You are here

Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Germany 89. Berlin, Antikensammlung ehemals Antiquarium 12: Attisch Weissgrundige Lekythen

Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Germany 89. Berlin, Antikensammlung ehemals Antiquarium 12: Attisch Weissgrundige Lekythen

By Nina Zimmermann-Elseify (Union Académique Internationale). Pp. 76, figs. 10, pls. 48, Beilagen 11. C.H. Beck, Munich 2011. €98. ISBN 978-3-406-61493-4 (cloth).

Reviewed by

This exemplary CVA fascicle presents 37 Attic white-ground lekythoi formerly in East Berlin that rejoined their counterparts in the Antikensammlung in Charlottenburg after the reunification of Germany in 1990. For this publication, the vases were newly restored by Schilling and Zimmermann; Laurentius did the superb photography, and Denkinger prepared the excellent drawings (profiles, inscriptions, and figures).

White-ground lekythoi are an Athenian product of the fifth century B.C.E., and most of the known examples were found in Athens and its environs. Some painters specialized in decorating them, and among the more important artists represented in this fascicle are the Phiale Painter, the Bosanquet Painter, the Thanatos Painter, and the Woman Painter. Two are name pieces: F 2451 (pls. 30, 31) and F 2464 (pls. 32, 34.1). These rather small vases were traditional grave offerings, and occasionally artists depicted lekythoi placed on the steps of stelae, which surely reflects an actual practice. The white-ground lekythos is an exceptionally elegant vase with a calyx-shaped mouth, narrow neck, flat shoulder, and cylindrical body supported by a disk foot. Nearly all the subjects are funerary, focusing on the death of a loved one and the pain suffered by those left behind. The compositions often depict a grave stele with two or three figures standing quietly, sometimes with one sitting down or even resting a foot on the step of the monument. Grief, mourning, and sorrow are conveyed by stately postures, subtle gestures, and downward glances. To the untutored eye, these scenes may look much alike, but there is considerable variation in the size, shape, and decoration of the stelae that appear on the vases, the appearance of the figures and their dress, or the objects they carry. In some cases, it is not clear which figure is the deceased. On a rare occasion, the scene may not take place in the cemetery, but inside the home or in an adjoining open courtyard: for example, the prothesis on F 2684 (pls. 44, 45 [pl. 45 is upside down]). Occasionally, deities associated with death appear, with or without the deceased: for example, Demeter and Persephone (V.I. 3175 [pls. 9, 10.2]), Hades and Persephone (V.I. 3276 [pls. 12.2, 13]), Hypnos and Thanatos lifting the deceased to carry him away (F 2456 [fig. 6, pl. 26.5]), or Charon arriving in his boat to bring the dead person to Hades (F 2680 [fig. 9, pl. 41]). Two very late fifth-century lekythoi belong to the Group of the Huge Lekythoi (F 2684, F 2685 [pls. 44–7]), of which there are very few examples. When fully preserved, their height ranges from 68 to 110 cm, a size more often associated with amphoras and kraters. They have no bottoms, so they are not containers; but they may have been grave markers. The last two lekythoi in the fascicle are ancient only in shape and clay; the drawing is modern and looks it (V.I. 4982. 107, V.I. 4982.108 [pl. 48]).

Zimmermann-Elseify begins with an introduction that charts the history of the Berlin collection of white-ground lekythoi and publications. A brief discussion of the characteristics of the shape, its use, and development follows, as well as remarks about the iconography. The entry for each vase carefully follows the CVA format, and the descriptions are as full as one may hope for. First comes the essential information: accession number, provenance (when known), and numerous measurements followed by bibliography, beginning with the Beazley references and the rest listed chronologically. The condition of each vase is described in detail, including finger smudges left by the potter or painter and the subtle variations in the polychromy. A description of shape and ornament comes next, then very complete descriptions of the figural decoration with particular attention to unusual features such as the deceased sitting before the grave mound holding a wineskin and eating food (F 2246 [pl. 19.5]) or the woman with an Ethiopian maid (V.I. 3291 [pls. 23, 24.1]), just to cite two. Technical features of the drawing not easily observed in photographs, especially preliminary sketch, are noted, followed by the date and the name of the painter (if the vase is attributed). Abundant comparanda for painter, shape, and ornament, and especially for the figural representation and its interpretation, complete each entry.

There are seven indices: “Concordance of Inventory Numbers with Plates and Beilagen,” “Origin: Provenance,” “Origin: Collections and Purchases from Them,” “Measurements,” “Technical Features,” “Subjects,” “Inscriptions,” and “Potters, Painters and Workshops.” There are 11 Beilagen. Ten are profile drawings, most at a scale of 1:2; for the Group of the Huge Lekythoi, the scale is 1:3. Beilage 11 shows two lekythoi before the loss of some of the figural decoration, three small containers, each inserted into the top of a lekythos (the so-called false-bottom), and an ultraviolet photograph illustrates very clearly the shading on the face of a woman on F 2683 (not visible on pl. 42.4). Similar shading occurs on a seated youth (F 2685 [pl. 46.6]) and is probably the influence of wall painting.

White-ground and polychrome decoration are fragile materials that often do not survive very well, but today, digital color photography, X-rays, and spectrographic analysis help to recapture their original appearance. The plates illustrate the advantage of these new techniques, which set a high standard for photographic authenticity and precision (see also the plates in CVA Munich 15, published in 2010 and the first fascicle to present every lekythos in color). The illustrations in this volume are so good, it is almost as if the vase is on the table in front of the viewer instead of thousands of miles away. It is to be hoped that color digital photography becomes the new norm for future CVA fascicles.

Mary B. Moore
Hunter College of the City University of New York
New York, New York 10021

Book Review of Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Germany 89. Berlin, Antikensammlung ehemals Antiquarium 12: Attisch Weissgrundige Lekythen, by Nina Zimmermann-Elseify

Reviewed by Mary B. Moore

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 116, No. 2 (April 2012)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1162.Moore

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.