The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.
Today’s interview is with Madeleine Perridge
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
It has to be the Attic neck amphora by Exekias of Achilles and Penthesilea. I can stare at it for hours.
When did you first come across this amphora?
As a (clearly already nerdy) child I saw it in the British Museum and thought it was the most wonderful vase. When my siblings and I were little, my father read a lot of Greek myths and legends to us, and the stories of the Amazons seemed so exciting. Wonder Woman might also be slightly to blame.
Can you tell me a bit about the vase and its context?
The Exekias vase of Achilles and Penthesilea is one of the most well-known examples of an Amazonomachy in Athenian archaic black-figure vase painting. The spectacularly armoured Greek heroes are always shown in close combat with Amazons wearing detailed animal skins and high crested helmets. Whilst a vibrant and powerful illustration of a well-known myth, such images can also be seen as a fascinating reflection of the growing identity and ideals of the Athenian polis in the years before the Persian Wars.
What is it about this image that appeals to you most?
I love the strength of the image. The compact composition is so well balanced and the finely preserved depth of colour of the black figure and the added red and white paint contrast so powerfully with each other, as well as with the red ground from which the figural scene leaps right out.
But it is of course the romance of the story that is the added kicker. The poignancy of the ending of the story of Achilles and Penthesilea is that at the moment Achilles killed the Amazon, they locked eyes and fell irrevocably in love. The power of Exekias’s depiction of this exact moment, is that the image is solely of the couple, and he so effectively draws the viewer into their connected gaze. Sigh. Swoon.
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
Right now, it’s either binge-watching The Last Kingdom, or re-reading Lindsay Davis’s The Course of Honour (Vespasian is my favourite emperor), whilst listening to loud Italian opera and slurping a hefty gin martini.
Madeleine Perridge is Gallery Director at Kallos Gallery, a London gallery specialising in antiquities and ancient art. She read Classical Archaeology and Ancient History at Oxford University and has a Masters in History of Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art. She is a member of the ADA (Antiquities Dealers’ Association) and has been an independent expert adviser for the UK Treasure Valuation Committee at the British Museum.
Kallos are looking forward to reopening on June 16th and will be launching their summer exhibition soon: kallosgallery.com.
Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.