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The Sarpedon Krater

The Life and Afterlife of a Greek Vase

Perhaps the most spectacular of all Greek vases, the Sarpedon krater depicts the body of Sarpedon, a hero of the Trojan War, being carried away to his homeland for burial. It was decorated some 2,500 years ago by Athenian artist Euphronios, and its subsequent history involves tomb raiding, intrigue, duplicity, litigation, international outrage, and possibly even homicide. How this came about is told by Nigel Spivey in a concise, stylish book that braids together the creation and adventures of this extraordinary object with an exploration of its abiding influence.
Spivey takes the reader on a dramatic journey, beginning with the krater’s looting from an Etruscan tomb in 1971 and its acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, followed by a high-profile lawsuit over its status and its eventual return to Italy. He explains where, how, and why the vase was produced, retrieving what we know about the life and legend of Sarpedon. Spivey also pursues the figural motif of the slain Sarpedon portrayed on the vase and traces how this motif became a standard way of representing the dead and dying in Western art, especially during the Renaissance.

Fascinating and informative, The Sarpedon Krater is a multifaceted introduction to the enduring influence of Greek art on the world.

240 pages | 83 color plates | 5 1/4 x 8 | © 2019

Ancient Studies


Art: Ancient and Classical Art, Art--General Studies

History: Ancient and Classical History


“Spivey scales mountains, hurtles into caves, treks across deserts, and submits to shock treatment for the eyes in the first few episodes of How Art Made the World. . . . In broaching questions about the genesis and meaning of art, [he] draws on some of the world’s best-known works of art and architecture for answers.”

New York Times, on How Art Made the World

“A grand ‘traverse of classical civilization.’ . . . Anyone with the slightest curiosity about ancient classics will love this book.”

Kirkus Reviews, on The Classical World

"This is art history (in the words of German art historian Aby Warburg) as a 'ghost story for adults': a kind of 'detective work' excavating the traces of antiquity in later art. In his pursuit of the Sarpedon motif, Spivey proves a diligent detective and an engaging storyteller."

Times Literary Supplement

"The story of the Sarpedon Krater has been brilliantly told by Nigel Spivey, author and presenter of the BBC television series, How Art Made the World. Spivey traces the strange and wondrous journey of the Sarpendon Krater from ancient Athens in the sixth century the present."

Art Eyewitness

Table of Contents

1 Preface
2 ‘The Million-Dollar Vase’
3 Euphronios and ‘the Pioneers’
4 Athens and the Symposium
5 Epic as Education
6 An Image for the Afterlife
7 The Afterlife of an Image (I)
8 The Afterlife of an Image (II)
9 Coda


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