Monday, February 23, 2009


Kenneth Lapatin (ed.), Papers on Special Techniques in Athenian Vases: Proceedings of a Symposium Held in Connection with the Exhibition 'The Colors of Clay: Special Techniques in Athenian Vases', at the Getty Villa, June 15-17, 2006. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008. Pp. xii, 242. ISBN 9780892369010. $75.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Sheramy D. Bundrick, University of South Florida St. Petersburg, (

Papers on Special Techniques in Athenian Vases brings together nineteen papers associated with a June 2006 conference at the Getty Villa, which accompanied the important exhibition "The Colors of Clay: Special Techniques in Athenian Vases." A glance at the table of contents (see below for authors and titles) reveals the collection's diverse scope, with essays devoted to issues of execution, iconography, influence, and trade. The authors, too, represent a diverse gathering of scholars, scientists, and ceramicists. This conference volume, like others recently published or in preparation, demonstrates the vitality of Greek ceramic studies; far from languishing in an ever-shifting scholarly world, the study of Athenian vases benefits from new technologies, approaches, and points of view.

The two essays opening the volume, by Beth Cohen ("The Colors of Clay: Combining Special Techniques on Athenian Vases") and Brian Sparkes ("Why Special Techniques?") acquaint the reader with the special techniques under scrutiny--outline drawing, coral red, Six's technique, white ground, added- or extruded-clay relief elements, gilding, plastic vases and vases with plastic additions--and the larger questions surrounding them. Cohen, the curator of the Colors of Clay exhibition, asserts as she did in the original exhibition catalogue that study of technique has traditionally been overlooked in favor of figural decoration, while stressing that one cannot truly be understood without the other. She uses key vases from the exhibition to explore the juxtaposition of special techniques in a single vessel. Sparkes, like Cohen, lauds the innovation of Athenian artisans when it came to special techniques, while speculating about the impetus of some craftsmen to "go further." He introduces considerations of consumers and trade further explored by other authors in the volume.

Herman A. G. Brijder's essay on Six's technique ("Six's Technique and Etruscan Bucchero") discusses previous scholarship by Jan Six and Emilie Haspels, then moves to further observations. Because some of the vessels using Six's technique copy Etruscan bucchero prototypes in their shape, Brijder wonders if there is a visual connection as well. He notes the contrast of light and dark produced with the relief work on some Etruscan bucchero and speculates whether the earliest versions of Six's technique were intended to echo it. He also notes that the technique seems to have been more highly regarded in Etruria than Attica, especially with sympotic shapes.

Annie Verbanck-Piérard considers the use of special techniques in a specific archaeological context, the Athenian Akropolis ("The Colors of the Akropolis: Special Techniques for Athena"). Piérard states at the outset that her study was limited to the German publication of the Akropolis material (Graef-Langlotz) rather than firsthand examination, and she explains the methodological problems involved with such a limitation. Even so, she found that all the special techniques considered in the Colors of Clay exhibition are represented in the Akropolis material, and her essay leads the reader through different examples. She suggests that ceramic offerings which exhibit a particular quality of techne would have been suitable for Athena in her guise as Ergane.

Two iconographically themed essays examine the depiction of women on special-technique vases: Jenifer Neils, "'Women Are White: White Ground and the Attic Funeral," and Claire Lyons, "Objects of Affection: Genre and Gender on Some Athenian Vases." Neils argues for a symbiotic relationship between the development of the Attic lekythos as a shape, the evolution of white ground as a technique, and the association of both with women and the funeral. She further highlights the possible role of women as patrons of vase-painters with regards to lekythoi and white-ground vases generally, by virtue of their role as caretakers of the dead. Lyons uses a case-study approach: she examines four vases from the Colors of Clay exhibition that depict "exemplary" women (mythological figures, nude women, foreigners) and considers issues of identity. She notes that special techniques such as white ground or gilding could emphasize a vessel's didactic message by highlighting what she calls "telling attributes."

A series of papers on technique and execution succeed these iconographic studies. Two essays are concerned with so-called coral-red gloss, the uncommon but striking technique employed from the 530s for approximately a century by select painters and workshops. Historically there has been much debate about the production of coral-red, namely how the color was produced during firing. Jeffrey Maish ("Observations and Theories on the Technical Development of Coral-red Gloss") compares the appearance of coral-red gloss to misfires and mis-slips in black-gloss vessels. He argues that an attraction to the red color produced during such firing mishaps may have inspired the creation of techniques to replicate and control it.

An essay by four scientists from the Getty Conservation Institute ("A Preliminary Investigation of Coral-red Glosses Found on Attic Greek Pottery") presents initial results of testing done on thirteen fragments/vessels containing coral-red and black gloss, using an environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM). The tests uncovered two different kinds of coral-red gloss: one whose chemical composition is similar to the black gloss, and another that exhibits heightened calcium and magnesium content (abbreviated HCM coral red, as opposed to LCM coral red). These findings may be the result of two different clays and may explain why scholars cannot settle on a single technique for creating coral red. The remainder of the essay considers the LCM coral-red gloss as compared to black; based on tests that reveal differences in composition between the two, the authors propose that two separate firings must have been used to create the black gloss/LCM coral-red vessels. "Ferrous and Ferric: A Review of Scientific Research on the Iron in Attic Greek Glazes" by Richard Newman follows this paper and similarly discusses the usage of SEM technologies in analyzing ancient glazes, as well as TEM, or transmission electron microscopy; his focus is the black gloss and its iron content. It is interesting to note that even with new technologies allowing a different view into ancient processes, many fundamentals remain unexplained. One can hope continued research will provide more answers.

A paper by Eleni Aloupi-Soutis ("Recovery and Revival of Attic Vase-Decoration Techniques: What Can They Offer Archaeological Research?") and another by Lisa Kahn and John C. Wissinger ("Re-creating and Firing a Greek Kiln") bring the debate into the practical sphere, as these authors have attempted to replicate the decoration and firing of ancient vessels. Aloupi-Soutis' paper builds on work done by the THETIS Authentics Ltd. laboratory and workshop, in collaboration with the Greek Archaeological Service, as they produced full-scale reproductions of archaeological finds. She discusses the production of black gloss, coral-red gloss, and the question of multiple firings; some of her conclusions mesh well with those found by the scientists in the previous papers. The research of Kahn and Wissinger builds on that of Joseph Veach Noble but departs from it as they recreated an ancient Greek kiln (Noble and his collaborators used electric kilns). Their experiments reveal aspects of the ancient process that Noble would not have encountered and provide significant insight.

Papers by Joan Mertens ("The Colors of Psiax") and Adrienne Lezzi-Hafter ("Clay, Gold, and Craft: Special Techniques in Three Vases by The Eretria Painter and Their Apotheosis in Xenophantos") mark forays into more traditional scholarship by emphasizing a single artistic personality. In addition to introducing Psiax's work in special techniques, Mertens reminds the reader that the creation of the red-figure technique (and other technical experiments) is roughly contemporary with the emergence of Greek drama. She suggests that the innovations of Thespis and "the introduction of the actor" may have influenced Exekias, Psiax, and other painters of the day. Lezzi-Hafter focuses on three key vessels by the Eretria Painter that each employ multiple special techniques. Like Psiax a century before, the Eretria Painter was an innovator, for whom special techniques were a means to enhance artistry and narrative. The essay continues with an in-depth analysis of the squat lekythos potted by Xenophantos in the Hermitage; Lezzi-Hafter attributes this piece and its painter to the same workshop of the Eretria Painter and Aison.

Plastic vases as a form of special technique are highlighted in two papers. Susanne Ebbinghaus ("Of Rams, Women, and Orientals: A Brief History of Attic Plastic Vases") reviews the development of this form with a specific eye toward Near Eastern connections and influences. Dyfri Williams ("Some Thoughts on the Potters and Painters of Plastic Vases Before Sotades") examines the early history of plastic vases and considers the potters, painters, and workshops who specialized in them.

The remaining papers in the volume tackle issues of trade and distribution of vases with special techniques; issues of trade and distribution in general have received increasing attention in recent years. Athena Tsingarida's essay ("Color for a Market? Special Techniques and Distribution Patterns in Late Archaic and Early Classical Greece") considers the distribution of three techniques: Six's technique, coral red, and white ground, laying particular emphasis on phiale and cup shapes. Helpful tables and maps show, for example, a strong Attic market for phialai in Six's technique with less common distribution elsewhere. Coral-red phialai and cups, while maintaining the strongest market in Attica, have a much wider distribution across the Greek world, especially in the Late Archaic period. In the Early Classical period, white-ground cups and phialai seem to take their place, although here again the local Attic market is paramount. It is worth noting the challenges of discussing distribution of vases in these terms, either by Tsingarida or anyone else: so many vases have unrecorded provenances, yielding an incomplete corpus, and when provenances are known, sometimes the samples are small. Does the presence of one or two vases at a given site show export specifically to that site, or were they brought by a stranger passing through? Even so, the questions raised by Tsingarida and the other authors in this volume are important and should be considered.

Martine Denoyelle ("Athenian Vases in Special Techniques in Magna Graecia and Sicily, and Their Influence on Local Production") turns to the Greek colonies of Italy in her analysis of trade patterns. White-ground lekythoi and plastic vases, she explains, are the only special-technique vases found in any notable numbers in these areas and raise questions about relationships between Greek colonials and their Italic neighbors. Denoyelle uses a case-study rather a statistical approach, so maps and tables such as found in Tsingarda's essay are absent; some readers may wish for more numbers and hard data.

Italy remains the focus in the essay by Bodil Bundgaard Rasmussen ("Special Vases in Etruria: First- or Secondhand?"), in which she revisits some of the most contentious questions in the study of Athenian vase painting and applies them to special-technique vessels found in Etruscan tombs, namely, a) were there special commissions in the Kerameikos; and b) were vases found in Etruria intended specifically for foreign viewers, or were they geared toward an Athenian audience, later traveling to Italy through secondhand trade? Rasmussen's essay suffers the most in the collection from the required word-count limit: the issues she confronts are simply too large and complex to be dealt with effectively in this space. They are worth re-raising though; it has been well over thirty years since the publication of T.B.L. Webster's controversial Potter and Patron in Classical Athens, and the issue of secondhand trade still has not been resolved. Admittedly, it may never be.

Finally, Friederike Fless takes the question of trade--and taste--to the edges of the Greek world ("Taste at the Periphery of the Greek World: The Iberian Peninsula and the Black Sea"). She begins her discussion by turning the term "special techniques" on its head, pointing out that a certain technique may only be "special" from an Athenian perspective. As case studies for discussing the reception and perception of Attic wares abroad, Fless focuses on red-figure kraters found in Iberia and the so-called Kerch vases discovered at sites around the Black Sea, especially pelikai found in burials. She convincingly describes the process by which customers abroad selected and adapted Attic vessels for their use--and by which Athenian painters and potters responded to the demand--as evolutionary and forged over time.

Papers on Special Techniques in Athenian Vases is a significant contribution to our growing understanding of these specific kinds of vessels, as well as to our understanding of Greek vases generally. Many of the questions and methodologies introduced here can be equally developed with the more pervasive techniques of red and black figure. As one might expect from a Getty Museum publication, the production value of the volume is high, with a clean layout and clear illustrations. Typographical errors are minimal. A single caveat: the reader would be wise to have a copy of the Colors of Clay catalogue at hand, as not all illustrations of exhibition vases are duplicated.

Table of Contents:

Kenneth Lapatin, Introduction

Beth Cohen, The Colors of Clay: Combining Special Techniques on Athenian Vases

Brian A. Sparkes, Why Special Techniques?

Herman A. G. Brijder, Six's Technique and Etruscan Bucchero

Annie Verbanck-Piérard, The Colors of the Akropolis: Special Techniques for Athena

Jenifer Neils, 'Women are White': White Ground and the Attic Funeral

Claire L. Lyons, Objects of Affection: Genre and Gender on Some Athenian Vases

Jeffrey P. Maish, Observations and Theories on the Technical Development of Coral-Red Gloss

M.S. Walton, E. Doehne, K. Trentelman, and G. Chiari, A Preliminary Investigation of Coral-Red Glosses Found on Attic Greek Pottery

Richard Newman, Ferrous and Ferric: A Review of Scientific Research on the Iron in Attic Greek Glazes

Eleni Aloupi-Soutis, Recovery and Revival of Attic Vase-Decoration Techniques; What Can They Offer Archaeological Research?

Lisa C. Kahn and John C. Wissinger, Re-creating and Firing a Greek Kiln

Joan R. Mertens, The Colors of Psiax

Susanne Ebbinghaus, Of Rams, Women, and Orientals: A Brief History of Attic Plastic Vases

Dyfri Williams, Some Thoughts on the Potters and Painters of Plastic Vases Before Sotades

Adrienne Lezzi-Hafter, Clay, Gold, and Craft: Special Techniques in Three Vases by The Eretria Painter and Their Apotheosis in Xenophantos

Athena Tsingarida, Color for a Market? Special Techniques and Distribution Patterns in Late Archaic and Early Classical Greece

Martine Denoyelle, Athenian Vases in Special Techniques in Magna Graecia and Sicily, and Their Influence on Local Production

Bodil Bundgaard Rasmussen, Special Vases in Etruria: First- or Secondhand?

Friederike Fless, Taste at the Periphery of the Greek World: The Iberian Peninsula and the Black Sea

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