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Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Greece 12. Athens, National Museum 6: Attic Black-Figure and Six's Technique Lekythoi

Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Greece 12. Athens, National Museum 6: Attic Black-Figure and Six's Technique Lekythoi

By Eleftheria Serbeti. Pp. 144, b&w pls. 83, figs. 35. Research Center for Antiquity of the Academy of Athens, Athens 2012. Price not available. ISBN 978-960-404-243-2 (cloth).


Attic black-figure lekythoi are the most numerous of all the vase shapes decorated in Six’s technique, save perhaps for drinking cups. They were mass-produced in the last decade of the sixth century B.C.E. and the first quarter of the fifth, chiefly to furnish modest graves, and have been recovered from many excavations, especially the Athenian Agora and the Kerameikos. This new CVA presents the collection in the National Museum, which was acquired mainly during the 19th and early 20th centuries from excavations, private collections, and donations; for many lekythoi, the provenance is unknown but was probably Athens and environs. This is carefully explained in the preface, which is followed by acknowledgments.

Lekythoi are classified by type, and the presentation here is chronological; the earliest is the Deianeira Type, which first appears in the early sixth century and lasts for about 50 years. It is followed by the abundant Shoulder Type, which not only illustrates the whole development of the shape but also presents the largest number of variants and examples. Within each variant, the lekythoi are arranged chronologically; for each type, there is a very good discussion of its characteristics, range in date, painters, and pertinent bibliography. These black-figure lekythoi are usually decorated by artists who are not as talented as the better-known painters and may easily be overlooked. But to ignore them is a great mistake because the painters of these lekythoi often depict well-known or new mythological subjects in very inventive compositions that are quite remarkable, especially given the frequently small size of the vase and the number of figures the artist is able to include on it. In her very detailed presentation, Serbeti makes it abundantly clear why these vases deserve serious attention.

Each entry follows the format established for the CVA series: accession number, provenance (if known) and former collection, bibliography, measurements and condition, description of shape, ornament and subject, attribution, and comparanda. For the bibliography, the reviewer wishes that the references to Beazley and Haspels had been given first, since these are basic for attribution and the reader looks for them first; quite a few lekythoi are attributed by Serbeti. The descriptions are very detailed and clear. Most commendable is the full comparanda, which is as up-to-date as possible and particularly useful for shape and iconography. Various classes, groups, and painters are represented in this fascicle: for example, the Phanyillis Class, the Leagros Group, the Cock Group, the Gela Painter, Athena Painter, Sappho Painter, the Class of Athens 581, and the Little-Lion Class. Together, they give a very comprehensive picture of the range of decoration, style, and subject. Some of the subjects are very rare or depict unusual details: Triton is especially active, lashing his tail in fury (37–8, pl. 15); the Minotaur has no tail (53, pl. 25.6); a man riding a hippalektryon (58, pl. 29); Ajax Carrying the Body of Achilles, with especially good comparanda and discussion (61–2, pl. 31); Helios rising from the sea, watched by Herakles, an encounter associated with the Geryon labor (62–3, pl. 32); men leading rams (74–5, pl. 40.1–3).

A few comments: on page 24, Munich 1397 is not by Exekias, but by a painter from Group E. On page 39, in the comparanda for Amazons, "Von Brommer" should be "von Bothmer." On page 40, add to Agora P 2730 Agora 23, no. 1628, pl. 107. Agora P 2613 is cited twice, each time with different bibliography. On page 55 (pl. 27.1–3), in the Judgment of Paris, when the goddesses are identified by attribute, Hera is usually first and Aphrodite third; this might be the case here, even though an attribute is not included. On page 79 (pl. 41.4–6), add to the bibliography for the difference between a mule and a donkey Moore ("Hephaistos Goes Home: An Attic Black-Figured Column-Krater in the Metropolitan Museum," MMAJ 45 [2010] 46–7 n. 51). On page 124 (pl. 74.1–3), Athena holding out her aegis in the Gigantomachy begins with her image in the pediment of the Old Athena Temple. On page 129 (pl. 78), I think this is a mule—horses are not shown ithyphallic.

The text concludes with six lekythoi decorated in Six’s technique, named after Jan Six, the Dutch scholar who first studied these unusual little vases, which have the figures applied in color over the black glaze, sometimes enlivened with incision. The technique was introduced ca. 530 B.C.E., perhaps in the Nicosthenic workshop, and continued into the fifth century. The careful descriptions and the full range of comparanda for each entry will be particularly useful not only to any newcomer to the field of Greek vases but also to scholars already familiar with the material.

There are five indices: "Index of Museum Inventory Numbers"; "Concordance Between Collignon/Couvre and Museum Inventory Numbers"; "Concordance Between Empedokles Collection and Museum Inventory Numbers"; "Artists, Stylistic Groups and Classes"; and "Principal Subjects." There are 35 profiles drawn at a scale of 2:3. The black-and-white plates are clear and crisp, with each vase fully illustrated. I wish the lekythoi in Six’s technique were illustrated in color. A description of the colors does not do justice to these interesting vases.

In short, this CVA is a model of how to present rather complicated material that will be useful to a very wide audience. Quite some years ago, when I worked on the Attic black-figure pottery from the Athenian Agora (M. Moore, Attic Black-Figured Pottery. Agora 23 [Princeton 1986]), I had to include 460, mostly late, lekythoi in my catalogue, a task I found rather daunting, and I was heartily weary of them when I completed the volume. This CVA fascicle has prompted me to revise completely my erroneous and negative assessment of them.

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Book Review of Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Greece 12. Athens, National Museum 6: Attic Black-Figure and Six's Technique Lekythoi, by Eleftheria Serbeti

Reviewed by Mary B. Moore

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 1 (January 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1181.Moore2

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