Friday, March 6, 2015


Amalia Avramidou, Denise Demetriou (ed.), Approaching the Ancient Artifact: Representation, Narrative, and Function. A Festschrift in honor of H. Alan Shapiro. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2014. Pp. xxv, 590. ISBN 9783110308730. €149.95.

Reviewed by Sheramy D. Bundrick, University of South Florida St. Petersburg (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Anyone who researches ancient Greek iconography—especially the iconography of Athenian vases—owes a debt of gratitude to Alan Shapiro, not only for his prolific scholarship spanning a wealth of topics, but, if one has been fortunate to interact with him personally, for his generosity of spirit.1 The Festschrift under review, edited and presented by two of Shapiro's former students in honor of his sixty-fifth birthday, celebrates both aspects and assembles forty essays by many of his colleagues, students, and friends. The result is a thought-provoking collection of work that pays homage to Shapiro's achievements while building upon them. Due to space considerations, this review cannot consider every paper, but instead will comment upon the volume's overall scope and single out individual contributions when feasible (with no reflection on those left unmentioned).

In the Foreword, Avramidou and Demetriou state their goal of a "multifaceted and interdisciplinary approach" to ancient artifacts: "an investigation of the nature of the links between text and image, and innovative readings of narrative scenes on pottery, sculpture, and texts" (xvii). Despite Shapiro's own proclivities, the Festschrift does not concern Athenian art alone, but as the editors further note, adopts a "comparative perspective, transgressing regional, chronological, and cultural boundaries that usually confine scholarship in the field" (xvii). Thus one finds papers not only about Greek, but also Etruscan and Roman art, and not only vase painting, but sculpture of various sorts, metalwork, and other media. Two papers by Deborah Lyons and Claudia Zatta analyze textual passages, from Herodotus and Aristotle respectively, while Brian Rose's paper pushes the limits of the volume's themes the most by melding his discussion of Roman political imagery with political imagery in the modern world.

The Festchrift's five subdivisions take their titles and themes from some of Shapiro's best-known publications. The first section, "Myth Into Art," contains papers that undertake iconological analyses in a fashion well observed in Shapiro's own work, whether examining a single object (e.g., Tyler Jo Smith on a column krater formerly in the Castle Ashby collection and Mario Iozzo on a previously unpublished kylix discovered in nineteenth-century Tuscany) and/or an iconographic motif in detail (e.g., Beth Cohen on the depiction of dropped objects). Both here and in essays elsewhere in the volume, emphasis is often placed on the interaction between image and text—although eschewing the Bild und Lied model that Shapiro and others have demonstrated is outdated—while many papers propose reevaluation of old interpretations. Thus Michael Padgett suggests that some scenes on Attic vases previously thought to represent Herakles and the Hydra may instead show Herakles fighting Ladon in the Garden of the Hesperides, while Heide Mommsen urges reconsideration of the character of Triton, whom she suggests was more a force of nature than a true "monster."

The second section, "Iconography of Mourning," focuses on funerary art and iconography, while the third, "Art and Cult," concentrates upon religious themes and contexts. Papers in both sections consider artifacts and images as reflections of societal beliefs and practices but, again in the style of Shapiro and of contemporary iconographic analysis generally, without treating them as photographic documents. The papers of Judith Barringer and Wendy Closterman build upon the foundation established by Shapiro in his classic "Iconography of Mourning" article of 1991,2 Barringer discussing so-called warrior loutrophoroi and their possible relation to the demosion sema, Closterman focusing on women as producers and givers of funerary gifts, especially textiles. Nassi Malagardis provides welcome publication of black-figured skyphoi dedicated at the Sanctuary of the Nymph on the Acropolis slope; we all wait patiently for full publication of this key site. Indeed, the Acropolis is never far away in this part of the volume. Olga Palagia, for instance, uses two Hellenistic Panathenaic amphorae as an entrée to discuss the cult of the Graces on the hill, with this reader hoping for more work to come on this topic. Two papers ponder the thorny relationship between Dionysian imagery and "real" Athenian ritual: Guy Hedreen revisiting sculpted images of the god as shown on vases, and Allison Surtees confronting themes of transvestites and transgression. The so-called Lenaia scenes with women celebrating around an "idol" of Dionysos present a particular puzzle given that most vases with this subject were painted on stamnoi and exported to Etruria or Campania; Hedreen does not address the question of the export market (for that matter, neither does Surtees with the many so-called Anakreontic scenes) and instead argues that these sorts of representations evoke Athenian "primitive life" (268). 3 The fluidity of the categories of "myth" and "daily life" in ancient imagery is rightly emphasized in these papers and elsewhere in the volume. Not all the papers in these sections concern Greek art and ritual; Dietrich Boschung and John Oakley both bring Roman funerary art into the conversation. Oakley's contribution blends iconographic discussion of Roman sarcophagi in the Toledo Museum of Art with an account of their wanderings through old collections before landing in their new home—an example of recent interest in the modern reception of classical art. If only objects could speak, indeed!

"Courtship Scenes" on Athenian vases are represented by a quartet of papers in their own section, appropriately so given the continued impact of Shapiro's 1981 article on the subject.4 Each offers discussion of a lesser-known object—a particular contribution of the entire volume, in fact, as it seems many contributors made this a goal. Three of these papers (by Dyfri Williams, Jenifer Neils, and Robert Sutton) further focus on objects in American university collections, which is especially welcome. Neils places a red-figured pelike with a scene of Eros catching a hare (attributed to the Tyskiewicz Painter and now at the Wilcox Classical Museum of the University of Kansas) into a larger iconographic context, while Sutton introduces a black-figured amphora with courting scene now at Bryn Mawr College. Adrienne-Lezzi Hafter publishes for the first time a Meidian pelike from a private collection, but in an essay that seems too brief for the richness of the vase. She is careful to note that although previously unpublished, the vase "was legally exported to Switzerland in the late 1960s" (336, n. 7). Other essays in the volume include provenance information when relevant and conform to the publication standards of the Archaeological Institute of America, even though this intent is not stated outright.

The Festschrift's final section, more of a catch-all than the rest, gathers an assortment of papers under the umbrella of "Narrative Strategies" (including those noted above by Lyons, Zatta, and Rose). J. Robert Guy asks the reader to consider "why style matters" with an essay that blends iconographic analysis and connoisseurship in the reconsideration of a group of red-figured volute krater fragments, while Jasper Gaunt continues the theme of volute kraters by highlighting the role of metal vessels as emblems of status. His suggestion that Attic figured pottery may owe its storytelling tendencies to the example of narrative textiles rather than metalwork as has sometimes been claimed—the black glaze itself being more tied to the latter—is intriguing and merits further analysis. Meanwhile, Bettina Kreuzer shows how interesting pieces from old sources can yet be buried in museum collections with her discussion of a little-known and recently cleaned hydria in the Louvre, formerly in the Campana collection and acquired by the museum in 1861. In this instance, the cleaning makes it easier to evaluate the vase's unusual inscription written in the genitive case. Mark Stansbury-O'Donnell's paper explores the relationship between composition and narrative in the work of a single artist (the Penelope Painter) on a single type of vase shape (the skyphos), while the classic theme of the Athenian symposion is revisited by Martin Langner and Helene Coccagna. Langner's essay on the placement of the krater in andrones during the Late Classical and Hellenistic periods, while raising important questions, seems the most constrained in the collection by necessary page limits; more discussion is needed to flesh out the hypotheses offered here. Among the remaining papers, one should mention Clemente Marconi's piece on the well-known yet controversial statue known as the Motya (Mozia) youth, and his assertion that "thirty years after its discovery...the only plausible that of a charioteer" (436), the most common reading in all this time. It is instructive to read this essay in concert with John Papadopoulos' brand-new (December 2014) article in the Art Bulletin; both papers elaborate upon conference presentations given at the Getty in 2013, when the Motya youth was in residence there.5 Where Marconi uses details of the sculpture to maintain the traditional charioteer reading, Papadopoulos uses them to suggest he is a kalathiskos dancer at a festival of Apollo Karneios. The jury, it would seem, is still out.

The quality of production for the Festschrift is high as one would expect from De Gruyter, although accompanied by a rather hefty price. (On the publisher's website, an ebook/pdf costs the same as a hardcover copy—no discount.) Along with black-and-white illustrations in the body of each paper, some essays also have color plates at the book's end. There is no apparent pattern for how many color plates authors were allotted, so presumably this was a matter of availability or perhaps cost. It is a shame, though, that some illustrations which would have benefited from color reproduction, such as fig. 2 in Closterman's essay on funerary art and ritual (a detail of a white-ground lekythos, p. 165), did not receive it, whereas other essays (e.g., Brian Rose's) have a larger number of color images that appear less essential. Most illustrations are sufficiently legible, although a few seem too small for the complexity of the imagery, such as color fig. 40, the otherwise unpublished Meidian pelike from Lezzi-Hafter's essay. Perhaps this too was a cost issue. The volume is well proofread, with limited typographical errors spotted by this reader. In general, the editors are to be commended for their skillful handling of forty papers by forty different authors, many of which are translations from different languages to boot.

A Festschrift is a special type of publication. A good one not only commemorates an honoree's career in a way that draws his/her colleagues into a circle of scholarship and brings joy to the honoree, but also provides a compendium of the state of the discipline and points the way toward future work. Approaching the Ancient Artifact does all of these things and is a worthy celebration of a more-than-worthy scholar.


1.   Full disclosure: Shapiro served as an outside reader on the present author's Ph.D. dissertation committee in 1998 and remains a mentor and friend.
2.   "The Iconography of Mourning in Athenian Art," American Journal of Archaeology 95, 1991, 629–656.
3.   Cf. recent work by Gloria Ferrari and Kathryn Topper arguing that at least some Athenian imagery is representative of "primitive life": e.g., Gloria Ferrari, "Myth and Genre on Athenian Vases," Classical Antiquity 22, 2003, 37–54, and Kathryn Topper, The Imagery of the Athenian Symposium, Cambridge University Press, 2012. For "Lenaia" vases and the export market, e.g., Juliette de la Genière, "Vases des Lénéennes?" Mélanges de l'École française de Rome, Antiquité 99, 1987, 43–61; and more recently, Cornelia Isler-Kerényi, "Retour au stamnos attique: quelques refléxions sur l'usage et le repertoire," Mètis 7, 2009, 75–89.
4.   "Courtship Scenes in Attic Vase-Painting," American Journal of Archaeology 85, 1981, 133–143.
5.   John Papadopoulos, "The Motya Youth: Apollo Karneios, Art, and Tyranny in the Greek West," Art Bulletin 96, 2014, 395–423.

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