Krater Depicting the Sack of Troy Formal Analysis

While vising the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, I noticed a krater inside of a small room. This krater was created around the years 340-330 BC. It’s a large krater, standing at forty-eight by twenty-three inches. It is made of ceramic and depicts Iliupersis, or the Sack of Troy. This krater is beautiful but it also is an example of red-figure painting, Greek art, and tells the story of the Sack of Troy.

            The krater shows red-figure paintings on it, the front of it depicts two events from the night that Troy was actually sacked. The scene is very busy and compact. The krater itself has a hierarchy to it. In the center of the krater is a statue to the goddess Athena, where the goddess can also be seen watching over the battle.[1] The statue is the main focal point of the krater, despite the krater having so much going on within it. The images on the crater don’t have a singular ground line but several. There is the ground line for the battle at the bottom and a ground line near the top where the statue of Athena is. The art is very stylized for that time period and for red-figure paintings alike.

            Moving from what I find to be the focal point of this krater, my eyes were then drawn to the eight white horses above it on the neck of the krater. Since the krater is uses red-figure paintings, the white is a stark contrast to the rest of the krater. These horses are part of a chariot race that tells of a story where a king allowed men interested in marrying his daughter to enter into a chariot race against him. If the man won, he also won his daughter. If the king caught up, the man would be speared.[2] The specific moment shown on the neck of the krater is the moment where someone removed a pin from the king’s wheel. There is so much information artistically played out onto this krater, depicting many different stories.

            What I found incredibly interesting about this krater was the handle plates. The handle plates have the same females’ head on both handles but the style is very different from the rest of the krater. It isn’t just the silhouette, it’s the woman’s full facial details. It also isn’t a flat painting of her face but rather an image that pops out of the handles. Right below her on either side is the image of someone holding water jugs.  Below that is an empty space on the handle that is entire black. This black section on the handle is a stark contrast to the rest of the very busy krater.

            The base of the krater has an image of a woman with some decorative shapes spiraling around her. You can also find some iconic “filler” shapes around the krater, such as red-figure waves at the base and abstract squares below the fight scene. Near the lip of the krater is another image of a person with decorative shapes around it. In a weird sense, the entire layout of the krater makes perfect sense, even if it’s a little chaotic.

            The main focal point, the statue and the actual battle, are centered within the body of the krater. Where the krater rounds out to start forming the top portion, it is filled with decorative shapes so that the viewer doesn’t have to move around too move to see what exactly is there. In a sense, the krater is symmetrical in its own way. There is an image of a person on the base and near the lip with similar filling designs around the person. The handles contain the same images on both sides, even if the decorations in the background of the women are not exactly the same on both.

            The artist had mapped out exactly how the eyes should flow over the krater expertly and precisely. The artist even planned where the eyes should have a rest with the full black sections of the krater. The back section of this krater also shows a group of people, whether it is family or friends, visiting a tomb.[3] I felt as though the back being more simplistic than the front was an accurate way to pay homage to the deceased. That way, all of the focus is on the person who had passed away rather than tons of other things going on around it.

            The placement of everything makes sense as well. Athena is the center, as it was when the krater was created. The women at the statue have their own individual stories. The woman on the left was close to being killed for adultery but spared for her beauty. The woman on the right prophesized the Sack of Troy and ends up being killed. The use of body language for the women portrays these stories, as you can see the fear in the body language of the woman on the left and the man pointing angrily at her. The woman on the right can been seen almost caressing the statue of Athena and a soldier with his sword near her head, almost beckoning her to come with him.

            This krater is such an inspiring and complex piece of art. It tells of so many ideas and so many stories in such a short amount of time. It uses red-figure painting to give more detail to the work. The krater is also a volute krater, meaning that the work is in a sort of spiral or scroll-like form. This form is what gives the images this flowing effect to go from story to story, idea to idea. While it is very busy, there is use of negative space which notes where the groundlines are. This is truly a beautiful piece of art that uses red-figure painting, negative spaces and culture very well.


[1] Museum label, read on July 21, 2019.

[2] Museum label, read on July 21, 2019.

[3] Museum label, read on July 21, 2019.

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