Wednesday, September 7, 2016


Thomas Mannack, Diana Rodriguez Pérez, Cristina Neagu, Beazley and Christ Church: 250 Years of Scholarship on Greek Vases. Oxford: Christ Church Library, 2016. Pp. 111. ISBN 9781872333632.

Reviewed by Emmanouil Kalkanis (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

As a companion to the exhibition "Beazley and Christ Church" displayed in the Upper Library of Christ Church at Oxford, this book is a brief but valuable assessment not only of Beazley's scholarly achievements and lasting influence, but also of his extraordinary ability to document his own life and work through letters, notebooks, photographs, drawings and tracings. Upon his death, these valuable documents passed from his Oxford home to the Ashmolean Museum and have been available to the public since 1970.

By virtue of its quality and quantity, Greek vase painting is of particular importance in the history of art. During the early 20th century, vases were on view in all the great museums of Europe and America, and reproductions had been published in one form or another. However, the middling quality of the reproductions, lithographs or engravings after drawings, or poor photographs, "was misleading and hardly encouraged stylistic studies".1 Paul Hartwig's (1859-1919) Die Griechischen Meisterschalen and Adolf Furtwängler's (1853-1907) Griechische Vasenmalerei were pioneering attempts to set new standards for the study of vase painting, so that questions of style and attribution to individual makers could be answered. Working on the foundations laid by these German scholars, Beazley built up the scientific study of Attic (red and black) vase painting and, thus, revolutionized the entire field of the study of Greek art, particularly pottery. This was a unique achievement in the history of classical scholarship in England: the ordering of a high proportion of the huge existing body of Attic black-figure vases as the work of individual artists, both the best and the worst. The exhibition and its accompanying book pay tribute to these achievements and the history of scholarship on Greek vases in general.

The book begins with a short history of the study of Greek vases written by Thomas Mannack. Although this is not new, it provides a good introduction to what follows. As one would expect, Part I focuses on the eighteenth-century hunt for Greek vases, Etruscomania, Winckelmann, Sir William Hamilton, Thomas Hope, and on some of the most influential nineteenth- century German scholars such as Eduard Gerhard, Gustav Kramer, Ludwig Ross, and Adolf Furtwängler. The chapter ends with some useful comments on attribution and inscription studies including references to Wilhelm Klein, Paul Hartwig, and August Boeckh, as well as brief comments on the grand endeavor of the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum conceived by the French archaeologist Edmund Pottier. There are so many critical moments during this period to focus on, but it would be unfair to talk about missing details, names, or events in this very short history of the study of Greek vases, a topic which has already been well-covered by previous scholars.

In Part II, Diana Rodriguez Pérez offers a brief but comprehensive outline of Beazley's major achievements while at Oxford. As the author states at the very beginning, this account is largely based on one of Beazley's most comprehensive portrayals published by Bernard Ashmole in 1970 as well as on a number of later other publications. By focusing on some of Beazley's letters from the exhibition, thanks to which we know not only some important details regarding the names that he later gave to the painters, but also some of his most interesting acquaintances, the story unfolds easily without being monotonous. In fact, Beazley's notebooks stand as a great source for his numerous travels around Europe, especially between 1907/8 and 1914. A more detailed comment is rightfully deserved for his "Kleophrades" and "Berlin Painter" articles, where he isolated the two leading personalities among the various decorators of pots of the early fifth century. As the author demonstrates, this was undoubtedly an introduction to the kind of study that would eventually bring him international fame. A number of passages from various other articles and books vividly illustrate and reflect upon Beazley's methods. Interestingly, the reader is also informed that the online pottery database of the Beazley Archive serves the purpose not only of offering an updated bibliography for the vases included in Beazley's lists, but also for many others unknown to him. In regard to Beazley's method, this section of the book pays tribute to his 'Morellian' approach to vase painting. Indeed, Morelli's technique of attribution by attending to the way painters treated specific—otherwise rather undetected—details in their work must have helped him to recognise individual styles and artists even when they had no names. Although he never mentioned Morelli (or even Bernard Berenson), Beazley knew that this method had already been practised by Furtwängler, but on sculpture. However, as Rouet points out, "there seems little doubt that, although archaeologists were of course capable of realizing for themselves that many of the styles of drawing they observed on vases could be attributed to individual artists, works such as those of Morelli must have spurred them on to go further down the road of attributionism."2

Beazley's notebooks from his visits to museums with more or less detailed sketches of the figures and vase decoration—never intended to be published and not even read by others—come next in this section. A selection of images from the pages of his notebooks as well as of his drawings and tracings—which formed part of the exhibition—accompanies the text. These are valuable documents as they show the elements on which he based his attributions; they also reveal the system of forms better than any other photograph that was available at his time or even today. As the book further explains, drawings and tracings add to the photographs a clearer appreciation of the outlines of the red figures, usually obscured by the black background of the technique. Moreover, tracing the lines of the painter, as Beazley did, is understood to mimic what the painter had done on clay; this makes it easier to understand the challenges faced when painting the vase. Unfortunately, the size and scope of the book catalogue is limited to only a handful of images. We do hope that a more comprehensive publication will come in due time, as Beazley's life and works rightfully deserves a dedicated study.

In Part III, Thomas Mannack offers a brief conclusion referring to the study of vases after Beazley. The author informs the reader that several monographs on the painters initially identified by Beazley have been published subsequently. Indeed, these publications are true to the original spirit of Beazley's text and, among other things, attempt to reconstruct the artist's workshop or reflect on how the images produced by him relate to the culture of the time. There is no doubt that Beazley, directly or indirectly, has been an inspiration to more than one generation of scholars, "so much so that it is reasonable to talk of Beazley's followers, even of 'Beazleyism'".3 Interestingly, the art market is probably the only place outside academia in which Beazley's influential work on the study of Greek pottery has been so important; and this too has been mentioned here. Indeed, his attributions, by giving names to artists, enhanced the value of hundreds of vases that were auctioned after the publication of a new finding and, therefore, many vases might have gone to auction houses only because of these attributions. This last part also offers a mere glimpse into the criticism of Beazley's system. As expected, there have always been scholars who questioned the validity of and the conclusions in Beazley's scholarship. These attacks, which were not too intense during Beazley's lifetime, took independent and disparate forms and focused on different elements of his work. It would be a plus if a summary of these attacks could be added here, but again, the size and scope of the book prevents it. Martin Robertson's essay in Beazley and Oxford is a great source for an introduction to these debates.4

Aiming to celebrate the subject matter not only as "intellectual pursuit, but also as sensory encounter" (98), the items on display in the exhibit are not vases so much as other materials that give insight into Beazley's working methods and the academic context of such pursuits in the first half of the twentieth century. Thus, in Part IV, the reader may find images of a wide selection of exhibited objects including vases, Beazley's drawings and tracings of various figures from Greek vases as well as from illustrations of vases in books (as the most straightforward duplicating method in the pre-photocopier era), vases photographed by Beazley himself, postcards and letters sent from—and to—Beazley and, finally, notebooks with notes and more or less detailed sketches from his numerous museum visits. Moreover, the three introductory essays by Mannack and Rodriguez Pérez aim not only to expose the Beazley Archive's own abundant resources, but also to encourage students, teachers, and visitors alike to get a better sense and share more fully the extraordinary depth, range, and importance of material chosen for display.

The work done by Beazley is definitely not an end but a beginning. The corpus of his work on Greek vases that is briefly discussed here—as contextual information —still helps students and scholars to use Attic pottery in a variety of ways. Whether scholars should rely on Beazley's attributions is more a matter of interpretation than whether his approach was right or wrong. After all, we can interpret his findings as we wish. At the same time, even if we believe his approach was wrong, there is nothing equivalent to Beazley's achievement, as this book nicely demonstrates. However, as can be seen from the debates that his influential and groundbreaking work has produced, it is possible that the core ideas of Beazley's work could not only be further developed but they could also be the subject of such exhibitions in the future. His unparalleled work and the tens of thousands of relevant documents kept in the Ashmolean will continue to provide a sound basis for stylistic exploration of the relationships between and among painters; a more detailed insight on principal artists' work; the fashions in the representation of certain types of themes in the work of various artists, schools and periods.

Despite recent work in the field, and despite the fact that this book does not intend to impel further discussion and scholarly debate, Beazley's work on Greek vases remains still a fascinating path and, therefore, the book is a valuable addition to the study of the history of scholarship on Greek vases. It is well written and well produced, and highly recommended to students and teachers, especially to those interested in the study of Greek vases, but have little or no further knowledge of the subject. Hence, the brief but all-inclusive representation of these rare and important documents related to Beazley's life and works—as much as to the massive field of the history of the study of Greek vases—works well, in a way that it should be recommended to all interested beginners and intermediates.

As Christina Neagu points out in the postscript, through a focus on Beazley's work in the field of ancient Greek pottery and trends in scholarship on Greek vases, the exhibition, for which Christ Church and the Ashmolean Museum have joined resources, examines the shift " from private repositories to public institutions" (99). Indeed, the individual books and manuscripts that put the objects selected for display in context, as well as the story of how scholars like Beazley found and acquired their impressive collections, underline how gifts can have a unique effect on an institution's status.

Table of Contents

Introduction (Mannack)
Part I: The Study of Greek Vases Before Beazley
Antiquity to the 17th Century
The 18th Century
The 19th Century
Part II: Sir John Beazley (Rodriguez Pérez)
John Davidson Beazley: Life and Works
Method and Apparatus of Learning: Notes, Notebooks, and Drawings
Part III: The Study of Greek Vases after Beazley (Mannack)
Part IV: Catalogue (Mannack and Rodriguez Pérez)
Postscript (Christina Neagu)
List of References


1.   Bothmer, Dietrich von. "J. D. Beazley." In Classical Scholarship: A Biographical Encyclopedia, edited by Ward W. Briggs and William M. Calder, 1-6. New York: Garland Pub. 1990.
2.   Rouet, Philippe. Approaches to the Study of Attic Vases: Beazley and Pottier. Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology. Edited by John Bennet, John Boardman, Jim Coulton, Donna Kurtz, Roland R. R. Smith and Margareta Steinby. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
3.   Whitley, James. "Beazley as Theorist." Antiquity 71 (1997): 40–7.
4.   Kurtz, Donna, ed. Beazley and Oxford. Oxford: Oxford University Committee for Archaeology, 1985.

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