Niobe pottery

One of the oldest depictions of Apollo and Artemis’ pursuit of the niobids is this amphora from 570-560BC.

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Tyrrhenian amphora painting with black figures, 570-560 BC, Hamburg Museum Fur Kunst Und Gerwerbe

The scene shows Apollo and Artemis attacking the niobids with arrows. The victims are two naked males and two girls in long robes. It’s quite similar to this vase from 460-450BC even though they are a century apart in time.

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Attic vase (crater cup, h. 54 cm) painting in red figures, Louvre in Paris, 460-450 BC.

Its a famous crater cup in the Louvre collection from the mid-fifth century BC. It shows Apollo and Artemis attacking three male niobids and one female niobid.

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Close-up crater vase.

Artemis wears a long tunic while Apollo is naked but crowned with his symbol: a laurel wreath.

Those two pots are quite straight-forward the next one is a bit more complicated.

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vase with red figres, painter Varrese, 340 BC, Taranto, Museo Nazionale Archeologico.

This doesn’t deal so much with the slaughtering of the children of Niobe as the aftermath.

It shows Niobe grieving over the tomb of her children while getting a visit from her father Tantalus and an elderly woman. They are offering to their gods at a funeral temple. The picture is black and white but the vase is actually black with red painted figures.

The next vase depicts the petrification of Niobe. I recently wrote a post where I explained about how it came about that Niobe turned to stone. Niobe turned to stone

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Ampulian vase (loutrophorus) with red-painted figures, painter Varesse, 340 BC, Naples, National Archeological Museum.

 This vase also show how Niobe’s father and an elderly woman are visiting her, but here Niobe turns to stone, because of her grief.

The persons on the vase are, Niobe, her father Tantalus, the elderly woman, Leto, Zeus, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes and people bringing offerings.

At the center is the classic portrayal of Niobe in the temple wrapped in her himation , showing the bottom of the principle of petrification. Her father and the elderly woman want to console Niobe. On the left there is Leto, Niobe’s rival and her children Apollo and Artemis, the ones that slaughtered Niobe’s children and on the right we have Zeus and Hermes. The reason the gods are here is that according to the myth the gods decided to bury the children after their corpses had been decaying for ten days. They were stinking the place up and the gods decided to clean the place up. The reason the children hadn’t been buried yet was that Zeus had turned the people of Thebe into stone for ten days.

A very similar vase from the same time-period showing Niobe turning to stone is found in Sydney at the Nicholson Museum of Antiquities.

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vase with red figures, Nicholson Museum of Antiquities, Sydney, 350-340 BC.

Like the other vases it has red figures. On this vase we see Niobe whom is turning to stone standing in a funeral temple with offerings for the gods at her feet, her dad, a youth,  a woman, Leto and Apollo.

Another similar vase from 330 BC belongs to state museum in Berlin. It shows how Niobe’s dad tries to console his daughter when she is turning into stone. The vase had red figures.

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Vase with red figures, staatlichen Museen, Berlin, 330 BC.

The university of Zurich also owns a vase with red figures that also shows the petrification of Niobe and that is the same age as the vase in Berlin.

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Apulan vase “Petrification of Niobe”, Painter of Ganymede, 330 BC, University of Zurich.

 Something new is happening in the scene though. At first the scene looks like all the other vases with Niobe turning to stone her dad, brother and sister-in-law visiting her in a funeral temple to console her and offer to the gods and Apollo and Artemis watching, but something is different. Niobe is not alone in the funeral temple. A young girl that is painted white is there too. There is a theory that this could be her youngest daughter and that the color means she’s dead/ a ghost.

Louvre also has a vase from 330BC that shows Niobe grieving and partially turned to stone while visited by her brother and his wife.

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Vase with red figures, Louvre, Paris, 330 BC.

In this scene everything is quite the same as with the other vases except that Niobe’s brother shows up in a chariot. This might be because he won the right to marry  Pelops after winning a chariot-race. So it’s effectively addressing two myths at one.

Another vase from the same period by a painter known as the Baltimore painter shows  the slaughter of Niobe herself.

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Baltimore painter, 340-320 BC, Ruvo, Museo Jatta, apulan vase with red figures.

Here it is Apollo that has a chariot while Artemis is depicted with some deer. 
This might just be to stress even more which deities are meant. 

This vase also shows the slaughter of Niobe. 

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Apulian vase (h.66 cm), Painter Arpi, 320 BC, Foggia, Museo Civico.

 The vase dated to the late fourth century BC , comes from a tomb discovered in 1972 near the ancient town of Daunia Arpi , in northern Puglia. The vase is divided in three bands.The lower one shows a continuous frieze with male and female figures bearing different objects and doing different things. The two upper ones show the slaughter  of Niobe. Apollo and Artemis have two hounds with them this time. This shows that to them this is more like going on a hunting trip than going on battle. To the right of the central group there are male niobids in different poses. A young man supports his brother hit by an arrow, there is a horse without a rider, there is a male corpse and a wounded niobid that tries to escape on his horse. The women are shown in different poses as well: pleading, protecting themselves with their hands and cloaks, in terror, collapsing, dying, wounded, crying. Niobe is depicted behind an altar observing the hunt on her children. All in all it’s quite the same as other vases except that they present the event as a hunt rather than a battle. The divine twins are clearly the predators and the niobids are defenceless victims. They never had a chance.
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Apulan vase, 320 BC, Taranto, Museo Nazionale Archeologico

 The last vase shows Andromeda tied and Niobe grieving in a funeral temple in the middle turning into stone (hence her turning white). This is significant because according to another myth Andromeda had a boastful mother as well and she was going to be punished for it too. But Perseus, half-god and hero took pity on her and saved her and her mom was forgiven by the gods. So on the vase we see: Niobe and her father Tantalos, Andromeda, Andromeda’s father Cepheus, her mother Cassiopeia and Perseus. Niobe’s father Tantalos seems to make a gesture of supplication. So he’s pleading with the gods to spare his daughter. At first the stories of the women don’t seem to have much in common since Andromeda was spared and Niobe was punished. But maybe there is a different point to contrast the stories. The main reason Andromeda was spared was that her dad obeyed the gods and offered his daughter by chaining her naked to a rock to be attacked by a sea monster, while Niobe does the opposite, during the attack she continues to boast that she still has more children than Leto until the last ones died. Interestingly enough Perseus is also the one that slain Medusa and has on more than one occasion turned people to stone with the head of medusa so that could be another reason to connect the myths. Eventually Andromeda is transformed into something inanimate as well instead dying. She is transformed into a star constellation.

It is too bad we don’t really know what the painter tried to tell us, but it’s fun to see that every new vase that is found gives us a bit more information on how the Greeks were thinking.

Γεια σου aγαπητοί φίλοι, Hilde


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