Monday, May 18, 2015


Stine Schierup, Victoria Sabetai (ed.), Regional Production of Red-Figure Pottery: Greece, Magna Graecia and Etruria. Gösta Enbom monographs, 4. Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2014. Pp. 358. ISBN 9788771243932. $56.00.

Reviewed by Amalia Avramidou, Democritus University of Thrace (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This well-edited and amply illustrated volume publishes the results of a much-needed study on the regional production of red-figure pottery in Greece, Magna Graecia, and Etruria. The editors of this high-quality and nearly error-free publication, Stine Schierup and Victoria Sabetai, have collected seventeen articles that shed new light on matters of pottery usage and diffusion, the birth and decline of workshops, and the transmission of techniques and iconography.

About half the papers draw upon new research based on their authors' MA or PhD work; the rest are re-appraisals of better-documented sites. Most welcome are contributions presenting material from recent excavations and equally intriguing are the fresh interpretations of well-known workshops. As expected, certain questions recur in all essays — on the emergence of the regional red-figure wares, their connection to Attic production, and the function of pottery shapes and imagery within local communities. These issues, along with a short presentation of the research pursued in each article, are succinctly summarized by the editors in the Introduction.

More or less equally divided between the ceramic production in Greece and on the Italian peninsula and Sicily, the articles are neatly arranged within geographic regions, starting with four papers on Boeotian red-figure. The relation of Boeotian red-figure vases to Attic is still difficult to pinpoint as it poses numerous questions regarding the identity of the craftsmen (e.g., Athenians migrating to Boeotia or locals trained in Athens) and the method of transmission of potting artistry and iconographic knowledge.

In a masterful essay, Sabetai identifies Boeotian civic values through a contextual examination of three local red-figure kraters from a female grave in Akraiphia dated ca. 440-425 BCE. A sacrifice, a Dionysiac thiasos, and an athletic scene decorate the main side of each krater. The author traces these iconographic themes, as well as the departure- and the more generic conversation-scenes, in all styles of Boeotian ceramic production and Attic imports, concluding that these narratives reflect facets of a civic lifestyle in which both women and men were steeped.

Kyriaki Kalliga presents a well-documented deposit from a family plot in Haliartos. She focuses on the grave gifts of a young aristocrat who died around the time of the battle of Delion and rightly interprets them as representative of his sex, gender, and social status. A single Boeotian red-figure kantharos by the Argos Painter stands out from the group and Kalliga considers its decoration (a hoplite leading his horse) as a reflection of the aristocratic values once embodied by the Boeotian ephebe: striving for excellence as a son, a cavalry man, and a citizen.

Alexandra Zampiti's article examines the interaction between the red-figure and the long-enduring black-figure technique in Boeotia, focusing on a typically Boeotian shape: the kalathos-pyxis. She traces the origins of the shape and its iconographic motifs, concluding that red-figure vase-painters must have worked regularly in contemporary black-figure workshops or at least collaborated on occasion. One wonders, however, if that kalathos-pyxis can be construed as representative of the whole production of red-figure vases in Boeotia and the intricate nexus of influences among the black-figure, silhouette, and bilingual styles, since it was a 'special' vase with a highly votive and funerary character, acknowledged as such by Zampiti herself.

A Boeotian red-figure pyxis in a private collection is the topic of Avronidaki's essay. The vase has a unique shape and composition, both meticulously described, and its multifigural nuptial scene is unparalleled in Attic works. Despite the absence of archaeological context, Avronidaki offers a plausible interpretation of the pyxis as a grave gift that glorified the role of women in the oikos and, ultimately, in the polis.

Even though one would expect Kristine Gex's article on Euboean pottery to follow next as a logical step after Boeotia, it is instead preceded by Ian McPhee's assessment of Corinthian red-figure pottery. He offers a well-rounded survey of shapes, findspots and iconography, giving particular emphasis to the beginnings of the workshop. Quite crucial is his discussion of a nearly forgotten terracotta altar decorated in the red-figure technique, whose stylistic analysis helps us date the birth of Corinthian red-figure a generation earlier than usually estimated, i.e., to 440/430 instead of 410/400 BCE.

Around the same date scholars place the beginning of Euboean red-figure. Gex offers a thorough discussion of this ware, as well as a theoretical framework for when an artifact might be called 'local.' Two points stand out from her article: the attractive, albeit tentative, suggestion of a pottery workshop in Chalkis active after 400 BCE, and the reasons explaining the peculiar scarcity of Euboean kraters compared to other regional wares. Such absence probably reflects an intriguing change in local sympotic preferences rather than a lack of interest/mastery in red-figure pottery during the fourth century.

Jutta Stroszeck's presentation on the Laconian red-figure production highlights an exceptional case, characterized by quality vessels and intriguing iconographic themes despite its short lifespan (440/430-400 BCE). After a concise overview of the history of research and the development of the workshop, Stroszeck turns to an instructive discussion of iconography and transmission of artistry. She rightly associates this new fabric with public and private ceremonies, since the majority of shapes are related to feasting. Found primarily in local sanctuaries, Laconian red-figure is characterized by a distinct preference for local shapes and rarity of Athenian iconographic motifs, which indicates some type of usage during Spartan rituals. As in most regional workshops, the identity of the craftsmen and the way they mastered their craft remain puzzling.

Of particular interest is Anthi Aggeli's essay on the practically unknown workshop of Ambracia, an early Corinthian colony in northwestern Greece. The impetus for this study was given by the discovery of several local red-figure vases in the city cemeteries. Aggeli is to be commended for the methodical presentation of the shapes produced by this workshop (limited to squat lekythoi, pelikai, and lebetes gamikoi), the thorough discussion of the iconography (mainly female themes), and the succinct observations on the influences from Athenian and South Italian pottery of the fourth century BCE.

Similar traits characterize the equally unknown red-figure production of the Pella workshop in Macedonia, studied by Nikos Akamatis: again, the shapes are limited and the iconography is dominated by female topics. But, in contrast to the Ambracian examples, most vases come from the Pella Agora, indicating a targeted production towards specific local needs (dated ca. mid-fourth to mid-third century BCE). Akamatis' suggestion to locate the workshop industry in that agora and to associate it with the production of many pottery techniques is well-founded. What is more difficult to accept is his hesitation to attribute its foundation to an Athenian immigrant on account of the absence of vessels made with Attic clay—especially given the strong Athenian influence on the Pella workshop and the plethora of Attic imports through the middle of the fourth century.

Crossing the Ionian Sea, two articles, by Stine Schierup and by E. G. D. Robinson, are on South Italian red-figure. . Schierup offers a concise overview of the earliest South Italian red-figure workshop, its pioneers (the Pisticci, Cyclops, and Amykos Painters), and the legacy of the earlier Attic imports. After noting the problematic information regarding the findspots of Metapontine vases, the author focuses on the distribution patterns of the works by the above-mentioned painters, taking into account the preferred shapes and iconography in key-areas, such as Metaponto, central and southern Apulia and Lucania. This meticulous analysis allows her to discuss the variety of usages of the local red-figure pottery and to propose a targeted production for specific markets.

Robinson presents an instructive reappraisal of early Apulian red-figure. He advises caution when considering Taranto as the birthplace of a new workshop or when debating the identity of the first craftsmen. At the same time, he avoids overemphasizing the funerary context of Apulian red-figure vases, since they carry different connotations from one period to the next. With these preconditions in mind, he explains the success of Apulian red-figure as the result of the stylistic variety of the painters and the production of specific shapes and iconographic themes, catered towards the Italic clientele.

The next three papers deal with the Sicilian red-figure production and more specifically with its beginning and end (Sebastiano Barresi), its relation to South Italian pottery (Marco Serino), and its association with Attic imports (Claude Pouzadoux and Pierre Rouillard). Barresi's essay successfully treats the workshop's foundation, proposing a more complex process with emphasis on the role of South Italian painters, and its end, which he associates with new social realities and the wider circulation of metalware. He also argues for more than one production site and wonders whether or not the common elements between the Sicilian and South Italian production originate from common Athenian prototypes.

Following a similar path, Serino explores the relation between South Italian and early Sicilian red-figure production through the case study of the Himera Painter workshop and a contextual approach of the Attic imports. His innovative analysis and the detailed examination of the workshop's style and iconography lead him to the conclusion that it should be dated to ca. 420 BCE and not in the early fourth century, as previously thought.

Quite interesting is the study of the material from a residential area of Megara Hyblaia, which includes both Attic and early Sicilian red-figure. Pouzadoux and Rouillard examined the shapes and iconography of both wares and conclude that in the fifth century Attic imports dominate the scene, while in the fourth century local production prevails. It is noteworthy that in the Sicilian production (and among Attic imports) the krater appears in large numbers, followed by skyphoi and other drinking vessels, while there is an increase of smaller perfume containers and hydriai after 400 BCE.

The Sicilian trilogy is followed by Diego Elia's overview of the red-figure workshop at Locri Epizephyrii. Encompassing a variety of methodological approaches, the author outlines the two phases of the workshop—the Sicilian at first, and then the Locrian—and presents their prevailing shapes and iconographic themes. One of the most interesting points of his contribution is the comparison of the local red-figure production to other contemporary crafts (e.g., coroplastic).

Last but not least come two papers on Etruscan red-figure pottery authored by Maurizio Harari (with an Appendix by Mariachiara Franceschini) and Lisa C. Pieraccini and Mario A. Del Chiaro. Harari's essay offers a new interpretation of the conversation scenes decorating the exterior of ca. 50 Etruscan kylikes, known as the Clusium cups. Banal and repetitive at first sight, these formalized depictions of a dressed female holding a fibula and a horn and facing a nude man are ingeniously associated by the author with eschatological and Dionysiac iconography. In his conclusion, Harrari considers the conversation scenes in relation to the tondos and interprets them as reflections of erotic and Dionysiac elements of the human and mythical sphere, respectively.

A famous Etruscan red-figure krater of ca. 350 BCE is the topic of the last essay of this volume. Pieraccini and Del Chiaro examine the Greek myth of Admetus and Alcestis and how it is transformed in Etruscan vase-painting. Taking into account the occurrence of the myth on other forms of art, they trace common elements between the composition on the krater and tomb paintings, pondering the relation between monumental painting and the red-figure ware. Despite the interesting outcome of their research, their examination would have benefited from a discussion of the Dionysiac thiasos depicted on the reverse side of the vase, and how it may correlate with the main narrative of Alcestis.

Overall, this comprehensive group of essays is a welcome addition to the studies of red-figure pottery and will be of interest to archaeologists, ceramologists, and scholars of iconography alike.

No comments:

Post a Comment