Achilles Painter, (flourished c. 470–425 bc), Athenian vase painter known by and named for an amphora attributed to him with a painting of “Achilles and Briseis.” The amphora is now in the Vatican Museums. His period of activity coincides with the Parthenon sculptures and with the administration of Pericles.
The Achilles Painter also is praised for his white-ground lekythoi (funerary vases with the figures painted in colour against a white background). The white-ground lekythoi are believed to be the most reliable source information about monumental Greek paintings of the Classical period. The original monumental paintings do not survive and are known only through the writings of the ancients.
About 300 vase paintings have been attributed to the Achilles Painter on the basis of the style of the “Achilles and Briseis.” Among them are: lekythoi of “Girl Bringing a Casket to Her Mistress” (Boston Museum of Fine Arts); “Youth Bidding Farewell to Wife” (Athens); and “Warrior Arming” (British Museum). The Achilles Painter is usually cited for his delicately drawn, gentle, pensive, almost melancholy figures.
Image: The Achilles and Briseis amphora (detail)
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A large belly amphora in the Vatican displays the figure of a warrior labelled Achilles on the front (Vatican 16571; FR, pl. 167,2). Dressed in a diaphanous chitoniskos beneath an elaborately decorated cuirass, he stands in a contrapposto position looking off pensively to the right. In his left hand he holds a long spear over his shoulder; his right hand is propped on his hip. A cloak is draped over his left arm, and a sword in scabbard hangs from a baldric that crosses his chest and rests at his side. The beauty of this exquisitely drawn figure, which has often been compared to the Doryphoros of Polykleitos, inspired Sir John Beazley to name its anonymous draftsman the ‘Achilles Painter,’ an artist who is now known to have decorated more than three hundred vases in three techniques, black-figure, red-figure, and white-ground.
The Vatican amphora is Type B, a variety rare around 450-445 B.C., the date of this vase. On the reverse a female figure wearing a peplos and sakkos holds the vessels for a libation, a phiale and an oinochoe, by her waist. She faces the left, so that when one goes around the vase, it is easy to imagine direct eye contact between the two figures on the vase. This is part of the reason why she has been plausibly identified as Briseis, the young woman given to Achilles as war booty, but later taken from him by Agamemnon.
The vase is decorated in the red-figure technique and is one of a number of masterpieces produced by the Achilles Painter during the Middle phase of his career. Special details of drawing here include the shading between some of the folds of his cloak, the fine dilute glaze used for drawing the scales on the side of the cuirass, and the elaborate rendition of the profile eye, complete with eye lashes. - The Achilles Painter, John H. Oakley