Though the Berlin Painter was not a celebrity in his own time, he was certainly appreciated for his craft and talent. Many of his works were discovered not in Athens but in Italy, where they had been exported. There is much to be impressed with in the work of the Berlin Painter. One of his innovations was to get rid of the ornamentation, frames, and decorative borders that were traditionally found on vases of the period. The Berlin Painter’s signature red figures stand alone against black backgrounds. “It’s just their presence and action that creates the space in which they live,” said Padgett, “And they’re framed only by the contours of the vessel itself.”
A favorite work of Padgett’s exemplifies the Berlin Painter’s ability to utilize space in ways that even challenge contemporary viewers. Slated for the show is a hydria (a water jar) from the Vatican’s collection. It shows a lyre-playing Apollo flying across the sea—depicted as a wavy line replete with dolphins and fish—while sitting on a bronze tripod cauldron with wings. But what’s remarkable about the work can’t be captured through a photograph.
“When you see a picture you don’t realize the physicality of the vase it’s painted on. That has to be remembered—they’re three-dimensional objects,” said Padgett. In the piece, Apollo’s body is extended, almost horizontal, up and around the inward curve of the vase as it centers towards the neck. “Some say The Berlin Painter is violating the shape of the vase, others say that he’s brilliantly accommodating it to it—the shape being traditional, and he was doing was imposing on it a new kind of composition,” Padgett explained.