Friday, April 28, 2017


Ursula Kästner, David Saunders (ed.), Dangerous Perfection: Ancient Funerary Vases from Southern Italy. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2016. Pp. 212. ISBN 9781606064764. $60.00.

Reviewed by Valeria Riedemann Lorca, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This significant publication examines a group of 14 Apulian red-figure vases from Ceglie del Campo near Bari, Italy. Issued on the occasion of the exhibition Gefährliche Perfektion: Antike Grabvasen aus Apulien, currently on view at the Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the book follows a six-year joint project (2008-2014) between museum staff there and curators and conservators of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.1

The objects in this study are Apulian "display vases", which on account of their large size (about one meter high) are only likely to be found in semi-chamber tombs. Presumably from the same tomb-group, the 14 vessels under investigation span the years 375 to 310 BC, which may imply that they were deposited at different times. Their sizes, elaborate decoration, and holes in their foot render them unsuitable for use as containers, thereby suggesting that they functioned as showpieces during the funeral.

The Ceglie vessels were part of the antiquities collection of Baron Franz Koller, a military ambassador to Naples during the early decades of the nineteenth century. They presented the exhibitors with an opportunity to study Italic funerary customs and interest in Greek myth and, in accordance with the project's aim, to examine them as evidence for the history of vase restoration. The latter objective revealed the work of Raffaele Gargiulo, a leading nineteenth-century restorer. His interventions are a good example of what one concerned antiquarian termed "dangerous perfection", since such effective restorations could be misleading.

Preceded by two detailed essays, the core of the book is the Catalogue (pp. 69-159). This section is followed by a translation of Gargiulo's "Cenni sulla maniera di rinvenire i vasi fittili italo-greci, sulla loro costruzione, sulle loro fabbriche più distinte e sulla progressione e decadimento dell'arte vasaria".

The first essay, by Marie Dufková and Ursula Kästner, narrates the history of the Ceglie vases since their discovery in the early nineteenth century. The authors discuss the geography, history, and archaeology of Ceglie del Campo, as well as Koller's time in Italy, the creation of the collection, and the preparation for an archaeological museum in his native Bohemia. After Koller's death, the vases were kept in Berlin. The second essay, by David Saunders, Marie Svoboda, and Andrea Milanese, outlines the early decades of Gargiulo's career and the contemporary debate about restoration practices. The Ceglie vases, believed to have been restored by Gargiulo and his colleague Onofrio Pacileo between 1800 and 1830, offered the authors an opportunity to study the materials and methods used by the restorers and to place their work within the history of restoration of vases and antiquities in general (p. 43). They include an interesting discussion about the 1818 Neapolitan legislation against restorations, which were considered obstacles to understanding ancient art. This decree seemed to have targeted the deceptive work of well-known restorers, like Gargiulo and his colleagues.

In studying the processes and materials employed in reassembling and repainting the vases, the authors found adhesive that was also sometimes used to level the surface of the vessels. X-ray analysis of some Ceglie vases showed that for more substantial gaps, Gargiulo inserted ceramic blanks assembled in the manner of igloo bricks, as seen in one loutrophoros (Cat. 11). Furthermore, the cleaning of these vessels revealed some cases where the restorer modified aspects of the original design: a male figure on the lower frieze of volute krater Cat. 1 wore a helmet and not a fillet; the box in front of Hera depicted on the hydria Cat. 12 was restored as closed. Some figures, such as Athena and a youth holding a mirror (Cat. 1) were created entirely by the restorer. In short, this essay successfully demonstrates that despite contemporary concerns about deceptive restoration practices, the completeness of ancient artworks continued to be preferred by private collectors whose primary aim was visual integrity.

The Catalogue details the methods and techniques used in Berlin and Los Angeles in the treatment of these vessels: lining removal and disassembly, desalination, reassembly, filling, and inpainting. Each entry includes a description of the vase with iconographic discussion, condition before treatment, analysis, treatment, and in some cases, fabrication of missing sections. The Catalogue is supported by numerous high-quality photographs of the vessels during and after their restoration, archival drawings, and updated bibliography.

The Berlin-Getty collaboration focused on eight vases: three volute kraters (Cat. 1, 2 and 3), three amphorae (Cat. 5, 8 and 9), and two loutrophoroi (Cat. 10 and 11). Two hydriae (Cat. 12 and 13), two amphorae (Cat. 6 and 7), and a dish (Cat. 14) had been previously restored, while the amphora in Moscow (Cat. 4) was treated in Russia. The analytical procedure used was X-ray diffraction (XRD), X-ray fluorescence (XRF), optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), and UV illumination, among others. In some cases, ancient fragments have been reintegrated into a given vase (Cat. 1, 2, 6, and 10). Nineteenth-century restoration pieces were not reinserted into one of the volute kraters (Cat. 1), but they were nonetheless preserved as they are part of its history.2 Furthermore, the study revealed that in two cases (Cat. 9 and the body of Cat. 11), the old restorations dramatically altered their appearance, thus these two vessels were left in their original restored state as examples in the history of vase conservation.

In the Catalogue, some authors pay more attention to iconographic description and interpretations, while others focus on the technical methods used in the treatment of the vessels. The repetition of the Judgement of Paris depicted on two amphorae (Cat. 5 and 8), and one hydria (Cat. 12) is noteworthy, however. Paris is also the subject of amphora Cat. 9, but in this case he is depicted with Helen at Troy. A frequent scene in Attic vase painting, the representation of Herakles' battle with Geryon on one volute krater (Cat. 3) is interesting as it is only occasionally found in Apulian examples. Assuming that all the vases came from the same grave – as suggested by Eduard Gerard 3 – a reader interested in Apulian funerary practices might have expected some discussion about these subjects' implications for the tomb- group, but its absence does not undermine the outstanding research presented in the Catalogue.

The last section of the book is a translation of Gargiulo's Observations, which is preceded by a commentary on his contribution to the understanding of Greek pottery, by Andrea Milanese. The large quantities of archaeological materials available in Naples during Gargiulo's time allowed him and others to shape the history of Greek vases as a discipline for study. Gargiulo's Observations include his remarkable study of ancient techniques of Greek pottery manufacture and his chronological classification of painting styles into six periods. Mark Weir's translation is impeccable, and the original plates of Gargiulo's prospect of vase shapes, ornament, and period are included alongside drawings of a kiln and various tomb types.

In summary, this superb study provides the first full account of the red-figure Apulian vessels in Koller's collection in more than a century. It will prove of great interest to scholars and students of Apulian vase painting, restoration practices, and art history. Lavishly illustrated with high-quality photographs and archival drawings, this book is, undoubtedly, an important contribution for future research and conservation projects.

Table of Contents

Timothy Potts and Andreas Scholl, Director's Foreword 15-16
Ursula Kästner and David Saunders, Acknowledgements 17-18
Marie Dufková and Ursula Kästner, The History of the Ceglie Vases 21-41
David Saunders, Marie Svoboda and Andrea Milanese, Exactitude and Mastery: Raffaele Gargiulo's Work as a Restorer 43-66
Ludmila Akimova, Ursula Kästner, Elena Minina, Sonja Radujkovic, Dunja Rütt, David Saunders, Priska Schilling-Colden, Marie Svoboda and Bernd Zimmermann, Catalogue 69-159
Raffaele Gargiulo (translated by Mark Weir), Observations on How Italo-Greek Ceramic Vases Are Found, on Their Manufacture, on the Most Distinguished Workshops, and on the Development and Decline of the Art of Vase Making (second edition, 1843) 167-194
Bibliography 196-205
About the Authors 206-207
Index 208-212


1.   The exhibition was originally presented as Dangerous Perfection: Funerary Vases from Southern Italy at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu from November 19, 2014 to May 11, 2015. The current exhibition in Berlin will be on display until June 17, 2017: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin: Gefährliche Perfektion: Antike Grabvasen aus Apulien.
2.   See an interactive presentation of this vase restoration at
3.   Gerhard, E. Apulische Vasenbilder des Köninglichen Museums zu Berlin. 1845. p. 4. For a discussion, see the first essay of the book, p. 24.

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