Friday, April 29, 2016


Nina Zimmermann-Elseify, Corpus vasorum antiquorum. Deutschland, Bd 99; Berlin, Antikensammlung ehemals Antiquarium, Bd. 16: Attische Salbgefässe. Munich: Verlag C.H. Beck, 2015. Pp. 127; 24 p. of figures, 60 p. of plates. ISBN 9783406683534. $98.00.

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

Version at BMCR home site

This volume completes the publication of the small oil vessels begun in CVA Berlin 8, 1991. The present fascicule contains alabastra, a red-figured aryballos, cylinder lekythoi decorated in Six's Technique, and squat lekythoi. It concludes with alabastra and lekythoi that were destroyed or lost (Beilagen 20-24). The author generously thanks her many friends and colleagues who assisted with this fascicule. The excellent color photographs were taken by Johannes Laurentius. The drawings are by Jörg Denkinger and printed at a scale of 1:1. The foreword concludes with detailed bibliographical abbreviations. Each entry begins with the accession number, the provenance (if known) and the former collection, measurements, bibliography and condition, followed by careful descriptions of shape, ornament and decoration, date and artist. Comparanda are as detailed as one may wish for.

ALABASTRA: pp. 15-48, pls. 1-16. The author gives a full description of the history and development of this elegant little oil vessel that is characterized by a flat mouth, a short narrow neck and a long cylindrical body that widens slightly before tapering to a rounded underside (pp. 15-17). It fits nicely in the palm of the hand. The shape derives from Egyptian prototypes and appears in Attic workshops around the middle of the 6th century B.C., Agora P 12628 by the Amasis Painter dating about 560 B.C. being one of the earliest.1 Slightly later is Inv. 2029 (Pl. 1) from the Circle of Lydos, dating ca. 550-540. Production ceases about 400 B.C. Besides the black-figured examples, alabastra occur in red-figure and in Six's technique (the figures are painted in white slip on the black glaze or left the reddish color of the clay). The largest number in this fascicule are in white ground with the figures in outline often augmented with added red or white.

The alabastron was a container for perfume used in daily life, and the scenes on them are usually quiet ones in domestic settings, most often with women, sometimes men and youths. A good example of the latter is F 2030 (pl. 2) dating about 520-510 that depicts a squatting man and youth, each holding a fighting cock, a quiet moment before the fierce action begins. On F 31390 (pl. 5, 5-8 and pl. 6), ca. 500-490, from the Group of the Paidikos Alabastra, a youth with a spotted dog on a leash stands between two others, each leaning on a knotted stick. F 2258 (pl. 8, 5-5 and pl. 9), ca. 490-480, a very elegant white ground alabastron from the Circle of the Brygos Painter, depicts Nike holding a bird and a nude athlete standing opposite, his hand touching the fillet around his head. On F 2257 (pls. 10-11,1-2), ca. 480, the Brygos Painter depicted an elegant woman holding out a phiale toward a youth seated on a diphros; next to her is a spotted cat that may be a cheetah. F 2256 (Pl. 14), ca. 460-450, shows a woman seated on a diphros facing a maid who holds up a mirror, a peaceful domestic scene. The latest alabastron, V.I. 3254 (pl. 15), ca. 410-400, depicts a woman (Aphrodite?) seated in a chariot drawn by Eros,2 accompanied by Hermes and Eros.

ARYBALLOS: Pls. 17-18. The aryballos has a spherical body that may be rounded or flat on the bottom, sometimes with a ring base, a short flaring neck and a broad mouth.3 It contained oil used by athletes after exercise. F 2326, attributed to the Clinic Painter and dating ca. 480-470, is the only aryballos in this volume and it depicts the unsuccessful Mission to Achilles from Book IX of the Iliad. All of the figures are inscribed. Achilles sits dejectedly on a diphros facing Odysseus seated on a folding stool. Ajax, Phoenix and Diomedes complete the scene. Three dogs decorate the shoulder of the aryballos (pl. 18, 4-5); the breed is not a Spitz (p. 51), but a Maltese lapdog, called a Melitaion in ancient Greek.4

LEKYTHOI IN SIX'S TECHNIQUE: pp. 52-59, pls. 19-24. The author presents a very clear discussion of this unusual technique, which was used from about 530-480 B.C., especially by the Sappho and Diosphos Painters, who were active in the early years of the 5th century. These rather fragile vases were used as funerary gifts and dedications in sanctuaries. The subjects focus on the Dionysiac thiasos or erotic themes. F 2239, F 2242 and F 2241 (pls. 19-22) are good illustrations: a nude maenad pursues a satyr; two satyrs run away from each other; a satyr steals up on a sleeping maenad and is about to seize her. F 2243 (pl. 23) shows a satyr with a lyre; F 2244 (pl. 24) depicts two satyrs approaching a maenad who leans against a rock playing the aulos.

SQUAT LEKYTHOI: pp. 60-116, pls. 25-60. Pp. 60-63 offer the reader a comprehensive overview of this type lekythos, which is very popular in the 5th century. It has a short, almost globular body (hence the term 'squat'), a ring base, a short neck, and a calyx-shaped mouth. The handle rises from the shoulder and curves inward attaching to the neck. This lekythos also held fragrant oil; its use ranged from daily life to funerary, and its subjects vary considerably. V.I. 3340 (pl. 25), ca. 470, depicts a serious-looking man walking to right holding a barbiton, preceded by a small satyr carrying a club that looks like the one that belongs to Herakles. Kalos is written in front of the barbiton. Nothing could be more different from this narrative scene than the decoration of the next three, F 2496, F 2494, F 2495 (pl. 26) from the workshop of the Seireniskos Painter (ca. 460-450): the first depicts a siren, the second a woman's head, the third an owl looking out at the viewer. Taken together, these four vessels illustrate the range in figural decoration on this type of lekythos. V.I. 3140,67 (pl. 29), ca. 440-430, is a tall variant of the shape. A woman stands to right behind a klismos, below which is a small rock partridge (Steinhuhn). Facing is a woman holding a box. F 2476 (pl. 30) in the manner of the Washing Painter (ca. 430- 420) depicts two nude women at a laver, a quiet scene in Athenian life. Two Amazons in their colorful dress appear on F 2475 (pl. 32) from the circle of the Eretria Painter (ca. 425-420); usually depicted as active in battle, these are as quiet in their demeanor as the Athenian woman depicted on F 2476 (pl. 30), even though they are armed with spears. On V.I. 4982,35 (pls. 33, 4-9) from the circle of the Meidias Painter, ca. 410-400, two Erotes fly towards a seated women, the scene flanked to left and right by a frontal youth, each armed with a spear. The woman is probably Aphrodite, though the presence of the spears is problematic (pp. 82-83). The subject of the scene on V.I. 4906 by the Pronomos Painter (pl. 34), ca. 410-400, is also puzzling. A woman sits to left on a box, looking back at Eros who faces her, and behind him is a youth with a spear. A white Eros flies toward the woman and another stands at the far left. This is a very elegant vessel, but its subject is quite unclear. The subject on F 2690 (pl. 39), ca. 400-390, is perfectly straightforward: a mounted Amazon, accompanied by a companion on foot holding a spear and a pelta, fights two Greeks, one of them fallen, the other attacking. More interesting is V.I. 3375 (pls. 43-44, dating ca, 390-380, which shows a Gigantomachy, the Greek in a chariot drawn by two ferocious griffins attacking a fallen Giant with snake legs, a subject that is rather unusual at this time. On V.I. 3406 (pls. 45-46, 1,2), a youthful centaur grasps a woman who tries to escape, another centaur grapples with a youth, and a Greek followed by a woman comes in from the left. Though animated, this scene of ca. 380 lacks the true threat of fifth century illustrations of this myth. On F 2688 (pls. 48-49), ca. 380-370, a lovely Aphrodite sits on the back of a swan flying to left over the waves, a scene that may signal the beginning of spring. The figures on F 2704 (pls. 53-54), ca. 370-360, are presented in relief and depict a scene in the women's quarters. On V.I. 3248 (pls. 55-57) from the Apollonia Group, ca. 360, a woman stands on a ladder pointing toward a woman holding a bowl. An Eros flies between them, and behind the woman on the ladder a seated woman plays the aulos. A thymiaterion stands on the ground indicating a ritual with incense. Standing women frame the picture. The exact subject is uncertain, perhaps a ritual concerning Aphrodite (the ladder) or Adonis (discussion, pp. 110-111). The last squat lekythoi (pp. 115-116), attributed to the Bulas Group (ca. 400-350), are decorated with a net pattern (pl. 60). The subjects of the lost vases (pp. 117-118, Beilagen 20-24) are briefly described.

Pp. 119-127: The text concludes with 9 indices: I Concordance of Inventory numbers, Plates and Beilagen; II Origin: Provenances; III Origin: Collections and Purchases; IV Measurements; V Technical features; VI Representations; VII Inscriptions; VIII Potters, Painters and Workshops; IX Supplementary drawings and photographs.

This new Berlin fascicule conveys the remarkable diversity of shapes and variety of illustrations present in small vases that are sometimes eclipsed by the large vessels with their more animated and elaborate subjects. These smaller cousins are just as important and this welcome new addition to the CVA series makes this crystal clear.


1.   Agora XXlll, p 253, no. 1257, pl 88.
2.   Zimmerman-Elseify (p. 46) calls this a two-wheeled wagon. A wagon has cross-bar wheels; this vehicle has four spoked wheels, and is thus a chariot.
3.   To the bibliography given for the shape on p. 51, add Agora XXX, pp. 50-51.
4.   For this dog, see M. B. Moore, "The Hegesiboulos Cup," Metopolitan Museum Journal 43, 2008, pp. 16-18 with bibliography.

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