Sunday, January 6, 2013


Rolf Hurschmann, Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Band 2: Unteritalisch rotfigure Keramik. Corpus vasorum antiquorum. Deutschland, Bd. 91; Hamburg Bd. 2. München: Verlag C.H. Beck, 2012. Pp. 135; 83 p. of plates. ISBN 9783406625664. €98.00.

Reviewed by Keely Elizabeth Heuer, New York University (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This superbly detailed CVA volume contains the entire collection of South Italian vases in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg (MKGH), a total of 138 whole vases and fragments. The material has been organized by region of production and then by shape and chronology. South Italian wares, unlike Attic vases, were not widely exported and seem to have been for local consumption; therefore modern scholarship divides the corpus into fabrics named for the region in which they were made. Most vases in the MKGH's holdings are Apulian, but there are nine items from Campania, three from Lucania, one from Paestum, and fifteen of unclear manufacture. They are predominantly decorated in the red-figure technique, which was transferred from Athens to southern Italy along with vase shapes and iconography around the mid fifth century B.C., probably first to Metapontum and soon after to Tarentum (modern Taranto). One Campanian Nolan amphora is black-glazed, and some of the pieces of indeterminate fabric are decorated with added colors over black glaze, including an elaborate thymiaterion consisting of an Ionic column surrounded by small lebetes on a tall base (1917.1079; pl. 82, 1-4). Applied polychromy is also seen on two plastic askoi in the form of reclining satyrs and on a female-head oinochoe (1917.449; 1962.168; and 1963.75; pl. 83). Five lost or deaccessioned vases have been included at the end of the text.

Hurschmann's thorough entries for each object begin with a full record of its known provenience and preserved measurements, including weight and, when possible, volume calculated by the use of Styrofoam granules. They continue with bibliography, which first lists references in the standard works of Arthur Dale Trendall, Alexander Cambitoglou, and Ian McPhee, and then lists additional sources in chronological order. Further bibliographic information and abundant comparanda related to the painter, shape, and decoration conclude each entry after meticulous descriptions of condition, shape, ornament, and figural decoration. Even subtle details, such as the presence of fingerprints, are noted, and the descriptions are extraordinarily precise, including the binomial nomenclature for the species of sea life appearing on the three fish plates. The text is enhanced by the excellent photography of Maria Thrun and Sabine Günther and the vase profiles by Maria Witek and Andrea Harms. The drawings by Silke Vry within the text that illustrate preliminary sketch lines as well as inscriptions and dipinti are also most helpful. The documentation of vases with pierced bases, both in the text and in the photographs, is a great improvement upon earlier descriptions of South Italian vases that often omit this important detail which renders them useless as containers for the living, indicating that they were intended purely for funerary use. Trendall, Cambitoglou, and McPhee assigned nearly two-thirds of the red-figure vases to a particular painter or workshop, and K. Schauenburg attributed an additional four. During the writing of this volume, an additional 28 vases were connected to a specific hand. Unfortunately none of the pieces has a secure provenance, but the distinctive features of each South Italian ware, including preferences in shape and decoration, make them identifiable, even when findspots are unknown. The volume concludes with eight Indices: I, Concordance of Inventory Numbers, Plates, and Supplementary Plates; II, Findspots; III, Collections, Purchases, and Donations; IV, Measurements; V, Special Technical Features; VI, Representations; VII, Inscriptions, Dipinti, and Graffiti; VIII, Painters and Workshops.

Around the end of the fifth century B.C., South Italian vase-painting began diverging from its Attic roots, probably, at least in part, because of decreased imports from the Athenian Kerameikos after the conclusion of the Peloponnesian War. The South Italian vases in the MKGH's collection, which date predominantly between the second quarter and the end of the fourth century B.C., illustrate much of the typical iconography of this period and the most common shapes.

The most frequent type of decoration, seen on 54 pieces, features women, youths, and effeminate Erotes either alone or grouped in various combinations. They typically carry items ranging from toilette objects such as mirrors and fillets to cult implements like phialai and thyrsoi, with further items often suspended in the ground surrounding them. See for instance the youth with a lyre and phiale seated by a recumbent deer on the lid of the spherical pyxis attributed to the Stuttgart and Kantharos Groups (1876.286a/b, pl. 53). He is flanked by two standing women, one carrying an oinochoe and situla and the other a house-shaped cista and phiale. An unusual shape in the collection with this iconography is a phiale painted on the interior by the Baltimore Painter, which has a handle in the form of a nude youth with raised arms whose legs turn upward to terminate in a swan's head (1991.76: pls. 65-66). The piece is further elaborated with plastic mold-made decoration: a confronted lion and griffin on the handle plate, a female head to either side of the youth's arms, and a small plaque depicting the rape of Ganymede opposite the handle on the underside, placed just below the rim.

This CVA volume contains many examples of the most frequent image in South Italian vase-painting: the isolated head, which appears as a primary or secondary motif on over one third of the surviving corpus. The heads in the MKGH's collection are generally female, such as those on the Apulian amphora 1875.37 (pl. 1) and the Campanian lekanis 1917.812b (pl. 75, 1-4). They may also be winged, as that on the White Saccos Painter's oinochoe (1875.191; pl. 39, 1-4), or that of a youth, painted in added white on a Saint-Valentin class kantharos (1917.1081; pl. 81, 1-2). The earliest South Italian vases decorated with heads date to the late fifth century B.C., but the motif does not appear repeatedly until ca. 380 B.C., after which it becomes increasingly more popular until the cessation of red-figure vase production in southern Italy and Sicily in the early third century B.C. Most of the heads on the MKGH's vases are drawn in profile, but several are in three-quarter view like the female head with a few curly tresses escaping from her lampadion hairstyle on the Apulian lekanis lid 1875.202b (Pl. 55, 1-3). Like most female heads on South Italian vases, she wears earrings and a necklace, but her diadem of oak leaves is more elaborate than the typical radiate form.

A funerary monument surrounded by mourners bearing offerings is another common type of scene on South Italian vases represented in the MKGH's collection. Between 370 and 355 B.C., the Iliupersis Painter created the canonical Apulian monumental funerary vase decorated with a naiskos- a small, temple-like shrine- on the obverse, and a stele monument on the reverse. Such scenes predominantly appear on large-scale shapes, such as the volute-krater 1917.1093 (Pls. 11-12 and 13, 1-2), but they are seen as well on non-monumental vases, for instance the hydriai 1984.447b (Pls. 30-31) and 1982.4 (Pls. 34-35). Naiskoi usually contain one or two figures within them, understood as depictions of the deceased and their family members or servants, but the Helmet Painter's volute-krater is noteworthy for the standing satyr holding a situla and kantharos who faces the deceased youth seated in the naiskos on the obverse and for the flowering plant within the naiskos on the reverse (1917.1092; pls. 24-26).

Dionysiac scenes appropriately occur on nearly all the calyx-kraters and bell-kraters as well as an Apulian skyphos (1917.1089; pl. 59, 1-3) and the only Paestan vase in the volume, a chous decorated with a dancing, wreathed satyr holding a small branch and phiale in his outstretched arms (1984.527; pl. 78). On the Lucanian calyx-krater, elements of the mortal world are transferred to the Dionysiac realm; the central dancing satyr holds a walking stick like a male citizen, and the maenad to his right carries a kalathos and kottabos stand (1877.978; pl. 72). The Lucanian bell-krater by the Brooklyn-Budapest Painter features an ithyphallic caricature of Hermes holding a pomegranate between a woman bearing a phiale and wreath and a satyr carrying a situla and thyrsos (2008.404; pls. 73, 1-5). Perhaps this image was inspired by a comedic performance, like a phlyax play, similar to the humorous courting scene involving Zeus and Hermes on the obverse of the Paestan bell-krater Vatican U 19.1 The most complex mythological imagery in the MKGH's South Italian collection appears on the fragmentary volute-krater attributed to the Darius Painter, one of the most influential and original Apulian vase-painters (2003.130; pls. 17- 23). Both sides of the body are decorated with a gigantomachy, and this depiction is unusual for the number of gods shown fighting from chariots, including perhaps the earliest representation of Apollo in a biga pulled by griffins. Not much of the decoration on the obverse of the neck is preserved, but the reverse features five Erotes, each standing or dancing on a flower.

Two more vases by the Darius Painter, a fragmentary volute-krater and an oversized lekythos, demonstrate his interest in Greek relations with the East. On the former piece, the body is divided into three zones (2003.129; pls. 14-16). Greeks battle Orientals in the top frieze, while in the lowest band figures in Eastern dress are seated and reclining on the beach between two ships and a parade of Nereids ride a dolphin, a ketos, and a hippocamp. In the center zone, a female figure is flanked by spiraling tendrils on each side of the vase: on the obverse, Nike flies with abbreviated wings while carrying a victory wreath, and on the reverse, Asia, identified by inscription in the upper frieze above her, sits with a hand raised to her lowered head. The condition of the vase makes it unclear whether these scenes refer to a historical event or a mythological war against the Persians, but the unusual combination of Oriental warriors and ships might depict the initial battle of the Trojan War as the Greek ships landed on the beach of Troy. Hurschmann correctly notes that the Greek soldiers' helmets reflect contemporary armor of Magna Graecia. The restoration of this vase revealed that the fragment decorated with a bearded, fully-armed warrior interpreted by Schauenburg as Alexander the Great belongs instead to the Gigantomachy krater described above. The lekythos's imagery is equally enigmatic with its central palace containing a standing woman on the left gesturing towards an enthroned male with ram horns on the right (2003.131; pls. 46-49). The incomplete inscriptions preserved on the base of the palace do not clarify the locale, but the altar flanked by tripods below the palace suggests a sacral space. Conversing groups of warriors in Oriental dress appear on both sides of the palace, and on the right are two palm trees and an additional altar.

Hurschmann's careful and balanced approach to the interpretation of unclear iconography is to be lauded as is his scrupulous research. It is difficult to find any fault in such an exhaustive exploration; my only criticism is that, despite the extensive use of added colors in South Italian vase-painting, as consistently noted in the text, no color plates were included, even for the most prominent pieces. It should be noted that the dating of some Campanian pieces and the Paestan chous may need to be slightly adjusted according to Denoyelle and Iozzo's revised chronology of Trendall's Tyrrhenian workshops.2 Overall, this volume is a welcome addition to the field and serves as an admirable model for future publications of South Italian vase collections.


1.   A.D. Trendall, The Red-Figured Vases of Paestum (British School at Rome 1987) 124, no. 2/176, pl. 73a, b.
2.   Martine Denoyelle and Mario Iozzo, La céramique grecque d'Italie méridionale et de Sicile (Picard 2009) 238.

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