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Obverse side of the Euphronios krater depicting the death of Sarpedon

The Euphronios krater is an ancient Greek bowl used for mixing wine with water which was created around the year 515 BC. It is considered one of the finest Greek vases in existence. Of the surviving 27 vases painted by the renowned Euphronios, it is the only complete example. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, USA since 1972, ownership of the vase was returned to Italy under an agreement negotiated in February 2006.

The Euphronios krater is a terracotta calyx-krater originally used for mixing wine with water. It stands 45.7 centimeters in height and has a diameter of 55.1 centimeters, capable of holding about 45 litres (12 gallons). The style of the vase is red-figure pottery, in which figure outlines, details, and the background are painted with an opaque black glaze whereas the figures themselves are left in the color of the unpainted terracotta ceramic clay. In the decorations of the Euphronios krater, diluted glaze was used by the artist to vary the color of foreground figures.

The krater decoration depicts two scenes: the death of Sarpedon, son of Zeus and Laodamia, in the Trojan War on the obverse and Athenian youths from the 6th century BC arming themselves on the reverse. In the death scene, the god Hermes directs Sleep and Death to carry the fallen away to his homeland for burial. While the subject of Sarpedon's death might normally be depicted as a stylized tableau, the figures are painted in naturalistic poses and with schematic but accurate anatomy. This style is characteristic of the Pioneer Group of late Archaic painters, of whom Euphronios is considered the most accomplished. The scene of the anonymous Greek youths on the reverse is particularly distinctive, using all the Pioneer Group's characteristic techniques of anatomical accuracy, natural poses, foreshortening, and spatial illusion.

The vase is signed both by Euxitheos as potter and Euphronios, as painter. While it was customary for the painter to sign the finished work, it was less common for the potter to add his own name. The presence of both signatures indicates that Euxitheos felt the vase to be one of his finest works. Besides the artists' signatures on the obverse side, it also carries the inscription "Leagros is handsome." on the reverse. This inscription has allowed art historians to date the krater to approximately 520-510 BC, because at this time Leagros was considered the handsomest man in Greece. All names are written in Attic letters.

Reverse side of the Euphronios krater depicting Athenian youths arming themselves [Source]

Provenance and history

The krater was probably looted from an Etruscan tomb near Rome around 1971. It was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Robert Hecht Jr., an American art-dealer living in Rome, for one million US dollars on November 10, 1972. Hecht claimed to have acquired the krater from Dikran Sarrafian, a Lebanese dealer whose family had been in possession of the artwork since 1920. However, even at the time of its purchase, suspicions about the krater's origins were already circulating.

Thomas Hoving, director of the Met and the primary negotiator in the purchase, initially suspected that Hecht's story was false and went to great lengths to make sure that the vase was imported legally into the United States. Investigations into the origin of the piece carried out in the USA and Italy have produced evidence suggesting that Robert Hecht Jr may have purchased the krater in 1972 from Giacomo Medici, an Italian dealer who was convicted of selling stolen art in 2004.

In 2006, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Italian signed an agreement under which ownership of the Euphronios krater along with several other pieces of art is returned to Italy in exchange for loans of other Italian treasures.

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