Sold  -  CHF 260 000

Attic red-figure kylix depicting the epic of Heracles versus the giant Alkyoneus.

Side A:

Heracles nude, his shoulders covered in lion skin, armed with a broadsword and bow, approaches the giant Alkyoneus who is asleep, nude on a rock holding a club; sitting on his right hand side is the winged figure of Hypnos. In the field, opposite Heracles' face is an inscription in red paint: "KALOS" (handsome).

Side B:

Set to a backdrop of three palm trees is the herd of cattle stolen by Alkyoneus from Helios. A cow moves to the left with its head lowered beneath the handle of the vase. It is followed by a bull with its head and tail raised, and by a heifer with its back turned and its head turned to face the onlooker. In the field, between two palm trees, are the remains of an inscription in red.


Heracles seated, wearing a chiton and lion skin, holds out a phiale and holds the club against his left arm. Above the phiale, there is an inscription in red: “HOPAIS” (The young man). Concentric border of Greek keys.

Beneath the base there is a piece of Etruscan graffiti.

The Myth of Alkyoneus.

Son of Gaia (the Earth) and Uranus (the Sky), the giant Alkyoneus was endowed with great stature and prodigious strength.

He played a leading role in the conflict between the Gods and Giants in the Phlegraean Fields in Macedonia. According to Apollodorus (I. VI. 1), he stole the herd of cattle from Helios. His was blessed with immortality, so long as he stayed on his native soil in Pallene; if he were fatally wounded, contact with the Earth would bring him back to life. According to an oracle, no god could slay him, so Zeus sent Heracles, son of Alcmene, to fight him. Following Athena's advice, he dragged him out of Pallene and slew him with an arrow after the giant had crushed twenty four of the hero's men with a huge rock. Distraught at the death of their father, the Alkyonides—the daughters of Alkyoneus—threw themselves into the sea and were transformed into birds, the halcyons.


Few red-figure vases depict the fight between Heracles and Alkyoneus. The cups by Phintias (Munich 2590) and Nikosthenes (Melbourne 1730.4) feature a similar composition with other divinities present (Athena, Hermes); the B sides and tondos of these works exhibit subjects which bear no relation to the epic of Alkyoneus (satyr, struggle for the tripod, Dionysus among the Maenads)

The decorative programme of our monument is entirely devoted to the same thematic repertoire: the attack on the sleeping giant. The interior features a larger composition showing Heracles accompanied by Athena, who is not represented but whose presence may be guessed, advising him to leave Pallene and comforting him by pouring wine into the cup which he holds out for her (subject used by Douris on the Munich cup 205230).  The outer sides A and B complete the episode and show the hero approaching the giant, followed by the herd which he has stolen from Helios. The fact that all the spaces are used to illustrate a single cycle is extraordinary and demonstrates the artist's virtuosity (Ilioupersis cup Louvre G152, Aethiopis cup G115 etc).

The Alkyoneus Painter named after the vase exhibited (eponymous vase, according to Andrea), demonstrates a magisterial vision of the myth and monumentality in his design. The space occupied by the giant covering the entire surface between the handles and the curve of the recumbent body are remarkable. Details such as the depiction of the toenails or the use of dilute paint for the muscles and veins suggest a perfect knowledge and interpretation of anatomy. Similarly, the depiction of the cattle, with their fetlocks, and the bold shorthand of the heifer seen from the back demonstrate great virtuosity.

Many experts have searched in vain for other works by this master.

J. D. Beazley stated: “I find the cup as difficult to place exactly. One hesitates to assert that no other vases by the same hand have reached us, but there must be such cases.”

Some comparisons may be made:

a similar composition on a cup attributed to Onesimos (private collection), the herd of cattle among the palm trees not dissimilar from that on a Brygos Painter cup (Princeton Museum). It appears that the Alkyoneus Painter was part of a group of talented artists of the second generation.

This is his only known work and is among the finest ceramic creations of this period.

Cracks and restorations.

Attic, ca. 490 B.C.

Height : 4,6 in. - Diameter : 12,1 in. - Lenght : 15,3 in. (11,6 cm x 30,8 cm x 38,8 cm).

Provenance :

Private swiss collection.

Former Robert Boehringer (1884-1974) collection, Geneva.

Exhibition :

Collections privées de Suisse Romande, Genève, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, 1975, n° 206.

Publications :

- Beazley Archive : n° 401.

- K. Schefold, Meisterwerke griechischer Kunst, Bâle, 1960, 47, 194.208 (A).

- J. D. Beazley, AntK 4, 1961, 56.

- Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archaologischen Instituts, 77, 1962, 130-210, fig. 1-14 (A, B, Int).

- J. Dorig, Art Antique. Collections privées de Suisse Romande, Genève, 1975, 206 (A, B, Int).

- Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, 1, 1981, pl. 420 (A).

- Archailogika Analekta ex Athenon, 20, 1987, 163, fig. 4 (A).

- K. Schefold & F. Jung, Die Urkonige, Perseus, Bellerophon, Herakles und Theseus in der klassischen und hellenistischen Kunst, Munich, 1988, 192, fig. 233-234 (A, B).

  1. -H. A. Shapiro, Personifications in Greek Art, The Representation of Abstract Concepts 600-400 BC, Zurich, 1993, 151, fig. 108 (A).

Sold 260 000 CHF

334 - Kylix by the Alkyoneus Painter - Eponymous vase - Ca. 490 B.C.

The epic of Heracles versus the giant Alkyoneus.

Private swiss collection, former Robert Boehringer collection (1884-1974), Geneva

Catalogue Pdf

Lot 334 - 2 Mo