This large pelike is finely decorated with scenes of athletes exercising in the gymnasium, and shows on one side an athlete preparing to throw the javelin (acontion) and an African youth, also nude and of smaller size, holding the jumping weights (halteres), and on the other side two pentathletes in profile, one raising a discus and the other holding two halteres.
This vessel is a highly significant addition to the ever-growing list of vases attributed to the Carpenter Painter, a very gifted artist active in Athens between 510-490 B.C. His stylistic origins lie amongst the chief members of the Pioneer Group, with special reference to works by Phintias, and the Proto-Panaetian Group of cup-painters. Although he is principally a painter of cups, he also decorated hydriai (kalpides) and pelikai such as this one.
His cups are closely related in style to those attributed by J. D. Beazley to the Salting Painter, with whom he shares use of the kalos-name Epidromos. This name, for example, appears in the tondo of a fine komast cup, formerly in the N.B. Hunt Collection (cf. Beazley Archive no. 8840), which may arguably be given to the hand of the Carpenter Painter (as opposed to the Epidromos Painter). This particular cup also displays the artist’s fondness for borders of pomegranate net-pattern.
Assuredly by the Carpenter Painter, and closest to the present example for its shape, style (eg. reserved rather than incised hair contours and pronounced clavicle hooks) and unusual scheme of net-pattern framing, is an unpublished pelike in New York (cf. Metropolitan Museum of Art inv. no. 1983.141), decorated with three male revellers accompanied by a sole female, of slightly earlier date and previously assigned to Euthymides.
Some years before, the Carpenter Painter expanded the theme of athletes at exercise, again with discus, javelin, and weights, and here to the tune of a pipes-player, on the exterior of a well-preserved cup in Malibu (cf. J. Paul Getty Museum, inv.no. 85.AE.25, Beazley Archive no. 31619), whose style exhibits a recognisable degree of indebtedness to Phintias.
In common with the Pioneers and the Proto-Panaetians, the Carpenter Painter also praises Leagros as kalos on an unpublished athlete cup showing large-scale discoboloi on its exterior in the Cahn Collection (cf. inv. no. HC 774: Beazley Archive no. 340202; 'Recalls the Proto-Panaetian Group').
The inclusion here of a distinctly non-Greek youth, nude, markedly smaller in stature, and of seemingly African origin, is most remarkable, perhaps so far unique. The most obvious interpretation would see him as a slave attendant, however the lack of clothing clearly indicates his active involvement in the training. Participating as an athlete in a public space was a privilege normally restricted to Athenians of citizen-status and the interpretation of this scene certainly merits further study.
For further literature on the Carpenter Painter, cf. D. von Bothmer, 'An Attic Red-figure Kylix', in The J. Paul Getty Journal, Vol. 14, 1986, pp. 5-20; D. Williams, Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, London, British Museum 9, 1993, pp. 24-25, pl. 14; and D. von Bothmer et al., Wealth of the Ancient World: The Nelson Bunker Hunt and William Herbert Hunt Collections, Beverly Hills, 1983, pp. 62-63, cat. no. 7.