Online Review: Book

Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Great Britain 25. The British Museum 11: Greek Geometric Pottery

Susan Langdon


By J. Nicolas Coldstream (Union Académique Internationale). Pp. 64, pls. 86. The British Museum Press, London 2010. $150. ISBN 978-0-7141-2263-2 (cloth).

This long-awaited volume covers one of the greatest collections of geometric pottery outside Athens. Coldstream worked on the catalogue from 2004 until his sudden death in 2008, by which time it was more or less finished. Williams has made a few additions to the text, clearly marked by brackets. In addition to numerous familiar works, more than half (115 of 200) of the catalogued objects are previously unpublished and range from Protogeometric to Subgeometric. The British Museum's collection of Greek geometric pottery was built over two centuries, with a major group of more than 70 Attic vases acquired before 1837 and thought to be from the collection of Thomas Bruce, Seventh Earl of Elgin; these were formally accessioned in 1977. Significant components also come from the collection of Thomas Burgon and the excavations of Alfred Biliotti and Auguste Salzmann at Kameiros on Rhodes, and of Sir Leonard Woolley at Al Mina (21 pieces, a representative sample only). The relative scarcity of secure provenance in this CVA is typical for such a venerable institution, and this issue is addressed in Coldstream's overview of the collection's history. One important source is listed as "Melos" (five vases), which Coldstream explains as strongly represented because it was a busy port, much trafficked by "foreign consuls with antiquarian interests" (9) (but does this reflect antiquarians opening graves or the destination of collectible specimens from around the islands?). Three of these five vessels are of non-Melian origin, of which two are rare Late Geometric Cretan exports (nos. 182, 185). "Melos" may be a provenance to treat with caution.

Like a condensed version of Coldstream's own Greek Geometric Pottery (2nd ed. [Bristol 2008]), the styles of 13 regions are represented: Attica (123 entries), Corinth (5), Argolid (4), Laconia (5), Boeotia (5), Euboea (23), Central Cyclades (2), Melos (12), Thera (2), Crete (6), Rhodes (11), and Caria (3). Each style is introduced by a brief summary of the primary sources of excavated material and major publications. Coldstream cites comparanda from excavated contexts whenever possible. Only 30% of the 123 Attic pieces have been previously published. There is always a little thrill in finding a celebrity piece finally taking its place in the series, and there are many thrills to enjoy here: a late Protogeometric tall pyxis (no. 57), the astonishingly precise Elgin amphora with tapestry pattern from the Dipylon Workshop (no. 10), a neck-handled amphora by the Anavysos Painter with warriors possibly clad in leather corselets (no. 15), the spouted Ship Abduction krater (no. 75), a Rattle Group pitcher with its percussive graveside ritual (no. 40), the Lion Painter's name vase with a pop-eyed double-axe feline (no. 39), and the unique pitcher by the Workshop of Athens 897 with no fewer than four prothesis scenes, no two alike (no. 41). For these and other much-discussed pieces, Coldstream has opted for fairly brief bibliographies that direct the reader to lengthier discussions. Missing here is the Attic model granary (London, British Museum, inv. no. 1997,0815.1; see online database at, a puzzling exclusion, since granaries were produced by potters and regularly appear in CVAs, along with terracotta model pomegranates (no. 121). Previously unpublished vessels include a fine giant oinochoe (no. 28), a series of high-rimmed bowls (nos. 104–19), a tankard with rare rampant goats (no. 47), and two unusual stands (nos. 122, 123). The opening on the strainer cover of a spouted skyphos looks intentional, although the entry suggests it is broken (no. 89). Kalathos 98 ("a rustic piece") is likely by the same hand as small vessels in Munich (CVA Germany 3, pl. 129, no. 9), Reading (CVA Great Britain 12, Reading 1, pl. 8, no. 7), and the Athenian Agora (Agora 8, no. 367).

The five Corinthian pieces come from Corinth, the Argive Heraion, Phaleron, and Melos. The section leads off with a lovely small Early Geometric lekythos-oinochoe (123bis), originally acquired in Corinth in 1865 and purchased in 2009 in memory of Coldstream. This fitting memorial, retaining the rounded Attic form not yet flattened by Corinthian potters, adds a shape not represented in the relatively sparse Corinthian Early Geometric section in Coldstream's Greek Geometric Pottery. Since two early Protocorinthian pieces are included here (nos. 124, 125), it is surprising that three early Protocorinthian vessels illustrated in Coldstream (2008, pls. 20d, 21b, 21j) are not. To the brief bibliography for Corinthian Geometric excavated at home should be added articles by Pfaff ("A Geometric Well at Corinth: Well 1981–6," Hesperia 57 [1988] 21–80; "The Early Iron Age Pottery from the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Corinth," Hesperia 68 [1999] 55–134). The four Argive entries come from the Argive Heraion and Mycenae. The giant ovoid pyxis with loop feet, known by the iconic Argos C.209, is represented at both Mycenae and the Argive Heraion by fragments of a foot (no. 128) and a wall with wheel motif (no. 129). A large Middle Geometric krater fragment from the Argive Heraion seems to be an import from Asine (no. 131). The five Laconian entries are excavation material from the sanctuaries of Artemis Orthia and Athena Chalkioikos. Four of these are previously unpublished.

The five Boeotian works include two exceptional representatives of the region's exuberant figural tradition. The Late Geometric boar-hunt kantharos (no. 140) is renowned for showing one of only two wild boars depicted on Geometric pottery. The Boeotian love of wildlife of land, sea, and air on a Subgeometric pyxis with grazing stags, fish, dog(?), and birds (no. 139) recalls the similarly comprehensive Mistress of Animals on a Boeotian amphora in Athens. The 23 Euboean entries are all exports, three to Cyprus and the bulk to Al Mina, recovered in Woolley's excavations. An unusual krater rim from the Cesnola Workshop has birds in flight with oblique wingspreads (no. 147). An unpublished skyphos fragment is recorded without further detail as excavated at Amathus (no. 155). Two nonjoining Naxian skyphos fragments (no. 165) represent one of the earliest Greek pots from Al Mina. Significant Melian works include a large oinochoe with high foot (no. 167 ["a maladroit extragavanza"]) and three fenestrated stands attributed to the Rottiers Painter (nos. 176–78). Eleven Rhodian vessels highlight the continuing need for study of this important style and reveal the roots of its distinctive orientalizing fruition (nos. 188, 189). The three Carian vases from tomb groups at Assarlik seem well chosen to illustrate influences on the local style: an Atticizing Middle Geometric II amphora (no. 198), a Late Geometric Euboeanizing amphoriskos (no. 199), and a Middle Geometric jug with Koan parallels (no. 200).

Errata are few: an Attic skyphos influenced by the Birdseed Workshop (no. 91) should be number X.24 (68), not number X.28 in Greek Geometric Pottery. Some of the photographs are unhelpfully dark (e.g., pls. 16.27, 58.116, 77), but fine color photographs for most of the entries are available on the British Museum's online database. Sixteen line drawings include six profiles (a welcome trend among recent CVAs) and 10 figural details, although not the abduction krater's much-reproduced panels. Useful indices include workshops and painters; donors, collectors, and dealers; and findspots.

Unless other manuscripts are in press, this volume must be seen as the final word on Geometric pottery from one of its great authorities. As such, it adds more detail to the groundwork already laid by the author. CVAs are by design businesslike and formulaic, and this volume is fully up to the series' high standards. For the flavor of Coldstream's more piquant, subjective discussions—the "extraordinary helplessness" (208) of the shaggy Boeotian boars, the painter of a slack ship scene who "has either threw caution to the wind, or called in a colleague" (77), and "[i]t was left to the Painter of Athens 897 to reduce the metope system to a slovenly mass of toneless decoration" (74)—we will continue to turn to the inimitable Greek Geometric Pottery.

Susan Langdon
Department of Art History and Archaeology
University of Missouri
Columbia, Missouri 65211

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1154.Langdon

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