Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Thomas H. Carpenter, Elizabeth Langridge-Noti, Mark Stansbury-O'Donnell (ed.), The Consumers' Choice: Uses of Greek Figure-Decorated Pottery. Selected papers on ancient art and architecture, 2. Boston: Archaeological Institute of America, 2016. Pp. xii, 154. ISBN 9781931909327. $19.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Winfred van de Put, Netherlands Institute at Athens (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

During the last decade or so, the focused study of Greek iconography from archaeological contexts has been on the rise. This approach is founded on the principle that the meanings of Greek images, or rather, images in general, were not exclusively determined by the producer, but were the result of the interplay between producer and consumer. The actual use of the image may provide valuable insight into the meanings imparted to images by contemporary society. This approach was pioneered by James Whitley, who maintained that it would bring iconology closer to the social sciences: "A contextual approach tries to relate archaeological context to social context, not directly, but by viewing archaeological deposits as records of particular types of social behaviour. [...] A contextual approach is both statistical and sociological." (J. Whitley, 'Protoattic potery: a contextual approach', in I. Morris (ed.), Classical Greece, Ancient Histories and Modern Archaeologies. Cambridge 1994, 52).

The present volume deals with Greek figured pottery from the perspective of its consumers. Most of the contributions were originally delivered as papers at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, in a session sponsored by the Pottery in Context Research Network.

The preface shows awareness of the general lack of definition of key concepts such as 'context' and 'consumer', but its discussion is indicative rather than theoretical. A reference to J. Th. Peña, Roman Pottery in the Archaeological Record, Cambridge 2007, would not have been out of place and would have deepened the discussion of, for instance, the key term 'context' and the different possibilities of the consumer's role.

S.D. Bundrick discusses the iconography of the handloom on red-figure vases found in Italy, specifically in Etruria and Spina. She replaces the uncontextualized interpretation of the depiction of this wool-working tool ("prostitutes making hairnets or head coverings in their spare time", 1), with a nuptial reading, applicable to both Athenian and Etruscan spheres. The argumentation, in itself reasonable, makes no reference to use or context. When Bundrick starts analyzing contextual data, her reasoning becomes very confused. The interpretation of the image central to this article, on a hydria used as an urn, hinges on the gendering of the grave as female. After a lengthy discussion of the apparent lack of gender specification in grave-gifts in Spina, she defends the gendering of the grave with the statement "Hydriai do seem to have been associated with female burials" (12). On the next page, however, she notes that the only other hydria re-used as an urn was found in a male grave, "contrary to the frequent assumption that hydriai were exclusive to female association and use." In an article discussing use of Greek iconography in an Etruscan context, it is disconcerting to miss reference to the work of Reusser (Vasen für Etrurien, Verbreitung und Funktionen attischer Keramik im Etrurien des 6. und 5. Jahrhunderts vor Christus, Zurich 2002), Paleothodoros (e.g., 'Dionysiac Imagery in Archaic Etruria', Etruscan Studies 10 [2007], 187-201) and in this case Stefan Schmidt (Rhetorische Bilder auf attischen Vasen: visuelle Kommunikation im 5. Jahrhundert v. Chr. [Berlin 2005]).

An Jiang analyses the depiction on a Laconian cup, interpreting it as a representation of the Karneia festival rather than generic Dionysiac imagery. The arguments are solid, but the context of the vase is unknown, so the interpretation is a traditional culture-historical one and is not related to context or use.

Kathleen Lynch does interpret Athenian vases from a very specific context, namely Gordion. Her discussion of the difficulties of working with legacy data is exemplary. Her argument, connecting certain iconographic preferences to narrow historical horizons in the history of the city, fits in well with the theme of the collection. Unfortunately, the dating of her material, crucial for the point she is trying to make, is shaky; the Gordion cups from the K-V tumulus are dated "late in the 560s or 560 B.C.E." on page 48, but 560-540 BCE elsewhere and in the captions. Normally, this would be a minor defect, but her connection of the appearance of Attic pottery with the Lydian occupation of Gordion demands a precise timeframe. The suggestion that the occupant of the K-V tumulus "perhaps was not Phrygian" (48) and that "it is possible the deceased was, in fact, a Lydian" (56) rests on too thin an argument of the 'pots are people' sort and seems to preclude the possibility of Phrygians emulating the Lydians (in power for a generation by the time of the tomb).

Bice Peruzzi discusses a skyphos by the Penelope Painter from a Peucetian grave. She concludes that the grave ensemble does not indicate a shift toward Athenian sympotic practices, as the skyphos contains egg-shells and the assemblage also includes cooking and libation implements. Her interpretations are thoughtful and sound, resisting the tendency to recognize Hellenization in the presence of Greek fine pottery rather than to understand the material as part of an indigenous pattern. However, more attention should have been paid to the other finds in the grave; we get only a sketchy idea of the total 'program' of the assemblage.

A likewise valuable and on-topic study is provided by Vivi Saripanidi, who analyses the presence of a black-figure column krater in a boy's grave in Sindos. In spite of the limited length of the article, she manages to draw in sensible comparisons with a wider area.

Tara M. Trahey steps into the world of trademarks, trade routes, destinations and workshops in her analysis of the dissemination of trademarks of Athenian pots with a specific theme in Etruria. She introduces an interesting way of presenting her data with the diagrams of pp. 114-115 but they are difficult to read for various reasons: the 'red arrows' of the text are printed grey; the seven trademarks in the middle column of figure 6 are actually six in number, and seem to have an unexplained relationship to a multitude of trademarks in the left-hand column. The data would have been more effectively presented in table form. Again, crucial literature seems to be lacking (e.g., F. Giudice, 'Gela e il commercio attico verso l'Etruria nel primo quarto del V sec. a. C.', Studi Etruschi 53, 1985, 115–139; and again Paleothodoros and Reusser).

In the final essay, Vicky Vlachou discusses a large and exceptional Late Geometric pitcher from Marathon. Unparallelled in its complexity and pictorial program, the vase seems to have had a nuptial function before it ended up in the grave. Again, the other finds of the grave and the cemetery as a whole are merely mentioned rather than included in a comparative discussion.

In conclusion, one can applaud the efforts of the Pottery in Context Research Network in producing publications like the present volume, supporting the interpretation of Greek pottery from archaeological contexts. It is clear, however, that this collection of essays does not present a complete expression of this approach, for almost all the papers ignore important aspects of this interpretive strategy. Comparison with a larger corpus of material is necessary in order to evaluate the specific value of a certain choice of iconography, an element that is almost entirely absent here. The coherence of the highlighted object with other objects in the same context, or the relationship of the context to other similar ones, are considered only in the contributions of Saripanidi and Vlachou. Some of the essays are logically or factually flawed or imprecise (Bundrick, Lynch), lack essential references (Bundrick, Trahey), represent a 'classical' iconographical approach rather than a contextual one (Jiang), or ignore the accompanying iconography and objects (Peruzzi). More rigorous peer review and editing could have avoided some of these pitfalls. In spite of these shortcomings, however, the volume is a welcome contribution to the ongoing development of a major shift in our consideration of the meanings of Greek images.

Table of Contents

Introduction / Thomas H. Carpenter, Elizabeth Langridge-Noti, and Mark D. Stansbury-O'Donnell
Reconsidering hand looms on Athenian vases / Sheramy D. Bundrick
Karneia and Kitharoidos : rereading a Laconian cup in the Michael C. Carlos Museum / An Jiang
Gordion cups and other Attic black-figure cups at Gordion in Phrygia / Kathleen M. Lynch
Eggs in a drinking cup : unexpected uses of a Greek shape in Central Apulian funerary contexts / Bice Peruzzi
Too young to fight (or drink) : a warrior krater in a child burial at ancient Sindos / Vivi Saripanidi
Trademarks and the dynamic image : a step to visualizing patterns in imagery movement from Athens to Etruria / Tara M. Trahey
Image and story in late geometric Attica : interpreting a giant pitcher from Marathon / Vicky Vlachou

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