Side A: a goddess and a woman (Hera and Hebe?) are involved in a religious ceremony. Although the ceremony itself is not shown, the wreath, crowns and libation vessels represented on the vase suggest a sacrificial scene. Side B: a male figure (Zeus?) is shown holding a lotus-tipped sceptre.
The lip and rim of this amphora are black except for some visible chipping on the edges. The inside of the vase consists of a long, black neck and a hollow, reserved body. The handles are ribbed. The picture panel on side A portrays a goddess and a woman, possibly Hera and Hebe. On the left, the young woman or Hebe, the cup bearer of the gods, is shown wearing a himation over her chiton and extends her right hand with an oinochoe. On the right, the goddess or Hera is depicted with a lotus-tipped scepter and phiale; she wears a himation, chiton and diadem. Between the heads of the two figures the word "kalos" (beautiful) is inscribed. On the reverse side of the vessel, a bearded man, possibly the god Zeus, stands to the right wearing a himation and holding a lotus-tipped scepter. Below the picture panels on both sides appears a decorative pattern; on A, a strip of meander pairs alternating with saltires; on B, a strip of simple right-ward key. The amphora has a disk foot offset by a reserved ring where it joins the body; the lower edge is also reserved, as is the bottom of the foot.
The vase painter Polygnotos signed five vases, and on the basis of similarity to these, some sixty-five others including the Mount Holyoke amphora have been attributed to him. Polygnotos was probably named after Polygnotos of Thasos, the famous mural painter of the Early Classical period whose paintings in Athens and Delphi are described by the ancient traveler Pausanias and are thought to be reflected in vases by the Niobid Painter dating from shortly before the mid-fifth century B.C.
Polygnotos came out of the workshop of the Niobid Painter, but his style quickly developed away from the severity and archaic angularity of his teacher’s work toward softer, fleshier figures and a more fluid line. Like other vase painters working in Athens in the third quarter of the fifth century B.C., Polygnotos embraced the new styles created by Pheidias for the Parthenon sculptures. Drawn with a sure flowing hand and a minimum of decorative detail, the figures on the Mount Holyoke vase have a calm stateliness which clearly reflects the quiet nobility of the figures on the Parthenon frieze.
Details uncovered in the recent cleaning of this amphora have helped to identify the figures as participants in a religious ritual, probably a sacrifice. Although the ceremony itself is not shown, the wreath, crowns, and libation vessels represented on the vase are those commonly associated with sacrificial scenes.
-Susan B. Matheson (Class of 1967), Associate Curator of Ancient Art and the Dura-Europos Collection, Yale University Art Art Gallery
The Mount Holyoke College Art Museum: Handbook of the Collection (1984)