half-hidden, behind a rock. This is inspired by the painting of Mikon of Athens. A third figure may be either Castor or Pollux.
Side B - Interpretation
Again, art historians have suggested that there may be several different interpretations for the scene on Side B.
The most probable interpretation involves Apollo and Artemis’ murder of the Niobids.
Niobe was daughter of Tantalus, and the queen of Thebes. Her husband, King Amphion, was a son of the god Zeus and was a great musician. Niobe bore him six handsome sons and six beautiful daughters (some stories say seven of each). One day when the people of Thebes were celebrating a feast for the goddess Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis, Niobe boasted that, as she had more children than Leto and because of her beauty and high lineage, she should be honoured instead of Leto.
The gods heard her words on distant Mount Olympus and resolved to punish her. Leto's children—Apollo, god of prophecy and a master archer; and Artemis, goddess of the hunt—fired their arrows with deadly aim, killing all of Niobe's children. The grief-stricken Niobe was turned into marble from which tears forever ran in the form of a spring.
Apollo stands in the centre of the frieze, with his legs apart, firing arrows. His pose is reminiscent of Greek sculpture. His quiver hangs empty beside him. He is naked, except for a folded cloak which hangs over his arm. Apollo
Artemis is also in the centre of the frieze. She is in the process of taking an arrow from her quiver. Her arm is foreshortened. She wears a peplos with an embroidered hem. It is clearly fastened at the shoulder. She wears an ornament on a string around her neck. She wears a sakkos. Artemis
Here a stylised tree grows on a small hill. This is the only indication of landscape. A boy runs away from Apollo. He is naked and has already been hit in the ribs by one of Apollo’s arrows.
Another boy lies dying from an arrow wound in the back. His face is ¾ view and his eyes are closed. He clutches the rock he has fallen onto. Another arrow lies on the ground nearby.
Apollo’s arrows never missed, so another body must be hidden behind a rock. The implied presence of another corpse is a huge step forward in vase decorating.
A dead girl lies in front of Artemis with an arrow sticking out of her back. Her face is shown in frontal view, and her eyes are closed. Her arm is outstretched and her hair is dishevelled. She wears a diadem – this shows she is of royal status.
Behind Artemis is a boy wrapped in a cloak. He is running terror away from Artemis, but he has already been hit in the chest and will die soon.
Both sides are very crowded with many figures in various different poses.
This is complicated by the use of different groundlines. This would have given the impression of depth. The groundlines were painted in purple slip, but these have faded, and now some of the figures appear to be floating. This increases the feeling of a connection with Greek sculpture.
The Niobid Painter: Innovations
Influence of wall painting
Freedom of the figures
Use of shading
Use of multiple ground-line helps to form a landscape background
Depicting of figures in profile of three quarter view
Depiction of drapery is more realistic – zig-zags are less sharp and folds look smoother
Eyes are painted in true profile, which allows the viewer to follow what the figures are looking at