Wednesday, February 16, 2011


H. W. Catling, T. Mannack (ed.), Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Great Britain, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum 4. Great Britain, fasc. 24. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. xvii, 46; 60 p of plates, 15 of figures. ISBN 9780197264447. $175.00.

Reviewed by Mary B. Moore, Hunter College, CUNY (

Version at BMCR home site

This CVA presents all of the Greek Geometric and Protoattic pottery in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University. It is an important contribution to the CVA, especially because there are very few museums outside of Greece that have enough Geometric pottery to fill an entire fascicule. Among the few are the British Museum 11 (2010), the Metropolitan Museum 5 (2004), and Berlin, Antikenmuseum 10 (2009). In the words of the two authors, the present fascicule "has been overlong in gestation" (p. xiii). Catling began to work on it when he was Assistant Keeper of the Department of Antiquities at the Ashmolean from 1959-1971. During that time he studied the collection and drafted detailed descriptions including bibliography and comparanda, but he suspended his work on the fascicule from 1971-1989 while he was Director of the British School of Archaeology in Athens and after that he was fully occupied with publication responsibilities for the fieldwork he had undertaken in Laconia and Crete during his time in Athens. Finally, in 2004, Sir John Boardman strongly encouraged Catling to resume his work on the fascicule and to finish it which he did with the assistance of Thomas Mannack of the Beazley Archive. I am very glad Boardman did this and high praise to him as well as to the authors who were able to complete the fascicule while enduring enormous difficulties caused by the museum's major renovation project during which the vases were in storage and virtually inaccessible.

The authors offer a history of the collection which began inauspiciously with the gift of a Melian skyphos in 1874 (1874.397: pl. 58, 4-5). Over the next century, many gifts as well as purchases entered the collection. The vases come from many parts of the Greek world and comprise a good variety of this very specialized style of Greek pottery, long considered the unwanted stepchild created between the glories of the Bronze Age and those of the seventh and sixth centuries. Most of the vases are Attic, especially from the Late Geometric period, ca. 760/50-700 B.C., its most prolific. None is a monumental vessel that marked a burial, but rather all are fairly small and probably furnished tombs. Many are very worthy pieces. Good examples are: the four LG II neck-amphorae, the show pieces of the collection (pls. 5, 3 and 6-19), the handsome MG II oinochoe with twisted handle (pl. 23, 9-11), the elegant LG trefoil oinochoe (pl. 25, 1-3), the LG II pitcher (pl. 31), the LG pyxides with the horses on their lids (pls. 44, 3-6, 45, 1-3 and 46), or the EG Corinthian skyphos (pl. 52, 6-7). Rarer shapes include: an LG covered strainer cup with spout (pl. 35, 12), an LG pointed pyxis (pl. 47, 7), two LG pomegranates (pl. 49, 1-2), an LG double skyphos (pl. 49, 7-9), an LG Boeotian basket with handle (pl. 52, 10-11), and a ring vase that may be Boeotian (pl. 54, 1-4). All in all, there is great variety in this fascicule.

The text begins with the Submycenean, Attic and non-Attic Protogeometric: Euboean, Dodecanesian and Laconian, the last comprised of fragments (pls. 1-3), followed by Attic Geometric and Protoattic (pls. 4-51, 1-3), then Argive, Argolid, Asine, Boeotian, Euboean, Laconian, and Aegean Geometric (pl. 51, 4-20 and pls. 52-60).

The format for each entry of the catalogue follows that established for the CVA. After the heading come the measurements and the condition of the vase, then description of the ornament and figural decoration, followed by attribution and date. For the most part the descriptions are full and precise, especially the ornament. I noticed a few mistakes here and there in the figural decoration. Pls. 8, 2, 10, 2 and 11, 1: only one horse draws the chariot, not two. P. 6, to pls. 12-15: the authors should have mentioned that the horses on this neck-amphora appear to walk out, and do not stand still as they do in pure Geometric; the human figures are also much more lively than they are in Geometric and are good examples of how the artists working in the earliest Protoattic style had already broken with the strict conventions of Geometric. One wishes for commentary here. P. 9 to pl. 24, 3-4: the shield is usually called a Diplyon shield, not Boeotian.

If there is a weakness in this fascicule it is the Comparanda which are not nearly as generous as they should be, and the reviewer wonders why. Given the considerable cost of this slender CVA, it is surely not too much to expect the authors to have consulted more of the recent bibliography for Geometric pottery, which is readily available, and treat the reader to fuller accounts, at least for the major pieces. Much of this reads like catch-as-catch-can. Following are some of my observations and criticisms.

P. 6, re: 1935.19 (pls. 12-15) For the attribution: "Close to the Mesogeia Painter [J.M. Cook], Early Analatos Painter [Davison]". It is maddening that the authors do not tell the reader the Cook reference is either to his seminal article on Protoattic pottery (BSA 35, 1934-35, p. 169) or to his "Athenian Workshops around 700," (BSA 42, 150; for more on this painter add to this reference pp. 141-43) or that the Davison citation refers to AGW [Attic Geometric Workshops] 51, 149, no. 1 (BSA and AGW appear in the bibliography, but the reader either has to know these references or look for them in the list of abbreviations). The authors do not opt for either attribution and this is annoying. For the Analatos Painter, see the important article by Martine Denoyelle, "Le peintre d'Analatos: essai de synth├Ęse et perspectives nouvelles" Antike Kunst 39, 1996, pp. 71-87.

P. 6, re: 1936.599 (pls. 16-19). For the attribution to the Analatos Painter, the authors write: "Looks forward to the mature work of the Analatos Painter ... may belong to his apprenticeship [Coldstream]". Again, one has to know this refers to Coldstream's monumental book, Greek Geometric Pottery, abbreviated GGP in the bibliography [the quotation is on p. 63]. "In 1936, perceived by J.M. Cook as the earliest work of the Analatos Painter". The year should be 1935 and the quotation surely refers to BSA35, 1934-35, p. 172 (cited in the bibliography).

P. 7, re 1959.226 (pl. 22). The reference should read: Brann, Agora as it is given in the List of Abbreviations (p. ix), not simply Brann.

P. 9, re: 1966.1883 (pl. 24, 3-4). For the Dipylon shield, not in use, but by itself, see CVA, MMA 5, p. 78 with many examples including the one in Hannover cited by the authors.

P. 13,. re: 1894.13 (pl. 32, 1-3): the tongue-shaped vertical ornaments probably imitate the gadroons that appear on metal vases. For gadrooning, see Briese and Docter, BABesch 69, 1994, p. 334; also CVA, MMA 5, p. 65.

P. 14, re: 1923.390, the covered strainer with spout (pl. 35, 12). For strainers, see Briese and Docter, BABesch 69, 1994, pp. 30-32; also Coldstream, BSA 98, 2003, p. 335, cat. K 13, pl. 41 and CVA, MMA 5, pp. 22-23.

P. 17, re: 1929.24 (pl. 39, 3-4): for a man leading a horse (or horses), a frequent subject in LG, see CVA, MMA 5, pp. 25-26

Pp. 22-23, re: 1934.312, the very nice LG pomegranate and its smaller relative, 1934.313 (pl. 49, 1-2). For pomegranates, see Briese and Docter, BABesch 69, 1994, pp. 32-33; CVA, MMA 5, p. 30; CVA, Berlin 10, pp. 85-86.

P. 29. re: G. 52 (pl. 52, 10-11), the Boeotian basket. Add to the bibliography for baskets, CVA, MMA 5, pp. 28-29, CVA, Berlin 10, p. 78.

Four indices follow the catalogue: Provenances; Donors; Painters, Workshops and Groups; Inventory Numbers. The profiles on 15 plates are mostly printed 1:2. The photographs are the best part of this CVA. They are crisp black and white images very with good details and the layout of each plate is as generous as one may hope for. It would have been helpful if the accession numbers for each vase appeared on the plates. The photographs are augmented by drawings in the text which clarify details not easily visible unless one is in front of the vase. Which brings the reviewer to one last point. A friend remarked to me that, at present, in the new installation not one vase in this fascicule is on exhibition. In view of the rich variety of material in this CVA, one hopes that this unfortunate situation will soon be remedied. These vases and the visitors to the Ashmolean deserve better.

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