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Vasenbilder im Kulturtransfer: Zirkulation und Rezeption griechischer Keramik im Mittelmeerraum

Vasenbilder im Kulturtransfer: Zirkulation und Rezeption griechischer Keramik im Mittelmeerraum

Edited by Stefan Schmidt and Adrian Stähle (CVA Beiheft 5). Pp. 186, figs. 158, tables 2. C.H. Beck, Munich 2012. €59.90. ISBN 978-3-406-62567-1 (cloth).

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This volume, already the fifth conference proceedings to appear since 2002 from the German branch of the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, grew out of a lively discussion at the previous conference in the spring of 2008. That event, dedicated to the hermeneutics of interpreting the imagery of Greek vases (S. Schmidt and J.H. Oakley, eds., Hermeneutik der Bilder: Beiträge zur Ikonographie und Interpretation griechischer Vasenmalerei [Munich 2009]; for a review of the book, see R. Osborne, AJA 115 [2011], was largely devoted to analyzing Athenian imagery in its Athenian cultural context. But the concluding discussion quickly devolved into something else, as speaker after speaker pointed out that such Athenocentrism ignores the well-attested fact that a great majority of Attic vases ended up far from Attica—not only in Etruscan tombs but also throughout the Mediterranean. What can we say about the response of these end consumers to imported Attic (or other Greek) vases? Given the wealth of new material or new studies of earlier excavated material from the fringes of the Mediterranean, the organizers of the present conference thought the time was right to survey current approaches to this central question in Greek vase studies on the part of scholars with access to material from as wide a range of geographical areas as possible.

In terms of the geographical spread, and moving outward from the Athenian homeland, there is a pair of papers on Attic potters in Boeotia (Sabetai, Schöne-Denkinger); imports of Attic and Corinthian in northern Greece (Manakidou); imports to Europe north of the Alps (Schweitzer); and two papers on Late Classical Attic red-figure from the Black Sea area and southern Russia, including what is often known as “Kerch Style” (Petrakova, Jaeggi). Not surprisingly, there is still much to debate about the reception of Attic vases in Etruria, and four papers deal with this (Iozzo, Wehgartner, Puritani, Massa-Pairault, as well as, glancingly, Osborne in his conclusion to the volume). The rest of Italy is represented by papers on South Italian (Mannack) and Attic vases from Sicily (Neils). Broader, statistically based studies that chart distribution of Attic vases over wide areas are offered by Langner and the team of Giudice, Scicolone, and Tata.

I note a few contributions that struck me as either presenting interesting, little-known material or fresh insights on familiar pieces. Iozzo studies a group of Attic red-figure skyphoi found at Chiusi from the workshop of the Penelope Painter. The famous name vase, still in Chiusi, has the unique scene of Telemachos standing before the mourning Penelope at her loom on one side (Chiusi, Chiusi Museum, inv. no. 62.705 [ARV² 1300, no. 2]) and is now known to be from a sanctuary and not a tomb. What strikes Iozzo is the rarity of Telemachos in Attic art and his poor fit as a role model for Athenian ephebes. Instead, he finds evidence for Telemachos as the ktistes of Etruscan Cleusie (Chiusi) and signs of the further genealogical significance of Odysseus’ offspring in Etruria and on into Rome. On this basis, Iozzo imagines a learned Chiusine client who bought the skyphos for dedication to a local divinity.

In a related case, where we have sufficient local Etruscan traditions and imagery to draw comparisons with related scenes on imported Attic vases, Puritani studies the figure of the Amazon. She persuasively shows how Amazons are more positively valued in Etruria by the Late Classical period, while the political associations of Theseus’ victory over the Amazons would have had little resonance in central Italy.

This is the challenge to the approach of Massa-Peirault, who would like to see a “force dialectique” between Athens and Etruria affecting the reading of virtually all the subjects of Attic imports. What to make of the heroes of primarily local interest in Athens (Theseus, Erichthonios) whose imagery on Attic vases turns up in Etruria in greater numbers than anywhere else? Thus, Theseus is interpreted as the representative of an aristocratic genos in the polis, and Erichthonios as a model of the divine child. Such associations are a little too general to persuade this reviewer, though admittedly we need to pose the question, as Langner does in his title, “Kam es auf die Bilder an?” (35), or did the buyers purchase only the shapes, with images considered merely exotica? As Wehgartner (66) aptly puts it, the “Hellenization” of Etruria, hence the Kulturtransfer, would have taken place well before the earliest Attic vases reached the region. Along with this hypothesis, she remains, of all the speakers, most firmly in the camp of those who maintain that Attic potters and painters chose a broad range of themes that were widely marketable to the Etruscans without necessarily including any specifically for the Etruscans except in the area of shapes.

Although the import of Attic figured pottery to its nearest neighbor, Boeotia, is sparse, two contributors are able to illustrate an astonishingly rich selection of little-known material: Sabetai, mainly from excavations in the region, and Schöne-Denkinger, from the rich holdings in Berlin now being prepared for a CVA fascicle. In the latter case, this is largely locally produced Boeotian ware from the Kabeirion imitating or adapting motifs from Attic red-figure (esp. in the Dionysian sphere). Sabetai concentrates on the shared history and social values of Attica and Boeotia (gender roles, wedding imagery) that emerge from a comparison of Attic imports and local production.

The pair of papers on Kerch vases has grown out of a joint project, in which Petrakova restudies the vases from the kurgan complexes that covered ancient Pantikapaion, while Jaeggi examines finds from graves in the necropolis near the city. Petrakova’s include some of the finest and best-known examples of Attic red-figure and relief vases from the late fifth–later fourth century B.C.E., and she concludes that the clients did prize them for their decorative, aesthetic, and iconographic value, treating them as precious as the gold objects buried with them. The mass-produced vases with Amazons, griffins, and Arimasps are mostly not found here, but rather in Jaeggi’s city graves. But he challenges the conventional view of Attic workshops churning out such scenes for a “barbarian” clientele. Instead, he sees the recipients in this Bosphoran region culturally as fully Greek, so that the notion of Kulturtransfer does not apply.

Osborne’s valedictory paper (“Polysemy and Its Limits”) primarily refights older battles against Lissarrague and La cité des images (Paris 1984), with a nod to the theoretical framework of Roland Bathes, on broader questions in the interpretation of Greek vase imagery. This paper would have fit better in the previous volume in the series, in which Lissarrague did offer an overview of his methodology. We may wonder if Osborne’s (perhaps Freudian) misquotation of Beazley’s two great handbooks as “Attic Black Figure Vase Painting” and “Attic Red Figure Vase Painting” signifies a postmodern view of the “death of the artist.” But most of the contributors here do still take seriously the key role of the individual potter, painter, and workshop in the choice of shapes and images that traveled abroad. Neils, for example, on the basis of a fragmentary skyphos and calyx krater found at Morgantina, is able to reassess the career of a key Early Classical artist, the Dokimasia Painter.

What is new in this book is a greater emphasis on two further considerations. One is the workings of trade and the long-distance market in Attic vases, aided by statistical studies such as those of Langner, Giudice, and Jaeggi. The second is a more intensive engagement with the nature of the indigenous and/or colonial peoples who were importing Greek vases, as it can be inferred from the archaeological record, in order to better define the elusive term Kulturtransfer.

H.A. Shapiro
Department of Classics
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland 21218

Book Review of Vasenbilder im Kulturtransfer: Zirkulation und Rezeption griechischer Keramik im Mittelmeerraum, edited by Stefan Schmidt and Adrian Stähle

Reviewed by H.A. Shapiro

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 117, No. 2 (April 2013)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1172.Shapiro

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