Pictures of Death – White-ground lekythoi in Classical Athens

The museums on Königsplatz possess one of the largest collections in the world of white-ground lekythoi from Athens. To mark their academic publication by the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities we are dedicating a studio exhibition to this outstanding category of antique ceramics.

Lekythoi are anointing oil vessels that are used up until the early 5th century BC for various purposes, but then later serve only as grave decorations and burial objects. In classical times, they are often decorated with images which, in a combination of outline drawing and coloured surfaces, are set against a white background. Neither this background nor the coloured non-ceramic pigments are very durable, which increases the value of the many well-preserved Munich specimens to an even greater extent.

The exceptional quality of the white-ground lakythoi is based on their wealth of colours, which makes them the most important testimony to the monumental painting of the Greek Classical era, which to a large extent is lost.