The semicircular path of the Upper Hemicycle is dedicated to Italiot ceramics, through a studied selection of the main areas of production: Lucania, Apulia, Campania and Paestum. Works from Sicily are not however represented in the Vatican collection.
These are figured vessels produced in the Greek cities of southern Italy during a fairly defined period, between 440 and 300 B.C., the work of artisans who initially migrated from Athens and subsequently established local workshops.
The Italiot vessels conserved in the Gregorian Etruscan Museum derive from one of the most ancient collecting traditions in the history of European culture. Indeed, these pre-exist the very foundation of the Museum, since they have been present in the Vatican since the eighteenth century in the Clementine Gallery of the Vatican Library, which in turn held evidence of the most ancient collections of the seventeenth century, originating from Naples and southern Italy [cf. Apulian krater by the Painter of the Ilioupersis ].
This explains the presence of these ceramics in the collections of the Vatican Museums, far from the places where they were originally produced and then unearthed. In the case in question, these are the most ancient discoveries of Italiot vessels, whose original contexts (for instance, tomb characteristics, form and composition of sets of grave goods) and provenance are unknown to us.
From a technical point of view, Italiot ceramic is characterised by a paler clay and less glossy glaze compared to Attic production. The shapes of the vessels refer to the Greek repertoire of the same period, although with the addition of some local variants. Among the subjects, mythological themes are given notable importance, clearly inspired by Greek tragedies. Their solemnity contrasts with the irreverent Phylax comedy, a popular farce which flourished in the cities of Magna Graecia from the fourth to the third centuries B.C. [cf. kraters attributed to Asteas].
Aside from myth and theatre, the vessels treat subjects linked to funerary worship, such as scenes set at the tomb, with clear reference to the Dionysiac world, interpreted in terms of its mystic and salvific meaning in relation to the theme of death.
Cultural contamination from the indigenous peoples of southern Italy, for whom the vessels were in any case intended, led to the construction of a peculiar repertoire, which ended up being entirely differentiated from its Greek origins.