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Artists and Artistic Production in Ancient Greece

April 2018 (122.2)

Book Review

Artists and Artistic Production in Ancient Greece

Edited by Kristen Seaman and Peter Schultz. Pp. xvi + 242, figs. 69, tables 4, map 1. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2017. $99.99. ISBN 978-1-107-07-07446-0 (cloth).

Reviewed by

This delightful, well-conceived volume examines the nature and role of ancient Greek artists and architects in a variety and range of media. Chapter 1, by the lead author, Seaman, sets the stage by looking at how ancient Greek artists were perceived in the past and the methodologies used to define them, from Kopienkritik and Morellian techniques to postmodern skepticism. A useful review of the Greek terms for an artist is followed by an overview of the book’s contents.

Seaman’s second chapter decisively demonstrates that Greek artists and architects were not poor, uneducated workmen who did not understand what art is, but rather they were often wealthy, educated craftsmen from well-to-do families; some of them were teachers and authors, and some even earned civic honors and sponsorships. Seaman provides an excellent overview of the literary sources, citing several important passages, including parts of Lucian’s The Dream, with its exchange between personifications of sculpture and education, and Pliny’s (HN 35.76–7) comments on the artist Pamphilos.

The next two chapters logically feature vase painters and sculptors, representing the two media in which artists are most often identifiable. Neils’ essay focuses on two Attic red-figure vase painters, Euthymides and his colleague Phintias. The former we know from inscriptions on his vases was both a painter and a potter, and his father was probably Pollias the sculptor. Neils makes several good observations about the characteristics of Euthymides’ images, such as his proclivity for showing wine being poured to the sound of the flute and his juxtaposition of mythological scenes with those of genre. Her citations, though, could have been fuller in places.

In his chapter, Stewart identifies Kritios and Nesiotes as the first Greek sculptors “to emerge as artistic personalities in their own right” (37), and he makes a very plausible argument that they along with the shadowy Hegias invented and pioneered the “Severe Style.” Very useful is Stewart’s catalogue of the known works of Kritios and Nesiotes and his analysis of their works. Among many erudite observations, he notes that two archaic mannerisms still exist in some of the copies of the Tyrannicides Group, thereby supporting his argument. A new book on this group has just appeared: V. Azoulay, The Tyrant-Slayers of Ancient Athens: A Tale of Two Statues, translated by J. Lloyd (Oxford 2017).

Chapter 5 features mosaics, and for these the creators are rarely known. Martin collects the few that we do know from the Hellenistic East and analyzes them thoroughly. Perhaps her most important contributions are the realization that mosaics are not easily attributed to individual artists’ hands and that those attributed are minuscule in number compared with what we have in vase painting and sculpture. The signatures of mosaicists that we do have suggest these artists were very mobile, including one who moved to Palestine and worked at Tel Anafa, Tel Dor, and Jericho.

Coins are the focal point of Pafford’s essay (ch. 6). Most of the discussion has little to do with the artists—the die engravers—per se and more to do with compositions of the figures on the coins. In fact, the first two-thirds of her text focus on the two main types of compositions—open and closed borders—and their possible meanings. Most of her essay is speculative, and one can question if it really belongs in this book. One misses in her text mention of the famous die engravers of Sicilian coins, such as Kimon, Eukleidas, Euainetos, and Eumenes.

Miles (ch. 7) tackles the problem of identifying the hands of architects, mainly those who designed and built unsigned monumental temples. She notes that we know very few religious buildings that are signed, and she provides the reader with an excellent table listing those known from the Archaic and Classical periods, some 27 names. Most of her contribution, however, focuses on the so-called Theseum Architect, a creation of William Bell Dinsmoor, who assigned to a nameless architect on the basis of shared architectural features four Attic temples of the Classical period: the Hephaisteion and the Temple of Ares, both in the Agora; the Temple of Zeus at Sounion; and the Temple of Nemesis at Rhamous. The eight specific characteristics Dinsmoor saw as typical of the architect are all problematic, as Miles demonstrates, and she rightly concludes that there was no Theseum Architect.

Palagia’s contribution (ch. 8) focuses on one fourth-century B.C.E. artistic personality, who was both a sculptor of marble and bronze and a painter: Euphranor. Nineteenth-century scholarship, as she points out, employed primarily literary sources and Roman copies of Greek originals in attempting to reconstruct Greek artists’ careers, while more recently, thanks to the number of Greek originals discovered in the 20th century, a better idea of artists’ styles and the works associated with them and their contemporaries has been obtained. Among many astute observations that Palagia makes, one of particularly great importance is that the Piraeus Athena most likely is an original from the second half of the fourth century and not a Roman copy as some have thought.

Another fourth-century Attic sculptor, Kephisodotos the Younger, son of Praxiteles, is the subject of chapter 9. Among several interesting observations Schultz makes here is that the political turmoil before and after the Macedonian occupation of Athens had virtually no effect on the sculptor’s professional activity—the opposite of what one would think the case to be. Business went on as usual in his workshop, come peace or war.

Chapter 10, by Bolmarcich and Muskett, is one of the best in the volume, with its study of the more than 1,000 craftsmen’s signatures on Attic painted vases of the Archaic period. These signatures first appeared in the first quarter of the sixth century B.C.E., and their number peaked in the third quarter. By the last quarter of the fifth century they had virtually disappeared. Some workshops produced signed vases, others did not, and sometimes the inscriptions were integrated into the decoration, and at others times not. Among several good, plausible suggestions the authors make is that the large number of signed vases showing a symposium might be interpreted as celebrating the owner’s success at having risen to an elite level.

The final contribution is Hurwit’s response. In the first half of his essay, he presents an excellent study of not only Greek artists and architects who signed their works (the subject of one of his books, Artists and Signatures in Ancient Greece [Cambridge 2015]) but also Roman, Etruscan, Egyptian, Near Eastern, and Mesopotamian ones, thereby providing a pan-Mediterranean and Near Eastern view. In the second half of his chapter, Hurwit reflects on broad issues raised by the other chapters in this book, including the audience for these works, the personalities of the artists, their originality or lack thereof, and the role of several contemporary “historical, economic and cultural forces” (197).

Besides my reservations about chapter 6, the only other negative element I might point out is the lack of any color images, which would have enhanced several of the essays—to cite one specific example, the mosaics from Tel Anafa (figs. 5.7, 5.8) in chapter 5. In short, this is a very good book.

John H. Oakley
The College of William and Mary in Virginia

Book Review of Artists and Artistic Production in Ancient Greece, edited by Kristen Seaman and Peter Schultz

Reviewed by John H. Oakley

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 122, No. 2 (April 2018)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1222.oakley

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