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Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Germany 94. Berlin 14: Attisch schwarzfigurige Amphoren

Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Germany 94. Berlin 14: Attisch schwarzfigurige Amphoren

By Heidi Mommsen. Pp. 138, b&w pls. 56, color pls. 4, Beilagen 27. C.H. Beck, Munich 2013. €98. ISBN 978-3-406-65335-3 (cloth).

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The CVA flourishes in Berlin, and the present volume is the fifth to have been published in as many years. It includes some of the best-known vases in the Antikensammlung, and its author is uniquely well placed to publish them. Amid her extensive bibliography, Mommsen has written two earlier Berlin CVAs (Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Germany 45. Berlin 5: Antikenmuseum ehemals Antiquarium [Munich 1980]; Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Germany 61. Berlin 7: Berlin, Antikenmuseum ehemals Antiquarium [Munich 1991]) and monographs on both the Affecter (Der Affecter [Mainz 1975]) and Exekias (Exekias [Mainz 1997]). The documentation of the vases presented here is thus the fruit of long experience, close study, and considered reflection, and users of this volume are considerably in Mommsen’s debt.

The 49 entries consist of the black-figure amphoras and neck amphoras that were held in the Pergamon Museum prior to German reunification. Numbered among them are 14 vases lost following World War II (F1671, with its enthusiastically masturbating satyr, has been located in Moscow). Mommsen not only assembles the extant documentation and illustrations but also provides commentaries that are scarcely less comprehensive than those for the amphoras that survive. Given the history of the collection, the combination of extant and lost vases renders this a substantial volume, and in the interests of space, small neck amphoras, Panathenaics and pseudo-Panathenaics, amphora fragments from Carinhall, as well as some additional casualties of the war, have been held over for a future CVA. Some of the choices for image selection (e.g., side A of the Tyrrhenian amphora F1707 only appears as a series of detail views) may have been made in the interest of space. The otherwise excellent black-and-white illustrations by Laurentius are printed with a slightly greenish hue, at least in the review copy, and the handful of color plates appear a little oversaturated.

Most of the vases are recorded as coming from Etruria. Vulci is the most commonly occurring findspot, and “Gerhard erworben” recurs with Homeric regularity. Two similar neck amphoras, F1713 and F1714, were found together at Cerveteri, and not only were they produced by the same potter and painter but they even have the same graffito underfoot. A small belly amphora (V.I. 3140,202) from Polis tis Chrysochou (Marion-Arsinoë) on Cyprus is one of only two vases with a given findspot outside Italy or Sicily. The other is F1683, from Athens. This amphora is now lost and without any surviving photographs, but it is the earliest of the vases catalogued here and was attributed to Sophilos. The volume includes the work of many well-known Athenian black-figure hands (e.g., Lydos, Exekias, Amasis, the Antimenes and Swing Painters, the Affecter), as well as the name vases of the Painter of Berlin 1686 and the Acheloos Painter, and even a rare non-Panathenaic outing in black-figure by the Kleophrades Painter (1993.214). The author’s extensive discussions of style and technique are especially valuable (F1715 provides the opportunity to note additions to her monograph on the Affecter [Mommsen 1975]), and she pays particularly close attention to technical details. The neck amphora on which Exekias signs as both potter and painter (F1720) warrants particular attention, and Mommsen notes a 2 mm strip with which the areas of black were first outlined, traces of sketch lines for the horses’ heads, and a dilute line on side B that served as a groundline above the band of lotus pattern. At the other extreme, painterly forgetfulness and slipups are also noted, such as on F1835, where the zone under the handles has been painted, perhaps to gloss over a mistake. Besides the comparanda cited by Mommsen here, see also the probable figure of Eros, painted over on a red-figure hydria in the J. Paul Getty Museum (76.AE.44.2; discussed in K. Hamma, “Two New Representations of Helen and Menelaos,” GettyMusJ 11 [1983] 124). Mommsen attributes a handful of vases that have not been assigned, offers alternatives (e.g., for F1848, not the Medea Group [as attributed by von Bothmer] but closer to the Three Line Group), or is content to leave such matters open. For F1713 and F1714, attributed by Beazley to the same—but unnamed—painter, Mommsen adds simply that two other amphoras recently assigned to the Botkin Class and an oinochoe are by this hand. Mommsen's discussion of F1713 and F1714 typifies the equal attention she pays throughout to potter work—notably, the author did the profile drawings for the extant vases—and her entries should serve as a go-to reference for scholars working on, for example, the broad-shouldered neck amphoras of Group E (e.g., F1716) or the Bellerophon Class (e.g., F1671).

Mommsen also illustrates and catalogues eight lids. Drawing on her previous work on the Affecter, whose lids are readily identifiable, the author stresses that it is often impossible to associate them with their original vessels, and the modern history of the vases usually complicates things further. There is, however, the curious case of F1860a–b, where a terracotta lid painted by the Affecter (not original to F1860, which is attributed to the Leagros Group) was adapted in antiquity to fit above an alabaster lid.

As with the discussions of potters and painters, the sections dealing with iconography are extensively documented and carefully argued. Where the evidence supports it, Mommsen is willing to propose interpretations or identifications, but if not, she cites the range of opinions found in the literature and moves on. Bibliographies are up-to-date and often lengthy, although Beazley Archive database numbers are not given. The vases can, of course, easily be sought using their inventory numbers, and the database sometimes provides illustrations that predate their recent conservation treatment. Additionally, it offers links to Immerwahr’s corpus of Attic vase inscriptions, which is helpful, as “nonsense” inscriptions are not always transcribed here.

Departing warriors and heroic deeds occur frequently, with Herakles especially prevalent on the neck amphoras, appearing with the Nemean Lion, Amazons, Acheloos, Nessos, the Erymanthian boar, and also as a kitharist. A number of scenes are rather more unusual, and since Mommsen provides extensive discussion, it is sufficient to note several of the more interesting ones here. Among the mythical scenes, pride of place may go to Lydos’ Ilioupersis (F1685), a “herausragendes Meisterwerk” (22), and the author stresses the painter’s innovations with visual narrative. There is also one of Exekias’ imposing depictions of Ajax carrying Achilles’ corpse (F1718, now lost); the rape of Kassandra on a prototype Type A amphora, with numerous inscriptions, just possibly by Exekias (F1698); the violent murder of Eriphyle at an altar, with a fearsome snake springing up as blood spurts from the corpse (V.I. 4841); and a dragging of Hektor that not only omits Hektor (not unparalleled) but has Achilles running in the opposite direction (F1867). Other scenes take us closer to the experiences of contemporary Athenian life: the olive harvesters (F1855), the earliest depiction of a chorus with animals (F1697), and two representations of sacrifice (on F1690, Mommsen observes that a piglet is perhaps for Demeter, not Dionysos, as has often been supposed, for the twigs the men carry and wear are myrtle; and a bovine for Athena, accompanied by musicians [F1686]). Other scenes remain rather enigmatic, such as the “dämon” running between panther-headed cockerels (F1707).

All the vases have been cleaned and many newly conserved. This is best evidenced by the first entry (F1684), where the dripping flecks of semen from the pipe-player’s erection and the butterfly fluttering below have now been removed, leaving only the smudge that inspired this 19th-century restoration. Notably, the amphora was owned by the Bohemian collector Franz von Koller, and one might suspect here the hand of Raffaele Gargiulo, the notorious Neapolitan restorer who played both a key role in the formation of Koller’s collection and drew up an inventory of it prior to its acquisition by the Prussian king (see U. Kästner, “Vasenrestaurierungen von Raffaele Gargiulo in der Berliner Antikensammlung,” Technè 32 [2010] 38–46).

In a brief review, one can only offer a snapshot of the numerous points of interest, and there is much more to glean from this densely packed and meticulous publication. Mommsen is an exemplary guide and guardian, and these vases have received the publication they deserve.

David Saunders
J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, California 90049

Book Review of Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Germany 94. Berlin 14: Attisch schwarzfigurige Amphoren, by Heidi Mommsen

Reviewed by David Saunders

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 4 (October 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1184.Saunders

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