Thursday, April 26, 2007

Krater, the Pan Painter

Krater, the Pan Painter, c. 470

Red-figure technique gives the artist more control over details than the earlier black-figure technique. This krater shows Artemis aiming her arrow, somewhat pointlessly it would appear, at an Actaeon who is being viciously devoured by his own hunting dogs. The familiar story, widely illustrated throughout western art because of Ovid's masterful tale, has the hapless hunter chance upon the bathing Artemis (Diana), who turns him into a stag who is then chased and devoured alive, all in full human consciousness of the horror, by his faithful dogs.

The artist has arranged the figures neatly within the shape, so that the V-shape they make with their bodies and the one created in negative space both echo the shape of the krater. Actaeon, however, is not a stag here, which I take to be a sign of his fully human consciousness. Artemis is not nude either, which is accounted for by convention. Nude females were not to be in vogue for a hundred years or so. Actaeon's helpless gesture echoes the goddess' bow and emphasizes his mounting pain and horror. He is posing, not entirely unlike the Archaic fallen warrior from the Aphaia temple, though the mouth, shut tight, and the eloquence of the gesture, pack a wallop.

The other side of the krater gives the painter his moniker. It shows an ithyphallic Pan pursuing a shepherd boy.