By Magdalene Söldner. Pp. 248, figs. 283. Bibliopolis, Ingelheim am Rhein 2007. €59. ISBN 978-3-933925-80-0 (cloth).
Interest in the study of South Italian vase painting tends to go in cycles; there has perhaps been a lapse of a decade or so, apart from attention to the iconography of scenes related to theater, in which the surviving material is rich. The red-figure pottery of Lucania, like the other local styles of Magna Graecia, began to attract serious scholarly interest when Furtwängler established the existence of locally produced red-figure fabrics from the mid fifth century B.C.E. Subsequently, A.D. Trendall’s voluminous stylistic and chronological catalogues, in establishing a sense of workshop and painter relationships and their chronology, did for these styles what Beazley did for their Attic precursors.
Trendall’s scheme foregrounds the Pisticci Painter as the founding father of the Lucanian style in the last third of the fifth century B.C.E., a context in which imported Attic pottery was a major influence. He and his immediate followers, the Cyclops and Amykos Painters, form the earliest user group of a workshop in Metaponto (confirmed by excavation in 1973). They were followed by a second generation starring the Anabates, Creusa, and Dolon Painters, their followers, and the Brooklyn-Budapest Painter, as well as a third generation, featuring the Roccanova and Primato Painters, and the Painter of Naples 1959. By this late stage, in the second half of the fourth century B.C.E., the quality of the work had declined seriously—Trendall described it as barbarous—and the style disappears. There is a variable level of cross-influence from nearby Apulian workshops.
This is the framework that Söldner uses in exploring the iconographic pattern of Lucanian vase painting, and in particular its evident concentration on scenes—stock and otherwise—of male activity. Her major intention is to establish the characteristics that mark the Lucanian style’s development away from the direct influence of Attic vase painting and toward an independent status. In doing this she has produced a confidently detailed study of its subject matter, both mythological and everyday, stock and individual, which fills a serious gap in our existing understanding of the Lucanian school.
The study is articulated, as the title of the book suggests, via a detailed tour of the representations of human activity featured on these vases, though not excluding divine actors when the iconographic format makes an obvious link. One repeated and common theme, which appears in the work of named painters throughout the life of the Lucanian style, is a strong interest in scenes of pursuit, involving gods, men and ephebes, and satyrs. This interest manifests itself early, in the work of the Pisticci Painter, for whom the theme clearly bordered on the obsessive—his pursuers include Eros, Zeus chasing Aigina, and other events with anonymous and presumably human actors. The favorite bell-krater provides a format on which the two-figure pursuit fits well, with three draped youths—that favorite space filler—on the back. Later scenes in his work involve spectators, and we may well be looking at a genre with a ritual overtone.
Söldner’s other major category is a broad one, including the prominent stationary figure in variable contexts, carrying the props of the palaistra, the battlefield, or of ritual activity. These, too, are a constant throughout the life of the style. Later painters include representations of Dionysiac activity, with Hermes, Apollo, and Herakles also standing around in statuesque poses rather than engaging in the vigorous action that involves their Attic equivalents.
Later chapters sweep up the scenes of specifically male or female activity, as well as marriage scenes. Most of the identified painters, especially the later ones, have a stock scene showing the female seated on a klismos, often with a mirror, with the male figure standing in front of her. Occasionally there is an intervening Eros. Occasionally this becomes an encounter on a kline, with or without spectators, who, when present, bear a strong resemblance to the stock figures of other scenes.
It is difficult to escape a strong sense that a defining characteristic of this vase-painting tradition is the recycling of stock figures: the pursuer and the pursued; the standing, partly draped youth; the seated female; and posed palaistra boys. This makes the occasional free-form mythological or dramatic picture all the more striking: the dramatic figure of the bound Amykos on the eponymous painter’s name vase, the Cyclops Painter’s blinding of Polyphemus, the Dolon Painter’s sneaky Odysseus ambushing the Trojan spy, or Herakles pursed by Apollo. Söldner noticeably and deliberately loses these in favor of her concentration on stock figures. But it is not difficult to notice how the major painters also recycle those stock figures to show us Odysseus’ encounter with Tiresias, Orestes, and Electra, or a tame Dionysos with his entourage.
It is significant that this discursive treatment of the Lucanian school does succeed in presenting a structured overview of its painters and their related styles, and showing us their narrowing subject-base in the context of largely funerary usage. It is hard to escape a sense that this was a school of painters conditioned by a degree of isolation from other traditions, which eventually succumbed to inbreeding. The crystallization of that sense through Söldner’s structured exploration of iconographic detail is an important achievement.
Department of Classics
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ