Hydria (Water Jar) with Domestic Scene, 470–460 BC
Terracotta with slip
o/a: 13 3/4 × 13 1/4 × 12 inches (34.9 × 33.7 × 30.5 cm)
Museum purchase funded by General and Mrs. Maurice Hirsch
Habits of Mind
- COMMUNICATE Verbalize ideas, thoughts, feelings / ask provocative questions / ask for support
Writing Shaped Poetry
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
• Describe works of art, generating descriptive detail by using adjectives and adverbs.
• Write “shape poetry” based on a work of art.
Connecting to the Work of Art
This ancient Greek water jar, called a hydria, is decorated with a scene of three women engaged in their daily activities. On the left, a woman holds an alabastron, a small bottle, in her left hand and passes a similar bottle to the woman at the far right. In the center a third woman bends over a wicker wool basket and either places in it or removes from it a bundle of wool. A charming element is the long-legged heron. Because the heron was often kept as a pet in ancient Athens, its presence indicates that this scene is set in a home.
Able to hold almost one gallon of water, this medium-sized vase is decorated with patterned bands on the lip and below the figures. The domestic scene occupies the center of the vase’s body and extends onto the shoulder. The artist uses line to describe faces, hair, and drapery, paying special attention to small details of hair styles – wispy curls and bangs – and of the fabric and folds of the dresses.
Greek vases like this one were thrown on the potter’s wheel. Handles were formed by hand and attached to the body of the vase. The clay contains significant amounts of iron, and so turned pink when it was fired. This style of painting is called “red-figure,” because the figures retain the color of the clay. A mixture that turns black during firing was painted on the remaining areas of the vase and for the details of clothing and facial expression.¹
Often Greek vases were a collaboration between a potter and a painter. Although some vases are signed, the names of most Greek vase painters are unknown. Over the decades, scholars grouped together vases with similar styles, and named the artist of each group. This vase is one of twenty-eight attributed to “the Painter of the Yale Oinochoe” after a wine pitcher in the collection of Yale University.
Attica, a region of Greece that includes Athens, was the leading ceramics center for the entire Mediterranean. The Greeks had many overseas colonies and extensive foreign trade. Thus Attic pottery has been found throughout southern Europe, North Africa, and Asia Minor.
This vase provides a glimpse into the daily lives of women in ancient Greece. Although in the fifth century B.C. Athens was a major political, artistic, and intellectual center, “the treatment of women was more repressive and unenlightened than at almost any other time in the history of the West.”² Scenes of women became popular on vases during this period, perhaps because the vessels were used by women and the decoration thus reflected their lives.
Curators are always researching the museum’s collection. In the process, titles of works of art can change. This work used to be called Hydria: Women Sorting Wool and is now titled Hydria: Women Engaged in Domestic Activities.
1. Susan Matheson Burke and Jerome J. Pollitt, Greek Vases at Yale (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1975), pp. xv-xvii.
2. Peter J. Holliday, “Red-figure Hydria: A Theme in Greek Vase Painting,” Bulletin (Houston: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Winter 1984), p. 3.
• Study the three pieces of pottery. Generate a list of words on the board to describe the shapes. Generate a list of synonyms for clay, pottery, and vessel.
• Review ways in which the decoration conforms to and emphasizes the shape of each vessel. Find examples of repeated patterns, lines, and colors. Discuss how repetition brings rhythm and unity to each piece.
• Introduce the concept of “shaped poetry,” a poem constructed so that its lines form a shape that relates to its subject. Share examples of shape poetry with the class.
• Have students study their own clay pieces, using adverbs and adjectives to write descriptive phrases of different lengths about the colors, textures, patterns, etc.
• On a piece of paper, lightly trace the cut-paper shapes of the pots. Experiment with different arrangements of lines to fit the shape and create an effective poem. Complete the poem and erase the outline of the pot. The lines of the poem will suggest the shape of the clay piece.
Resources Available to Order
The Art-To-Go lending library features materials that may easily be integrated across the K–12 curriculum. Resources include DVDs, music CDs, children’s books, study guides, poster sets, and collection-based interpretive materials produced by the KFEC. Educators, community leaders, and docents from throughout Texas are welcome to borrow Art-To-Go resources. To place your order, search the online catalogue and add the selected items to your basket. After you have reviewed your basket, submit the order electronically.
The Learning Through Art program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is underwritten by:
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.