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A Greek painting at Persepolis

  • Michael Roaf (a1) and John Boardman (a2)


In his magnificent report on the American excavations at Persepolis E. F. Schmidt published a fragment of a stone plaque found in the Treasury (frag. 2 on FIG. 2). This plaque bore a sketch of a human torso, which G. M. A. Richter considered to be Greek work of about 500 B.C. : she identified the figure as ‘Heracles wearing a chiton with a lion's skin over it which is knotted on the chest’. This fragment was lost when the ship in which the finds from Persepolis were being transported to America was sunk by submarine action during the Second World War. But recently Giuseppe Tilia discovered further fragments in a storeroom at Persepolis, which he recognised as probably belonging to the same plaque; and from these Prof. Boardman has been able to determine that the original scene was of a contest between Herakles and Apollo.(FIG. 1).



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1 Schmidt, E. F., Persepolis ii (1957) pl. 31.2. Fig. 1 is drawn by Marion Cox, based on Schmidt, pl. 31.2, and on tracings and photographs of the fragments at Persepolis made by M. Roaf. While every effort has been made to make the drawing as accurate as possible the processes of tracing and of redrawing have, because of the fineness of the detail of the original, led to some minor distortions. The condition of the stone being either eroded or encrusted has made the incision impossible to record, especially on frag. 1 and on the right hand edge of frag. 4a. Furthermore, a few of the lines on the drawing may be accidental scratches on the stone and not part of the original design.

2 Richter, G. M. A., in Schmidt, Persepolis ii 67.

3 Schmidt, , Persepolis i (1953) 5 and ii 155.

4 I am grateful to Giuseppe Tilia for drawing my attention to these fragments and to Dr Shahbazi, the Director of the Institute for Achaemenid Research at Persepolis, for giving me permission to publish them.

5 Schmidt, , Persepolis i 189.

6 Schmidt, , Persepolis i 196, ii 67–8.

7 See e.g. Roos, P., ‘An Achaemenian sketch slab and the ornaments of the royal dress at Persepolis’, East & West xx (1970) 51–9.

8 Representations are listed in Brommer, F., Vasenlisten zur griechischen Heldensage 3 (Marburg 1973) 38 46 and Denkmälerlisten zur griechischen Heldensage i, Herakies (Marburg 1971) 37–40. Scenes which demonstrate most of the elements appearing on the Persepolis plaque are (selectively): amphora in Basel (Schweizer loan; Antimenes Painter, ABV 269, 41; Boardman, J., Athenian Black Figure Vases (London 1974) fig. 188; cf. figs 191, 228); Munich 2080 (Painter, Lysippides, ABV 256, 22; Arias, P., Storia della Ceramica (Torino 1963) pl. 56.1). Herakles still shoulders his club on the early Boston pyxis. Boardman, op. cit. fig. 320 and RA 1978. 230 fig. 4.

9 The writer explores this in RA 1978, 227 34.

10 Persepolis i pls. 142, 143, 198b; Roos (n. 7) esp. 53 n. 3.

11 Corbett, P. E.. JHS lxxxv (1965) 1628, gives an excellent study of the sketch techniques on Athenian vases. In black figure, where the background is not going to be painted over, the preliminary sketch is more often painted within the final outlines or more cautiously executed with faint incision.

12 The cock on Antiphanes' stele of about 520: Athens NM 86; Richter, G. M. A., The Archaic Gravestones of Attica (London 1961) 40 no. 54.

13 Cf. ibid. fig. 139; contrast figs 160 and 163 where there is no bold outline incision and the sketch is apparently lost. The same sketching problems must have attended the preparation for painting Archaic statuary and architectural features.

14 Bocotia, Keramopoullos, A. D., AE 1920, 1 36; Chios, Kontoleon, N. M., BCH lxxi/lxxii (1947/1948) 273301; lxxiii (1949) 384–97.

15 References in Corbett (n. 11) 18 n. 14; cf. Napoli, M., La Tomba del Tuffatore (Bari 1970) 100 f.

16 Boardman, J., Greek Gems and Finger Rings (London 1970) 381; Burlington Mag. 1969 fig. 33 opp. p. 595; with Scarisbrick, D., The Ralph Harari Collection of Finger Rings (London 1977) no. 44.

17 Corbett, op. cit. 18.

18 AJA 1 (1946) 27 f.

19 Cf. Boardman, J., BSA xlix (1954) 183 201 (votive); 1 (1955) 51 66 (funerary); JHS lxxvi (1956) 20 4 (red figure) and 24 f. for later red figure plaques. Unusual plaque techniques (red figure with coral red or white ground) are mentioned in Athenian Red Figure Vases; Archaic Period (London 1975) 277, and see Greifcnhagen, A. in In Memoriam Otto J. Brendel, edd. Bonfante, L. and von Heintze, H. (Mainz 1976) 43–8.

20 Robertson, M., History of Greek Art (London 1975) 120 f., 635 f., pl. 34d; A. K. Orlandos, EAA s.v. ‘Pitsa’.

A Greek painting at Persepolis

  • Michael Roaf (a1) and John Boardman (a2)


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