Thursday, June 26, 2008

Greek Vase from British Museum depicting Ulysses and the Sirens

In Greek mythology, the Sirens were depicted as creatures with the heads of women and the bodies of birds. The Sirens lived on an island and lured unwary sailors to their rocky shores with their songs (Virgil V, 846; Ovid XIV, 88). They feature prominently in the tale of Ulysses/Odysseus and also of the Argonauts (you will recall that it is Orpheus who saves the Argonauts from the sirens by playing his own tune, whereas Ulysses takes a more direct approach--plugging his sailors' ears and having himself tied to the mast).

This red Attic vase from the British Museum (ca. 480-470 BC) is thought to have inspired John William Waterhouse's painting of Ulysses and the Sirens. There are a few differences, for example Waterhouse shows 6 Sirens in his painting, whereas this vase appears to only depict 3 (I have not seen the vase myself, so I'm not sure what's shown on the opposite side). But after examining the two pieces a little more closely, I think it's undeniable that Waterhouse used the vase as inspiration for his artwork.

You can tell from this close up that although Waterhouse has chosen to update the Sirens' hairstyles, he has copied their body shape directly from the vase. Likewise the form of the boat and the oars certainly evokes the style depicted on this piece of pottery. You'll also notice that they eyes that decorate the boat are common to both renditions.

images courtesy wikimedia commons.


Tina Vaziri said...

Gorgeous both of them. Sirens are always so interesting!

Margaret said...

Thanks, Tina! I particularly love seeing how artists interpret the same subject in different ways. Their different visions add so much richness and depth to art!

Anonymous said...

Hia Margaret, just catching up on your week. I like the way Waterhouse got his inspiration. Boats on the Mediterranian have those eyes painted on them for protection- even now.

There's a pottery on Rhodes who make reproductions of all styles of Greek pottery, so it is possible to own pots like these. Fascinating posts.

Are you coming to England this year? If so there is an exhibition on at the Lady Lever Art Gallery you might be interested in until Nov. They also have Waterhouse's Enchanted Garden there.

M.Kate said...

Fantastic vase, how nice it will be to own one :)

adriana said...

thank you for your articule

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Ylve said...

This short article really helped me in finding some clues about sirens to go with my next drawingproject! Thank you! And may I say, you have created a very nice blog!