Online Review: Book

Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. France 41. Louvre 27: Céramique attique archaïque, goblets "mastoids" à figures noires et rouges

Regina Attula

114.2

Nassi Malagardis and Athéna Tsingarida. Pp. 107, figs. 31, b&w pls. 39, color pls. 2. Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Paris 2008. €60. ISBN 2-87754-201-2 (cloth).

If ever an academic discussion happens to touch on late black-figure wares, and the name of the Haimon Painter is mentioned, you may perhaps see a contemptuous smile or doubtful eyebrow on a colleague’s face. This book may provide an antidote to this cynicism and should encourage us not to ignore Late Attic black-figure in our research. The authors of this CVA volume are specialists in both Greek pottery and vase painting. There is much to learn here about the pottery trade in Iron Age Italy and Sicily with regard to the local Italian precursors (the Villanovan impastos of the eighth–sixth centuries B.C.E. and after), Etruscan clients (including Etruscan inscriptions on Attic vessels), and the Etruscan presence in Greek sanctuaries. New evidence is also presented for the existence of different workshops. This is particularly important, since smaller shapes are often neglected when it comes to attributing items to a particular artist or workshop.

This book catalogues 79 black-figure vessels and one red-figure vessel. Many of these belong to the Campana Collection, and most of them are restored. These restorations are not uniform, but many have neutral additions, often white-colored. As a whole, they show the complete development of an Attic form group as influenced by Italian workshops.

Some of the earliest mastoids described here are the three vessels from the Nikosthenes Workshop (ca. 530–510 B.C.E.). The first is a well-preserved black-and-white banded example (pl. 3.3); its form is nearly ovoid and without handles—a delicate shape and aesthetically of high quality. This characteristic band decoration was probably influenced by sixth-century Ionian vases. The second, found in Etruria, is black-figure, with a Nike between mantled youths on either side and a dog below each handle (pls. 2.2, 2.3, 3.1, 3.2). We know this decorative scheme from skyphoi and bowls: a black-figure field between the black-glazed zones, a single rendering glazed line, and the use of added red for details. The third example is a rim fragment belonging to a black-glazed body with a band of vine leaves on the outer neck (pl. 2.1). These three variations (black-glazed, black-and-white banded, and black-figure) show us the decorative variety and the creative potential within this group. They are good examples for the aesthetic quality of nonfigurative, decorated, small-sized vessels in the sixth century B.C.E.

Probably from the same workshop is the only red-figure vessel of this collection, dating to ca. 525–500 B.C.E., found in Etruria (pls. 39.1, 39.2, 41.2). Depicted are stout, lance-bearing ephebes with red bands in their hair and the inscription “MEMNON KALOS.” Beazley suggested that the vessel is an Oltos imitation, and the authors of this book support a non-Athenian (and probably Etruscan) vase painter. They provide useful comments on this hypothesis alongside a small helpful catalogue with parallels. Other Attic and Etruscan red-figure vessels may now be seen in a new light and should be restudied.

From a slightly later period are the two pieces “proche de Psiax, peintre de Thesée” (pls. 11.5, 11.6, 12.1–3). Some pieces with Dionysian scenes belong to the Leafless Group (pls. 22.1–7), which is better known from numerous drinking bowls; others belong to the group Vatican G 57 (pls. 13–21). One notable example of an early fifth-century B.C.E. vessel is from the Athena Painter and shows mantled youths (pls. 23.1–3). There are also the vessels of the Haimon Painter and the Haimon Group (pls. 24–38). Often they show Dionysian scenes, banqueters, fruit-picking women, horsemen, or Theseus fighting the bull (sometimes with Athena beneath him). In general, the Haimon Group, with its poor-quality silhouettes and few incised details, has been scorned by traditional art historical approaches to Greek vases (with the good quality of the pottery seldom mentioned). Rather, they have been welcome only as markers for the export of Late Attic black-figure to regions as far as the eastern Black Sea shores. All these pictures of common subjects—with the vines, tables and chairs, wreaths, fruit trees, and baskets—are full of details. The themes and subjects were skillfully transformed into smaller versions. Even though we know some contexts for mastoids from graves and sanctuaries, we are missing much information about their function and use.

Some remarks on terminology are necessary, since many difficulties have arisen because we still lack a definite term for mastoids, as the authors discuss (15). Commonly used are the English terms “beaker,” “cup-skyphos,” “skyphoid,” “mastoid,” or “mug,” the French terms “goblet mastoide,” and the German terms “mastoider Skyphos” or “Becher.” The most common Italian term is “oletta.” More traditional is the ancient Greek name “chytridion,” which recalls the objects’ origins as round-shaped pots. The terminology “mastoid” first ignores that their shape is sometimes closer to a skyphos than to a mastos. The number of mastoi is limited in comparison with other forms. The mastoids are hybrid derivations from the mastos and the skyphos shape. They were produced in series, and often their decorative scheme is closer to that of the skyphoi.

The mastoi have other dimensions, as they are mostly bigger and lack a pronounced rim. As delicate footless drinking vessels, shaped like a female breast with nipple, they represent one of the most unusual Attic vessel types. Their function and use have never been in doubt: used as wine cups, their shape presents an immediate erotic stimulus for the banqueter. We know other naturalistic human forms in Attic pottery, including some cups with a plastic phallus under the bowl, and the East Greek or Attic aryballoi, molded variously as a phallus, foot, head, or bust. However, those are generally smaller and mostly under-life-sized. But the Attic mastos, as a thin-walled drinking vessel—with its naturalistic human proportions and suitability for functional use—is unique.

Anyone interested in Iron Age Mediterranean pottery trade, Attic pottery, or vase painting will find this volume highly informative.

Regina Attula
Institute for Classical Archaeology
Free University of Berlin
Otto-von-Simson-Strasse 11
14195 Berlin
Germany
attula@zedat.fu-berlin.de

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1142.Attula

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Use [fn]...[/fn] (or <fn>...</fn>) to insert automatically numbered footnotes.
  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Typographic refinements will be added.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Click "Save" to submit your comment. Please allow some time for your post to be moderated.