Circa 500 BC
Description: This very fine Attic and imposing large black-figure vase depicts in classic style the mythological story of Herakles and Triton, one of the great Labours of Herakles. These two main characters are shown with bodies entwined in the throes of battle. An aged Herakles is depicted with full beard. His legs straddle the exaggerated fish body of the Triton. The large beastly body of the Triton leans against the hero’s back, his long fish tail extending behind. Two nereids, heads turned back toward the battle, rush away from the altercation. A single leaping dolphin is placed below each handle of the vessel, setting the context for this battle in the Triton’s home of the sea. Details of the figures are marked with red paint and incision. The scene is repeated on the reverse side of the vase. Further decorative elements complete the overall appeal of the vase, including two rows of dots enclosed within thick black bands near the rim and a ground line consisting of three encircling bands with a dotted band below. The underside of the vase has a black dotted center enclosed within three circles. The inside surface is glazed black. Nice Attic black-figure cup with fantastic mythological scene. This vase has been attributed to the CHC-Group. J.D. Beazley lists five skyphoi by the CHC-Group which depict Herakles and Triton with fleeing nereids. See Beazley’s Attic Black-Figure Vase Painters. A very similar example in the Gotha collection
Rim Diameter: 6.6 in (15 cm)
Height: 4.4 in (10 cm)
Condition: Intact and very finely preserved with some minor wear inside the handles. In antiquity the scene would have been enlivened with added white slip, including the arms of the Nerieds, which has faded.
Provenance: Formerly the property of a Midwestern USA collection which was partly acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art in the early part of the 21st century. Published by reference in Corinthian and Athenian Vases in the Detroit Institute of the Arts (Geometric, Black-figure and Red-figure Vases) by Brian Madigan, as part of Comparada for #55.
Reference: See John Boardman’s The History of Greek Vases (London 2001) p. 202-209 for further reading regarding Herakles in Greek art. Boardman points out that the Triton image is a bit of a mystery as there are no literary sources which explain the evolution of Nereus into the Triton.
See also a masterpiece of black-figure treatment of Herakles wrestling the Triton on an Attic olpe in the Getty Museum.
Background: This well known image derives from the battle between Herakles and Nereus, the Old Man of the Sea, which Herakles was trying to discover his route to the Hesperides in one of the famous of the Twelve Labours. The battle was a side journey within the Eleventh Labour. Herakles had to get Nereus to disclose to him the secret location of the garden of the Hesperides in order to get the golden apples. Images from early in the 6th Century BC depict Nereus with a human forepart and long fish body from which emerge a snake, lion and fire, proof of his ability to manifest himself as any one of those creatures. Over the course of the 6th Century BC, the image evolved into the Triton, as illustrated on this skyphos.