Tuesday, June 14, 2016


John H. Oakley (ed.), Athenian Potters and Painters, Volume III. Oxford; Philadelphia: Oxbow Books, 2014. Pp. viii, 272; 32 p. of plates. ISBN 9781782976639. $130.00.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Langridge-Noti, Deree, The American College of Greece (langridgenoti@acg.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

The volume under review publishes the proceedings of the third in a series of conferences on Athenian potters and painters.1 The conference was accompanied by an exhibition of vases from museums and private collections in Virginia at the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary. Like the preceding conferences and volumes, dedicated to Michalis Tiverios (APP II) and John Boardman and Erika Simon (APP I), this one is also dedicated to an individual who has published prolifically in the field of Greek figured pottery and to a scholar generous to younger scholars and colleagues, H. Alan Shapiro. Although not a festschrift, the wide-ranging topics addressed in the volume reflect Shapiro's scholarly breadth in his work on pottery.

Like the other volumes in the series, this one presents a collection of current research in the study of Athenian figured pottery. The text itself consists of 27 papers, 24 of which were presented at the conference, and three alternates. Many of the papers focus on an individual vase or a small group of vases (Padgett, Pevnick, Rotroff, Saunders, Segal, Sutton and Kourayos, Shapiro), a shape (Iozzo, Schmidt, Segal, Tsingarida) or an iconographic theme (Arrington, Carpenter, Heuer, Hildebrandt, Mertens, Pevnick, Saunders, Seifert, Smith, and Stansbury-O'Donnell). A few emphasize the excavated context for the vases (Bundrick, Frielinghaus, Lynch and Matter, and Sutton and Kourayos). The broad range of topics mean that the volume would have benefited from an introduction highlighting themes or offering an underlying viewpoint or collective insight into the papers it contains. Because there is insufficient space here to discuss all of the papers in the volume, this review will highlight some that successfully present themes or directions for further study.

Arrington's paper on white-ground lekythoi is one of a few within the volume that is explicit in its use of theoretical language. As others have before him, Arrington discards the idea that the scenes on the vases display reality, noting, amongst other things, the objects that purport to hang on walls despite the outdoor placement of the stele. Instead, he considers these scenes as semantic systems that create a nuanced image of Athenian death. Arrington focuses on the appearance of the broken lekythos that appears on white-ground lekythoi. By examining the vases on which the broken vessel appears, he demonstrates that this type of vase can serve as an indicator of the passing of time. What could have been seen at first glance as a simple visit to a grave can thus be seen to have a much richer meaning for those, ancient or modern, who take the time to look. As Arrington notes, details matter.

Bundrick's paper uses archives and older publications to help to restore excavated provenance to figured pots from a group of burials in the Foiano tomb in Italy now scattered over a number of museum collections. Her paper goes further, however, in reflecting on what a restored context might mean specifically for these pots.2 By considering the multiple possible meanings for the scenes on the individual vases for the final ancient consumers, meanings that may well have been Etruscan, not Athenian, she gives agency both to the producer and the consumer(s) of each vase. Bundrick touches upon the relationship of foreign to local within the tomb itself as well as upon the complex possibilities for the interpretation of the vase imagery in the life of a tomb that contains multiple burials from different periods and, thus, multiple possible visual consumers for the vases themselves.

A few of the papers turn to the large datasets of Athenian figured pottery and the gains of using statistical methodologies. Lynch and Matter, in their paper on vases from Gordion, grapple with the possibilities offered by population ecology theory. They acknowledge that excavation datasets are inherently problematic for this type of analysis because of their incompleteness and, in this case by the small amount of Athenian pottery that has been found at Gordion, but they note that there is consistency in the types of Athenian pottery found and consider why the pottery might have been desirable to those so far removed from Athens.

Both Sapirstein and Stansbury-O'Donnell turn to the Beazley Archive as their primary dataset. Sapirstein uses this material for an initial test of a new theoretical model for estimating the size and composition of the Athenian Potters' Quarter. He finds that the number of pots that can be attributed per year to a single painter for painters who are hypothesized to have worked over long periods of time is consistent. This permits him to explore working relationships within the Potters' Quarter and the possibility of being able to distinguish between specialist painters and potter-painters. His paper contains some interesting possibilities regarding the size of the Potters' Quarter and the individual workshops within it, and also the variety of relationships of potter to painter, although there are still details that need to be worked out with regard to his model, e.g. the workshop relationship of figured to non-figured pottery or the possibility of multiple potting quarters and their effect on his model.

Stansbury-O'Donnell focuses on the iconography of scenes of Menelaus and Helen, briefly noting past studies before turning to a nuanced interpretation of the iconographic patterns of the interactions of the two figures in relation to shape, distribution and time. Like Arrington, Stansbury-O'Donnell is concerned with detail. His tabulation of the different ways in which Menelaus and Helen interact demonstrates subtle differences over both space and time. These differences allow Stansbury-O'Donnell to suggest changing attitudes to the relationship of these two figures from confrontation/recovery up to the end of the sixth century to pursuit in the fifth. In this later period is a scene of Menelaus throwing his sword aside as he pursues Helen, something that Stansbury-O'Donnell suggests can be viewed as poking fun at the ancient hero. Along this same line, Carpenter and Heuer also consider how subtle differences in the construction and attributes of a scene in non-Attic contexts over time and space can help archaeologists identify the possibility of different attitudes to or views of a particular scene that are not visible in our surviving, often Athenian based, ancient sources.

Shape emerges as another focus for the volume. Schmidt considers why a series of new shapes, the pelike, the kalpis and the bell krater, emerged toward the end of the Archaic period. He argues that the creation of these shapes is influenced not by the Etruscan market as was the case for earlier shapes, but rather by Attic household wares. He suggests that since both figured and non-figured wares were created in the same potting workshops this might affect the development of new forms. Schmidt concludes that the new forms are related to the clay traditions of Athenian potters rather than to outside influence and to the increased wealth and self-awareness of these potters. The former conclusion is persuasive, while the latter appears less so, but is an intriguing possibility.

Tsingarida studies a small group of large figured coral red phialai with consideration of non-figured coral red phialai as well. Like Schmidt, she focuses on the potter's contribution, and uses the coral red technique—whose complicated technology, she notes, only a few potters would have chosen to master—to observe how an individual workshop might be aware of different marketing possibilities, since different coral red products, although produced by a small number of potters, end up in different places. Iozzo, in contrast, speculates on the possibility that Paseas's plates may be the products of a single year and a single shipment that ends in Chiusi. The plausibility of both authors' conclusions, is a reminder that with the appropriate depth of focus, one can recognize the variety of workshop and marketing models that might have co-existed within Athens in the fifth century B.C.

The volume is well-produced with good quality illustrations, like both previous conference volumes. The color plates at the end of the book are a handsome addition, although it would have been nice to have the color plates included with the individual papers as well. I found myself wishing for more vase profiles, all the more so as a number of the papers focused on individual pieces or on shape and its relationship to the individual painter and potter. The volume's organization permits a wide range of topics and approaches but some type of organizing principle beyond that of the umbrella of Athenian figured pottery would have given readers a sense of the scholarly dialogue that took place at the conference itself. In this sense, while the individual papers can be extremely useful and thought-provoking, the volume as a whole is less cohesive than other recent, more tightly focused, edited volumes on Greek figured pottery.3 Scholars of Athenian figured pottery will, however, find the volume as useful as the earlier Athenian Potters and Painters volumes, and will find good food for thought within its pages.

Authors and Titles

1. Fallen Vessels and Risen Spirits: Conveying the Presence of the Dead on White-ground Lekythoi / T. Nathan Arrington
2. Under the Tuscan Soil: Reuniting Attic Vases with an Etruscan Tomb / D. Sheramy Bundrick
3. Regional Variation: Pelops and Chrysippos in Apulia / T. H. Carpenter
4. Baskets, Nets and Cages: Indicia of Spatial Illusionism in Athenian Vase-painting / Beth Cohen
5. Red-figured Cups in the Kerameikos / Heide Frielinghaus
6. Smikros and Epilykos: Two Comic Inventions in Athenian Vase-painting / Guy Hedreen
7. Facing West: Athenian Influence on Isolated Heads in Italian Red-figure Vase-painting / Keely Elizabeth Heuer
8. The Gigantomachy in Attic and Apulian Vase-Painting. A New Look at Similarities, Differences and Origins / Frank Hildebrandt
9. Plates by Pasteas / Mario Iozzo
10. Some Greek Vases in the Museum of Mediterranean Archaeology at Nir David (Gan Hashlosha) Israel / Sonia Klinger
11. Trade of Athenian Figured Pottery and the Effects of Connectivity / Stephen Matter
12. Beautiful Men on Vases for the Dead / Thomas Mannack
13. The View from Behind the Kline: Symposial Space and Beyond / Timothy McNiven
14. Chariots in Black-figure Attic Vase-painting: Antecedents and Ramifications / R. Joan Mertens
15. "Whom are You Calling a Barbarian?" A Column Krater by the Suessula Painter / J. Michael Padgett
16. Good Dog, Bad Dog: A Cup by the Triptolemos Painter and Aspects of Canine Behavior on Athenian Vases / D. Seth Pevnick
17. A Scorpion and a Smile: Two Vases in the Kemper Museum of Art in St. Louis / I. Susan Rotroff
18. Demographics and Productivity in the Ancient Athenian Pottery Industry / Philip Saperstein
19. An Amazonomachy Attributed to the Syleus Painter / David Saunders
20. Democratic Vessels? The Changing Shape of Athenian Vases in Late Archaic and Early Classical Times / Stefan Schmidt
21. A Kantharos in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Reception of Athenian Red-figure in Boeotia / Phoebe Segal
22. Oikos and Hetairoj: Black-figure Departure Scenes Reconsidered / Martina Seifert
23. The Robinson Group of Panathenaic Amphorae / H. A. Shapiro
24. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Red-figure Komasts and the Performance Culture of Athens / Tyler Jo Smith
25. Menelaos and Helen in Attic Vase Painting / Mark D. Stansbury-O'Donnell
26. Attic Black-figure and Red-figure Fragments from the Sanctuary of Apollo at Mandra on Despotiko / Yannos Kourayos
27. The Attic Phiale in Context. The Late Archaic Red-figure and Coral-red Workshops / Athena Tsingarida


1.   William C. Coulson and John H. Oakley (eds.), Athenian Potters and Painters (Oxford, Oxbow 1997) and John H. Oakley and Olga Palagia (eds.), Athenian Potters and Painters II (Oxford, Oxbow 2009). The forerunners of these conference volumes are to be seen in the Ancient Greek and Related pottery. Proceedings of the International Vase Symposium first held in Amsterdam (ed. Hans A.G. Brijder, Allard Pierson Museum 1984) and then in Copenhagen (eds. Jette Christiensen and Torben Melander, Ny Carsberg Glyptotek 1988).
2.   Dyfri Williams, "The Brygos Tomb Reassembled and 19th Century Commerce in Capuan Antiquities," American Journal of Archaeology 96 (1992) 617-36 is a classic example. See also, Ann E. Brownlee, "Attic Black-Figure Vases from Orvieto in the University of Pennsylvania Museum," in Bernhard Schmaltz and Magdalene Söldner (eds.). Griechische Vasen in kulturellen Kontext (Munster: Scriptorum 2003) 217-19.
3.   For Aarhus, see Stine Schierup and Victoria Sabetai (eds). The Regional Production of Red-figure Pottery. (Aarhus: University Press 2014) and Stine Schierup and Bodil Bundgaard Rasmussen (eds.). Red-figure Pottery in its Ancient Setting (Aarhus: University Press 2012). For Brussels, see Athena Tsingarida (ed.). Shapes and Uses of Greek Vases (7th-4th Centuries B.C.), (Brussels: CReA-Patrimonie 2009) and Athena Tsingarida and Didier Viviers (eds.). Pottery Markets in the Ancient Greek World (8th-1st Centuries B.C.), (Brussels: CReA-Patrimonie 2013).

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