New Acquisition | Black-figure band-cup

Very few ancient Greek wine cups are as large as this colossal Athenian black-figure “band-cup,” which recently joined the Museum’s collections. Too large for practical use, it probably was commissioned as a showpiece at a symposium, a male drinking party. Almost two feet wide, it is so large that even the underside of the foot is painted with battling warriors. Only about twenty such cups, mostly fragmentary, are known. This example apparently was valued by its ancient owner, as the broken foot was reattached with metal clamps. 

Band-cups were one of the principal types of wine cup made in Athens during the third quarter of the sixth century B.C., the vast majority being much smaller than this example. In addition to the duel on the foot, there is another in the interior, where a Greek battles an Amazon, her sex indicated by her white-painted flesh. On one side of the exterior is the Gigantomachy, the primordial battle between the gods and the giants, the latter represented as armored warriors. The melee includes eleven gods and seven giants, as well as three chariots drawn by a dozen horses. In the center is the chariot of Zeus, with Herakles running up its pole and holding a bow and arrow. Athena is normally identified by her armor, but in this case there are five female deities wearing helmets and wielding spears. At the far right, the god Hermes is identified by his sun hat (petasos). The band on the other side, which is more damaged, is devoted to the wine god Dionysos, seated amid the dancing nymphs and capering satyrs of his entourage. 

This extraordinary cup was found in an Etruscan tomb at Bettolle, Italy, in 1879. Immediately published, it thereafter was “lost” to scholarship until the late 1960s. In its new role, it will both fascinate Museum visitors and teach Princeton students about ancient Greek wine culture.

J. Michael Padgett
Curator of Ancient Art