Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Eva Hofstetter, Die Vasensammlung Lichtenhahn: Glauben, Denken und Feiern im antiken Griechenland. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2009. Pp. 111. ISBN 9783447060653. €32.00.
Reviewed by Sara Chiarini, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano

Table of Contents

This is a catalogue of twelve pieces of ancient Greek pottery which constitute the collection of the actor Fritz Lichtenhahn, who was also member of the Winckelmann Society. In 2008, Lichtenhahn and his wife entrusted their collection to the Winckelmann Society, which hired Doctor Eva Hofstetter to study these vases and compile the present book.

Each artefact is treated individually in a separate chapter of the volume, preceded by a general introduction. Pp. 7-12 present a short biography of both the owner of the collection, Fritz Lichtenhahn, and the author of the catalogue, Eva Hofstetter. Max Kunze provides an overview of the material, which is characterised by a certain uniformity: all pieces come from Athens and their chronology spans the beginning of the sixth century B.C. to the final decades of the fifth century B.C. In the following pages (13-20) is a glossary of the most basic concepts and technical terms of ancient Greek ceramic manufacture, such as potter's wheel, oven, black- and red-figured style and so on.

Of the twelve vases, one belongs to the orientalizing style and is an early Corinthian alabastron (pp. 21-28), four are black-figured (two amphorae and two lekythoi, pp. 29-60), six are red-figured (three bowls, one lekythos and one pelike, pp. 61-94 and 105-110) and one is an Attic white-ground lekythos (pp. 95-104). Each vase is presented according to the following scheme: the first page is occupied only by the chapter title, which takes inspiration from the subjects depicted on the pot, and a literary quotation from an ancient Greek text (with German translation), which again dovetails with the decorative theme. Then follows the entry proper, which is divided into three parts: the first, after the scientific definition of the object, is a synthetic technical description, with information about the state of preservation, colours, dimensions and provenance. The second and larger part discusses the function of the vase shape, describes in detail the figures depicted and their relationships both with each other and, if existing, with the function of the support. The third and last part is a selected bibliography, concerning the previous publication(s) of the find (if existing) and the most recent studies related to antiquarian or iconographic aspects.

The decorations consist mostly of mythological subjects, but there are also some daily life scenes. Among the mythical characters, some build a narrative context, like Dionysus and Semele riding out from Hades, Herakles fighting against Cerberus, Theseus fighting against the Minotaur, Iris pursuing a young player of a lyre, Eros flying over his next victim. Others are represented alone, not linked to an episode of their saga or to a specific attitude: a winged daemon, dancing maenads, a maenad and a satyr, Nike holding a thymiaterion and Eros sitting on a stone and holding a singing bird.

Out of this classification stands a red-figured bowl (pp. 73-80), whose complex decoration, involving various mythical characters like Iris, maenads and satyrs, reproduces most probably an unknown theatre play.

The pictures of anonymous human beings include a red-figured bowl decorated with an aulos player (pp. 61-66), another red-figured bowl whose bottom is depicted with a young athlete making an offering at an altar (pp.89-94) and the white-ground lekythos with the usual scene of dedication at the stele of the dead, made by two relatives (pp. 95-104).

Two vases are published here for the first time: the black-figured lekythos with dancing maenad and satyr (pp. 55-60) and the red-figured bowl with the offering scene (pp. 89-94, see above).

Each piece is accorded illustrations of very good quality, which allow the reader to perceive and appreciate all details of the decoration, sometimes even better than through direct observation.

What is not so clear is what kind of reader was intended. The brief scientific description of the vase and the quite rich bibliography for each chapter imply a public of scholars and students of ancient Greek art and archaeology. On the other hand, the glossary and some explanations within the entries sound so elementary that the book seems addressed to readers who have no familiarity with the ancient Greek world. Perhaps this was exactly the purpose of the publisher: producing a book that could be available to both levels of readers. Experts in this field of study will be able to enlarge their knowledge of ancient Greek pottery with a new repertoire, while others, being simply fond of ancient art, will appreciate the comprehensible descriptions and the beautiful pictures.

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