Games and War with Achilles and Ajax

by Sister Hilda Kleiman, OSB

The amphora depicting Achilles and Ajax Playing a Board Game is one of the works we study when we discuss Ancient Greece in History of Art at Mount Angel Seminary.  An amphora is a vessel used for storing honey, olive oil, water, or wine. 

This amphora is from the Archaic period (c. 600-480 B.C.) and uses the technique of black figure in which the artist paints a black silhouette on an orange clay.  Exekias, the artist who painted this amphora, painted panels as well as vessels.  The rivalry between the two war heroes is depicted through the metaphor of a board game.

The viewer's attention follows that of Achilles and Ajax who are focused on the board.  Their patterned cloaks and thigh armor were created with a sharp tool that incised lines in the black surface, exposing the orange clay.

 Amphora with Achilles and Ajax Playing a Board Game

Detail of amphora with Achilles and Ajax Playing a Board Game
Credit: Steven Zucker - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The technique of red-figure used the opposite process of black-figure; the figures and objects were left in red against a painted black background.

Information for this post has been drawn from the fourth edition of Art Across Time (public library) by Laurie Schneider Adams.