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  • Lori-Ann Touchette

The Capitoline Museums

The Capitoline Museums, founded in 1471 with the donation of Pope Sixtus IV of a series of imperial bronzes to the city council of Rome, claims to be the oldest public museum in the world. There are two significant temple pediments with terracotta narrative scenes from the 6th and 2nd centuries BC respectively (I will treat each of them in subsequent separate posts). Today our attention is drawn to a mid-7th century BC krater from a tomb in the Etruscan city of Caere. The blinding of Polyphemus by Odysseus and his companions (Homer, “Odyssey” book 9) appears on one side, whereas a naval battle is depicted on the other. The two narrative scenes may be autonomous but the presence of a single eye on the ship on one side recalls the one-eyed Cyclop Polyphemus. Both themes may refer to the dangers of Greek colonisation of Italy. The vase is signed in Greek Aristonothos “epoiésen” (made it) above the head of the seated Polyphemos and continues in front of Odysseus. The name of the artist is intriguing since it suggests that he was an illegitimate son of an aristocratic family. Another clue is provided by the form of the term “epoiésen” which suggests a Euboean origin for the artist. Euboea was at the forefront of Greek colonisation of Magna Graecia (Greater Greece = Italy) in the Iron Age, establishing a trading emporium at Pithecusae on the island of Ischia around 775 BC.

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