The Codrus Painter was a painter of cups and vases in fifth-century B.C.E. Athens with a distinctive style; he is named after Codrus, a legendary Athenian king depicted on one of his most characteristic vases. He was active as an artist during the rule of Pericles, as the Parthenon was built and then as the troubled times of the Peloponnesian War began. In contrast to the work of fellow artists of his day, the vases of the Codrus Painter appear to have been created almost exclusively for export to markets outside Athens and Greece, especially to the Etruscans in central Italy and to points further west.
Amalia Avramidou offers a thoroughly researched, amply illustrated study of the Codrus Painter that also comments on the mythology, religion, arts, athletics, and daily life of Greece depicted on his vases. She evaluates his style and the defining characteristics of his own hand and of the minor painters associated with him. Examining the subject matter, figure types, and motifs on the vases, she compares them with sculptural works produced during the same period. Avramidou’s iconographic analysis not only encompasses the cultural milieu of the Athenian metropolis, but also offers an original and intriguing perspective on the adoption, meaning, and use of imported Attic vases among the Etruscans.
One of the most obvious stylistic features of Athenian black-figure vase painting is the use of color to differentiate women from men. By comparing ancient art in Egypt and Greece, Tan Men/Pale Women uncovers the complex history behind the use of color to distinguish between genders, without focusing on race. Author Mary Ann Eaverly considers the significance of this overlooked aspect of ancient art as an indicator of underlying societal ideals about the role and status of women. Such a commonplace method of gender differentiation proved to be a complex and multivalent method for expressing ideas about the relationship between men and women, a method flexible enough to encompass differing worldviews of Pharaonic Egypt and Archaic Greece. Does the standard indoor/outdoor explanation—women are light because they stay indoors—hold true everywhere, or even, in fact, in Greece? How “natural” is color-based gender differentiation, and, more critically, what relationship does color-based gender differentiation have to views about women and the construction of gender identity in the ancient societies that use it?
The depiction of dark men and light women can, as in Egypt, symbolize reconcilable opposites and, as in Greece, seemingly irreconcilable opposites where women are regarded as a distinct species from men. Eaverly challenges traditional ideas about color and gender in ancient Greek painting, reveals an important strategy used by Egyptian artists to support pharaonic ideology and the role of women as complementary opposites to men, and demonstrates that rather than representing an actual difference, skin color marks a society’s ideological view of the varied roles of male and female.
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