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Les potiers d’Étrurie et leur monde: Contacts, échanges, transferts. Hommages à Mario A. Del Chiaro

Les potiers d’Étrurie et leur monde: Contacts, échanges, transferts. Hommages à Mario A. Del Chiaro

Edited by Laura Ambrosini and Vincent Jolivet. Pp. 488, figs. 117, color pls. 8. Armand Colin Editeur, Paris 2014. €40. ISBN 978-2-200-28769-6 (paper).

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Mario A. Del Chiaro, former professor at the University of San Francisco and the University of California, Santa Barbara, is one of the best-known connoisseurs of Etruscan vases. After World War II, he studied art history at the University of California, Berkeley, as a student of Darrel Amyx, where he met Arthur Dale Trendall and Sir John Beazley. His career as a classical scholar began after the mid 1950s with the publication of his first monograph: The Genucilia Group: A Class of Etruscan Red-Figured Plates (Berkeley 1957). Thereafter, he played a very active role in the foundation of  Etruscology in the United States, directed numerous excavations in central Italy, and published a large number of articles focused on the craftsmanship and artistic production of the Etruscan world, from its origins up to Roman times. His publications represent classic works in the field of Etruscan figured ceramics. This collective book thus celebrates the important work of a pioneer of Etruscology, recognized by a foreign membership in the prestigious Istituto Nazionale di Studi Etruschi ed Italici.

After an introduction dedicated to the biography and bibliography of Del Chiaro, this book is organized, in a simple but effective way, in four chronological parts: “The Orientalizing Period: Around the Banquet and the Symposion”; “The Archaic Period: The Etruscans in the Conquest of Markets”; “The Classical Period: Craftsmen and Partners”; and “The Hellenistic Period: Towards Mass Production.” An interesting conclusion provides a synthesis of the various articles. The parts are not balanced; part 3 contains only four articles, which are significantly less important than the others. At the end of each article, the small illustrations are in black and white. There is fortunately a limited collection of eight color plates, curiously arranged in the middle of one article. All the texts, including those written by English and American authors, are translated into French (with an abstract in French, but not in English), a curious choice in our field and for a tribute to an American researcher. Since it is impossible to discuss the 32 articles in detail, this review will necessarily focus on several, with a critical presentation of the main issues.

The problematic fact that too many Etruscan vases are divested of their archaeological contexts is underlined in numerous studies in this book (e.g., Micozzi) and in the conclusion. De Puma and Brownlee write about a funeral assemblage that arrived in the United States at the end of the 19th century. At the time, the Field Museum of Chicago bought numerous Etruscan objects from the excavations in Vulci, but 28 never arrived at their destination. The missing objects arrived, in fact, at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Archival work allows De Puma and Brownlee to reconstitute the tomb Vulci B, with Corinthian, Etruscocorinthian, and Bucchero vases, and iron and bronze objects, which testify to the role of Vulci within the cultural and economic exchanges between Greece and Etruria. The study of another group of Etruscan vases at the University of Pennsylvania Museum allows Turfa to investigate a specific category of Etrusco-Corinthian ceramics in its connections with the Phoenician and Cypriot cultural practices (“From Vulci to Cyprus and Beyond: Journeys of the Etruscocorinthian Cycle of Codros”). Studying the Mediterranean distribution of the cycle of Codros and the origin and function (to crush exotic spices for the wine) of the tripod bowl, the author postulates the adoption of the Near Eastern ceremony of marzeah (the business connections were commemorated and made sacred by this ceremony) by the Etruscans of Vulci. While Turfa’s general hypothesis is well supported, this reviewer is more cautious about the final conclusion finding the presence of an “Etruscan businesswoman” in a group participating at the marzeah.

The study of Etruscan vases in their funeral contexts allows Bartoloni, Acconcia, and Kortenaar (“The Wine Service in Southern Etruria in the Orientalizing Period”) to determine various functional categories of metal and ceramic vases corresponding to the different moments of the symposium. Certain forms can be connected to various functions, for instance the kyathos, which was suitable not only to drink wine but also to present the mixed wine (for those of bigger size). The same proposition is made by Camporeale (“Metallic Kantharoi and Impasto Kantharoi: Models and/or Retorts”) about a specific category of kantharoi produced in Vetulonia and its territory in the seventh century. Considering that certain vases have a considerable capacity of several liters, he proposes they were used for mixed wine in collective ceremonies. Boitani, Biagi, and Neri present another category of vases (“Etrusco-Geometric Table Amphoras of the Orientalizing Period”) that they connect to a precise function: “their role within the framework of the banquet was probably to contain respectively the water and the wine that were mixed in the olla-krater, where the mixed wine was poured into the oinochoe and distributed between the various participants” (70). The three quoted articles (in addition to an article on “white-on-red” impasto ceramics, dedicated to food storage and to the banquet) raise the essential question of the function(s) of various categories of vases, with different contents (solid, semi-liquid, liquid like undiluted wine, mixed wine, water, oil). We need to stress here that the various proposed hypotheses can be confirmed only through scientific analyses, which has become widespread for documenting the organic contents of vases.

For a more recent period, Torelli (“Genucilia: Epigraphy and Function, Some Considerations”) reviews our knowledge of the Genucilia dishes. Unlike for the Orientalizing and Archaic periods, we have epigraphic data that give information on the function of this category of Hellenistic ceramics. Discovered in graves, sanctuaries, and housing environments, these particular dishes were intended for food offerings in public and private rite celebrations.

Beyond the consideration of function, there is also the question of the status of the vases during Etruscan banquets. The images that decorate them help us to understand the semantic value of the banquet utensils. Harari (“The Strategies of Aristonothos: Drink to the Greek Way in Etruria: New Considerations”) presents the famous Caeretan krater in the context of the evolution of the banquet in Etruria from the end of the Iron Age until the Orientalizing period; the period of the vase (ca. 650 B.C.E.) represents a fundamental turning point in that context. Studying the vase in its historic context, the author argues for the metaphoric value of the combination of the images on both faces of the vase: the dangers of wine (Ulysses and the Cyclops) and those of the sea (attack of a merchant ship by the pirates) are mastered by the Greeks, but also by the Etruscans via a process of cultural identification. Another interesting article, by Rasmussen (“‘Leg-in-mouth’: An Orientalizing Motif”), presents an original motif that was characteristic of Orientalizing Etruria: a human leg in the mouth of a feline. After studying the development of the Oriental and Greek origins of this iconography, the author explains its success in central Italy as the representation of a popular mythological theme that glorified the mortal power of the man-eater predators within a funeral context. Scheiffer (“Painters of Etruscan Black-Figured Vases: Places of Discovery, Shapes and Iconography”) asks the question: “The themes chosen to decorate these vases are particularly difficult to explain: why could animal parades, dancing or running men be significant for a dead man or his family?” (229). Martelli, in her article on the Micali Painter (Micalania), provides a good answer to this question. She rejects the traditional funerary interpretations of the iconography and calls for a complete reexamination of the black-figured vases in search of a reinterpretation of their iconographic themes. For the Classical period, Gilotta (“The Classic and the ‘Commandite’ in the Etruscan Figurative Ceramic at the Turn of the Vth–IVth Century: Some Aspects of the Question”) refutes the mythological and funerary interpretations of the images of the Etruscan figured vases in the decades at the end of the fifth and beginning of the fourth century B.C.E. The repetitive scenes of young men with lances, bludgeons, and strigils in front of seated characters (men or women) represent a coherent iconographic system with civic, moral, and religious dimensions. The exemplary values conveyed by the images, with athletic, ritual, and bridal connotations, were made for an upper- and middle-class public, which adopts the Attic cultural models. For the Hellenistic period, Torelli (discussed above) and Ambrosini (“Look at the Somewhere Else: Non-Native Influences, Minimalist Trends and Trompe-l’Oeil on Genucilia Dishes”) present two complementary articles that allow understanding of the iconographic system of these dishes decorated in particular with feminine profiles and with stars. These dishes were not dedicated to a specific divinity, and the motive of a feminine head had only a limited semantic value, marking the presence of a generic religious aura. The substitution of feminine heads by star motives corresponds to the standardization that characterizes Etruscan production in the middle of the fourth century B.C.E. The exception of a dish with an eye representation is explained well by Ambrosini, who emphasizes an original visual device (image in the image, an eye seen in the interior of a kylix, which is painted in the interior of the dish). Far from this iconographic standardization, the famous Etruscan red-figured skyphos of Boston is studied by Massa-Pairault (“The Skyphos 97.372 of Boston: Historic Scenes and A Story of the IVth Century”), who takes over an interpretation presented by Del Chiaro. The scenes of the two faces would be direct references to the king Servius Tullius, with his murder on the first, and his heroic worship on the second. Based on iconographic comparisons and on recent archaeological discoveries on the Esquiline area, this attractive hypothesis raises numerous questions about the cultural relations between Rome and Etruria.

We can thank Jolivet and Ambrosini for this beautiful homage to Del Chiaro. This collective book will be indispensable not only for the specialists of Etruscan ceramics but also for all those who are interested in Etruscan civilization.

Dominique Frère
University of Southern Brittany, CNRS, UMR 8546 (AOROC)

Book Review of Les potiers d’Étrurie et leur monde: Contacts, échanges, transferts. Hommages à Mario A. Del Chiaro, edited by Laura Ambrosini and Vincent Jolivet

Reviewed by Dominique Frère

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 120, No. 4 (October 2016)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1204.Frere

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