Online Review: Book

La laine et le parfum: Épinetra et alabastres. Forme, iconographie, et fonction

Sheramy D. Bundrick

111.4

By Panayota Badinou. Pp. xvi + 239, pls. 155. Peeters, Louvain and Dudley, Mass. 2003. $77. ISBN 90-429-1309-6 (cloth).

This important study builds upon the author’s doctoral dissertation, completed under Claude Bérard at the University of Lausanne in 1998 following initial work at the University of Thessalonike. Badinou focuses her inquiry on two specific vase shapes—epinetra and alabastra—working from the premise that “la laine et le parfum constituent deux éléments essentiels dans la vie de la femme antique” (xiii).

Following a brief introduction outlining her approach (which harmonizes with the methodologies of Bérard and other iconographers of the Francophone school), Badinou divides her study into two parts: one for epinetra and one for alabastra. Each is further subdivided into two sections: the first on form and function, the second on iconography. A valuable aspect of Badinou’s study concerns the posited relationship among form, function, and subject matter. She does not consider the images in isolation; she links the iconography to vessel shape and, by extension, how the epinetron/alabastron in question would be used and perceived by its female viewer.

This approach renders the sections on form and function vital to the overall study. In discussing epinetra, Badinou outlines the problems of terminology and surveys the history of research. In discussing alabastra, Badinou includes a lengthy analysis of the depiction of alabastra in various scenes as a tool for understanding their uses and audience. She concludes that alabastra must have been exclusively associated with female users and had a particular connection with luxury and exotic perfumes.

Exploration of iconography forms the bulk of the study. Badinou subdivides the iconography of epinetra into “sujets du monde féminin” and “sujets du monde exotique” (Amazons and maenads). The iconography of alabastra is subdivided into these same two categories, along with a third, “sujets du monde masculin.”

Discussion of “sujets du monde féminin” focuses a great deal on the social status of the women depicted. The familiar “spinning hetaira” debate arises, with Badinou taking a different stance when it comes to epinetra vs. alabastra. With epinetra, she suggests that when women are shown with men they must be hetairai, whereas with alabastra, she acknowledges the apparent ambiguity of some of the representations. (The alabastron Cab. Méd. 508 [Badinou’s cat. no. A255] with its he nymphe kale inscription, persuades Badinou that the hetaira label should not be applied too hastily when it comes to alabastra.)

However, a misinterpretation of one of the vessels means that Badinou’s proposal for the women accompanying men on epinetra is problematic. The unattributed epinetron Athens 2179 (cat. no. E 57) is curiously identified in the catalogue and text as showing four women with Eros on its obverse, when—despite its eroded condition—it clearly depicts three women and one man. Badinou even illustrates Carl Robert’s reconstruction drawing of this vase, which shows a man (pl. 30). Robert Sutton has persuasively argued in his 1981 dissertation and elsewhere that the man carries a basket of balls of wool, and the scene itself likely shows a citizen oikos. But Badinou does not discuss Sutton’s interpretation, although his dissertation is listed in her bibliography. This epinetron alone suggests that it is tricky to identify all women with men on epinetra as hetairai. Instead, Badinou backs up her argument with the now outdated assumption that women were isolated in “women’s quarters,” and therefore men would not be represented alongside them. She does not address the fact that some of the epinetra that she argues show hetairai were found in sanctuary contexts.

The “spinning hetairai” aside, Badinou’s discussion of the iconography of epinetra and alabastra is solid and well presented. She suggests that the “exotic” subjects of maenads and Amazons on epinetra serve as foils to the images of “respectable” women; sometimes epinetra show citizen women on one side and Amazons or maenads on the other. For alabastra, she follows the interpretation that maenads, Amazons, and black Africans were popular as suitably exotic subjects for vessels containing exotic imported perfumes. As for the images of male athletes and warriors on alabastra, because she believes alabastra were exclusively for women, she argues that images of men were intended as attractive subjects for the female viewers.

Badinou’s arguments could have been strengthened by further discussion of context. For example, are there specific artists and workshops who specialized in specific shapes or subjects? Are certain iconographic themes more popular at certain points in time? If so, how might this relate to contemporary sociohistorical circumstances?

An extensive catalogue of epinetra and alabastra rounds out the study (142–218), followed by plates and/or drawings of all vessels in the catalogue plus numerous comparative vases. The catalogue and plates prove especially useful, given the assemblage of rarely published material together with better-known pieces. The bibliography includes most of the relevant secondary sources, to which add three notable works published too late to be considered: Ferrari (Figures of Speech: Men and Maidens in Ancient Greece [Chicago 2002]), Lewis (The Athenian Woman: An Iconographic Handbook [London and New York 2002]), and Mercati (Epinetron: Storia di una forma ceramica fra archeologia e cultura [Perugia 2003]).

The production quality is high and errors are few. A minor criticism: with her numerous comparative vases, Badinou provides Beazley numbers but generally not the name of the painter/workshop. One is therefore obliged to look up unfamiliar vessels in the Beazley volumes to discover the painter’s identity.

To sum up, La laine et le parfum is a significant contribution to iconographic study and in particular to the study of woman-centered imagery on Athenian vases. While it leaves some questions unanswered, it points the way to further discussion, especially through Badinou’s successful integration of form, function, and iconography as mutually dependent fields of inquiry.

Sheramy D. Bundrick
Department of Art History
University of South florida, st. Petersburg
140 Seventh Avenue South, Davis Hall 258
St. Petersburg, Florida 33701
bundrick@stpt.usf.edu

Book Review of La laine et le parfum: Épinetra et alabastres. Forme, iconographie, et fonction, by Panayota Badinou
Reviewed by Sheramy D. Bundrick
American Journal of Archaeology Volume 111, Number 4 (October 2007), published online at www.ajaonline.org/online-review-book/525
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1114.Bundrick

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