Michael C. Hoff
Date of this Version
Askew, Christopher. "Of Water Jars and Women: A Re-evaluation of Fountain House Imagery on Late Archaic Black-Figure Hydriai." Master's thesis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2019.
From approximately 530 to 500 BCE, images of fountain houses became popular subjects on black-figure hydriai produced in or around ancient Athens. These scenes often involve groups of unidentified women gathering around a fountain spout, typically attached to an ornate architectural structure, in order to fill their water jars. Although isolated pottery sherds depicting these scenes have been discovered in Greece, approximately seventy-five of these scenes have been identified on Attic hydriai depicting such scenes were discovered in Etruscan tombs. Past scholarship has categorized these images either as genre scenes, which represent a domestic activity characteristic of everyday life, or as religious scenes, which depict the gathering of water for cultic activity, but evidence for both interpretations remains inconclusive. Recent critical studies of gender and social history have sought to shed light on these scenes by attempting to identify the social status of the women represented in these images. However, the interpretive ambiguity persists because the visual features of these scenes do not offer a clear indication of the women’s socioeconomic status.
In an attempt to address this problem, the following study seeks to re-evaluate the meaning of fountain house imagery on Attic black-figure hydriai by means of an iconographic and iconological analysis of the visual motifs that constitute the fountain house scene. Through an iconographic analysis of the architectural features of the fountain house and the way in which the appearance, gestures, and attributes of the women are represented, this thesis will connect the visual evidence from these hydriai with ancient literary evidence and archaeological finds relating to the lives of women and to the use and history of fountain houses in late Archaic Athens in order to propose further facets to the interpretation of this common visual motif. It may be argued that late Archaic fountain house imagery is already multivalent, both domestic and religious in nature. This research has the potential to redefine our understanding of genre scenes and to further elucidate the shadowy world of women in the ancient Athenian society.
Advisor: Michael C. Hoff