Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Alexander Cambitoglou, Michael Turner, Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. The Nicholson Museum, The University of Sydney. The Red Figure Pottery of Apulia. The Nicholson Museum Fascicule 1 [Australia Fascicule 1]. Sydney: Australian Arcgaeological Institute at Athens; The Nicholson Museum, The University of Sydney, 2008. Pp. 96; color pls. 105, figs. 9 (profile drawings), CD-Rom. ISBN 9781742100913. AUS $200.00.
Reviewed by Jenifer Neils

It is appropriate for many reasons that the first Australian fascicule of the CVA be devoted to the red-figure vases of Apulia. It was Australian scholarship that produced the first monograph devoted to the Apulian vase painters of the Plain Style, an elegant volume by Alexander Cambitoglou and Dale Trendall whose publication was underwritten by the Australian Humanities Research Council in 1961.1 The two scholars subsequently co-authored several volumes detailing lists of vases and painters of Apulia from 1978 to 1992.2 With the work of Cambitoglou, Trendall (Paestan, Lucanian, Campanian, Sicilian), Richard Green (Gnathian) and Ian McPhee (fish-plates), the antipodes have become virtually synonymous with scholarship on the vases of South Italy and Sicily. One of the authors, Alexander Cambitoglou, is a former Honorary Curator of the Nicholson Museum (1963-2000), while his co-author, Michael Turner, is currently a senior curator at the Nicholson.

The first Apulian vases to enter the museum were donated by the museum's founder Sir Charles Nicholson who gave 28 Apulian vases in 1860. As the Honorary Curator of the Nicholson Museum from 1939 until 1954, Trendall actively acquired South Italian vases for the growing collection following the second world war. One of his best known acquisitions is the bell krater by the Tarporley Painter which depicts three actors preparing for a satyr play. Surprisingly it is only one of two extant South Italian vases showing actors dressed for the performance of a satyr play. Because this vase was formerly in the collection of Sir William Hamilton and so was drawn by Tischbein, a reproduction of the engraving would have enhanced this volume.

This CVA breaks ground on two fronts. First, all of the eighty-six vases and fragments are reproduced in color. The use of color plates is especially appropriate for Apulian vases which depend to a great extent on added color for their overall effect. All the vases and sherds were photographed under the same lighting conditions so one can compare clay color from one vase to the next. A considerable number of the plates are generously given over to one side of a single vase, and side views are provided as well as front and back. Second, a CD of digital images is included for the first time in a CVA; this allows one to read the text and study the images without having to flip back to the plates which are bound into the volume. In preparation for this volume old restorations were removed, and the Tarantine rhyton was taken apart, demonstrating that it was an amalgam of various different pots.

The Nicolson collection of Apulian vases has a representative sampling of the most common shapes. Among the complete vases are 12 bell kraters, 11 pelikai, 10 oinochoai, 7 squat lekythoi, 3 hydriae, 2 skyphoi, 2 lebetes gamikoi, 2 pyxides, and one each of a volute krater, fish plate, kantharos, and lekanis lid. The fragmentary rhyton takes the shape of the head of a Laconian hound. Fragments of known shape are placed in the catalogue together with complete vases of that shape, and profile drawings are included.

Among the unusual pieces is a cylindrical pyxis, the lid of which is decorated with the profile head of Hephaistos who is extremely rare in Apulian pottery. A pair of tongs next to the bearded head serves to identify him. A fragment of a bell krater shows Dionysos riding a griffin, a subject known in Attic vase painting but not otherwise in South Italian. On another bell krater fragment Nike appears bearing a large phiale on which sits an epichysis, a shape rarely depicted in South Italian vase painting. One of the hydriae has the only known example of a naiskos housing a kithara; it may allude to the deceased's love of music. A skyphos shows an agile female acrobat doing a handstand on a turntable with her legs over her shoulders, accompanied by two birds.

Not surprisingly several vases bear imagery derived from Greek drama. In addition to the Tarpoley Painter's vase mentioned above, a chous attributed to the Truro Painter shows two comic actors: an aggressive female presumably berating her husband. The broad reserved band on which they stand represents the stage. A bell krater by the Lecce Painter presents a lively chase: a figure carrying the attributes of Herakles (club and animal skin) runs after a cake thief. A fragment of a large unidentified vase preserves a violent scene in which a heavily bearded man collapses through a doorway to the side of which is a tall Ionic column (a palace?). Scattered in the vicinity are overturned vessels, a couch and a table on which a figure seems to be standing. It has been suggested that the scene derives from a tragedy, possibly Euripides' Madness of Herakles wherein the bearded man would be Lykos. A chous with a depiction of Pentheus attacked by two bakchai does not seem to derive from a performance as the Theban king is dressed as a hunter.

In addition to the usual Dionysiac subjects, there are some mythological scenes of interest. A fragment of a skyphos shows Ajax's rape of Cassandra (her name inscribed); noteworthy is the fact that she clenches part of her garment in her teeth, a gesture of despair or shame. A bell krater fragment preserves the frontal face of one of the Dioskouroi, with a large added white star in the field to his right. A large fragment from the shoulder of a hydria attributed to the Sarpedon Painter preserves three Danaids carrying hydriae; a fragment at Leiden University was recognized by Trendall as coming from the same vase so it is a pity that it was not illustrated here. A unique scene appears on one of the lebetes gamikoi: the anodos of Adonis. He is depicted rising out of the ground into the arms of Aphrodite. Much of the added color on this vase had disappeared, but a detailed drawing presents a reconstruction of the lost portions.

An unusual bell krater shows a young nude male embracing a taller draped female as an eros in mid-flight leads her by the hand toward an open door. The scene has been interpreted as one of marriage with the couple being led to the bridal chamber. Since doorways are unusual except in wedding scenes, this interpretation seems reasonable, although the authors suggest that the scene could be one of farewell with the woman being led to the underworld.

This CVA is extensively indexed. One can find a vase by inventory number, shape, RVAp chapter, LIMC reference, painter or group, and subject including separate indices for mythological figures and vessels represented on pots. All complete shapes are accorded profile drawings at a scale of 1:5. Another drawing shows how the preliminary sketch (rendered in red to differentiate it) on a bell krater differs from the final product. The entries are as complete as one would wish and several even include the results of clay analysis. It struck this reviewer as odd that vessels are consistently called 'pots' when the term 'vase' is common to so many western languages.

For those interested in the vases of South Italy in general and Apulia in particular this first Australian fascicule of the CVA with its CD will make rewarding reading and viewing. One can look forward with anticipation to future fascicules of the Nicholson Museum if they continue to be produced at this high level of quality and scholarship.


1.   Alexander Cambitoglou and A.D. Trendall, Apulian Red-Figured Vase-Painters of the Plain Style (Archaeological Institute of America 1961).
2.   A.D. Trendall and A. Cambitoglou, The Red-Figured Vases of Apulia I. Early and Middle Apulian (1978); II: Late Apulian (1982); Suppl. I (1983); Suppl. 2:I (1991); Suppl. 2:II (1992); Suppl. 2:III (1992).

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