Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Pieter Heesen, Athenian Little-Master Cups (2 vols). Amsterdam: Pieter Heesen, 2011. Pp. 394; 173 p. of plates. ISBN 9789081734004. €110.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Mary B. Moore (

Version at BMCR home site

The Little-Master cup (a literal translation of "Kleinmeisterschale, " p. 2) is an elegant drinking vessel produced in Athens mainly from about 560 to 520 B.C. It has a shallow bowl with upturned handles, an offset lip, and a tall narrow stem that flares into a rather flat spreading foot. There are two variants. The lip-cup has a reserved lip with limited figural decoration and an inscription in the handle zone. The band cup has a glazed lip and there are several figures or an inscription in the handle zone. The effect is elegant, stylish and rather delicate.

This handsomely produced book is an updated version of the author's 2009 PhD dissertation written for the University of Amsterdam. Begun in the 1980s, it has had quite a long history. The author left academia in 1988 to work for KLM, the Royal Dutch airline, which afforded him unparalleled travel opportunities to visit museums and collections in cities around the world, from the United States to Australia, with stops in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The results of his travel and study are a database of 5412 Little-Master cups and fragments. For his book, Heesen wisely chose to focus on all the known Little Master cups signed by potters and painters as well as unsigned cups that may be attributed to them; 753 entries comprise his impressive catalogue.

Heesen's relatively long introduction prepares the reader very well for the compact chapters that follow. He presents a detailed discussion of the Little-Master cup, especially its evolution from the types of cups that preceded it, as well as the history of the scholarship, variations in the shape and characteristics of the ornament. He concludes that the Little-Master cup, especially the lip-cup, was most likely an indigenous product created by Athenian potters. Heesen focuses on the various workshops producing these cups. His goals are to recognize and to set forth the connections between the potters and painters who specialized in Little-Master cups, to observe similarities and differences between contemporary workshops, and to chart the development of this cup and the subtleties of the shape as it evolved in workshops during the third quarter of the sixth century B.C. and a little beyond. Where relevant, the author discusses the evidence for collaborations between father and son (often identified by a patronymic), between siblings, or between artists not related to one another. The possibility that a potter and painter may be the same person is also considered but is often difficult to establish without a double signature. Inscriptions are of particular importance and the numerous photographs of them that appear in the text are far more nuanced than rendered drawings would be. Figural decoration is carefully described and pertinent literature cited.

Ten chapters of varying lengths comprise the discussion of the workshops with subheadings that deal with the known production of individual potters and the painters who worked for them. The format of each chapter and section is similar: introduction, shape and dimensions, inscriptions, interior decoration (mythological and non- mythological subjects), exterior decoration (same sequence as interior), ornaments, provenance and chronology, and concluding remarks. Thus, the reader knows exactly what to expect. The descriptions are clear, concise and very informative with a great deal of important material in both the text and the notes which are placed at the bottom of each page, a convenience that will be appreciated by everyone who uses this book. Throughout the text there are many crisp and well-defined profile drawings, mostly rendered at a scale of 1:2; in the case of very large cups the scale is 1:3. Very useful are the charts of comparative measurements. Heesen pays great attention to the inscriptions and his analyses of their placement on the cup, and the character of the letter forms, as well as misspellings are especially valuable sections of the text. Unfortunately, the provenance is often quite inconclusive and not much help for dating; thus the first-hand observation of each cup by the author is particularly important for detecting the subtle differences in potting and painting that permit attribution to workshops and the establishment of a relative chronology.

Chapter 11: Final Observations and Conclusions. This is an immensely valuable chapter accompanied by 53 charts that allow the reader to observe at a glance information that might be very difficult and greatly time-consuming to collect, e.g., the number of preserved cups according to potters and type (p. 229), a figural chronological overview of the profiles of lip cups and of band cups, ca. 560-520 B.C. (pp. 230-231), regional distribution of inscriptions (p. 238), a pictorial chronological overview of the palmette shapes in the corpus (p. 247), regional distribution of cups with recorded provenances (p. 249), a chronological chart of the catalogued potters and painters (p. 251). Some of these charts include cups taken from the author's database and do not appear in the catalogue. Next comes the catalogue (pp. 259-330) and each entry contains basic information: location, provenance, measurements, subjects, inscriptions, and bibliography including references to the Beazley Archive Database when available. The arrangement is by workshop and presented chronologically. At the end of the catalogue, Heesen helpfully includes a Concordance with ABV, Paralipomena and the Beazley Archive Database (p. 331-333). There are four Indices: I, Provenances (p. 334); II, Museums, Collections, and Market: in this index, the catalogue numbers are in bold face for easy reference (pp. 335-364); III. Potters and Painters not incorporated in the catalogue and appendix (pp. 365); and IV, General (pp. 366-370). The lengthy bibliography, including titles published as late as April, 2011, completes the text volume (pp. 371-394).

The layout of plates is very generous, not only with many views of whole cups and fragments, but also with copious illustrations of important details difficult to observe in images of the entire cup. All of the photographs are black and white and while the quality varies considerably due to the large variety of sources, each photograph is clear enough for critical observation and complements the text very well. An added bonus is that each plate has a heading giving the potter, painter and date, and every photograph is identified by both its catalogue number and present location. This is particularly helpful because there are so many images.

Small drinking cups are frequently eclipsed by the larger and often more dramatic amphorae, kraters and hydriai, but Heesen's study shows how important the elegant Little-Master cups are and as deserving of monographic treatment as their more showy counterparts. The quality of the drawing is often exceptional, precise and sure. Frequently, the subjects are animals of various kinds, but there are many mythological representations and some deviate greatly from the norm. One may mention just two. The standing frontal siren in the tondo of Villa Giulia 106153 by the Xenokles Painter (cat. no. 57, pl. 17b and p. 46, note 287 for a few other examples); usually sirens are in profile and perch on something or hover, though sometimes they fly. In the handle zone of Berlin F 1799 by the Painter of Louvre F 51 (cat. no. 114, pl. 36b-c), Herakles drives a chariot in pursuit of Kyknos, also in a chariot; Zeus appears between the two and the battle has not yet begun. Usually, in the sixth century, artists chose to depict the high point of the drama, not the moment before.

A few observations. In a tondo fragment, Naxos 5533a by the Sondros Painter, the hybrid man/animal (part of a bearded head, neck and foreleg) is very strange (cat. no. 32, pl. 9f). Heesen, following previous authors (p. 33), identifies this figure as a centaur, even though it does not seem to have a human torso but instead a short neck. Might it be Acheloos? I am not sure that the configuration of a chariot wheeling round (Louvre Cp10261 by the Hermogenes Painter: cat. no. 156, pl. 47d-e and Berlin F 1795, the lost cup by the Amasis Painter: cat. no. 223, pl. 63c, top) can be called racing unless the artist depicts the turning post which is not shown (for chariots wheeling, see p. 105, note 623). The right pair of a horseman and warrior on Louvre F 75 by the Oakeshott Painter (cat. no. 228, pl. 65b) is a pursuit, not a confrontation (p. 142).

This excellent book will be the standard reference for Little-Master cups for a very long time to come and it takes its place on the shelf next to its immediate predecessors, the splendid studies of Komast cups and Siana cups by Herman Brijder, Heesen's dissertation sponsor. Heesen has provided the framework and criteria for attributing newcomers to the corpus of Little-Master cups and for recognizing others that are known but have not yet found homes. This volume is as rich as may be hoped for with regard to information about potters and painters, shapes and ornaments, inscriptions and subjects. The enormous amount of detail gathered and presented by Heesen in a readable, easily accessible format is a major accomplishment. Anyone interested in Little-Master cups will find this book indispensible.

In his preface, Heesen wrote: "I have had my doubts whether my research was perhaps too 'old-fashioned' and more art-historical than archaeological, primarily concentrating on the producers of the cups rather than on the users. However, I have found that without knowledge of the producers and knowledge of a very large corpus of cups, it is impossible to study consumption patterns." The reviewer is very glad he cast aside his doubts and wrote this book.

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