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The Regional Production of Red-Figure Pottery: Greece, Magna Graecia and Etruria

April 2020 (124.2)

Book Review

The Regional Production of Red-Figure Pottery: Greece, Magna Graecia and Etruria

Edited by Stine Schierup and Victoria Sabetai (Gösta Enbom Monographs 4). Aarhus: Aarhus University Press 2014. Pp. 358. $56. ISBN 978-87-7124-393-2 (cloth).

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The book under review, the acts of a conference held at the Danish Institute at Athens in October 2014, is a landmark in the field of the study of non-Αttic red-figure pottery: for the first time, scholars from three different subdisciplines (Greek, South Italian, and Etruscan pottery) present the results of their respective research in a single volume.

A number of contributions deal with unpublished (e.g., papers on Boeotia, Ambracia, and Megara Hyblaea) or poorly known material (the Pella and Himera workshops), while others offer a state-of-the-art study of a regional (Corinthian, Euboean, Laconian, Sicilian, Locrian, and Apulian) workshop or a focus on particular aspects of a single workshop (Lucanian and Etruscan). As a result, the volume is slightly unbalanced, a fact also reflected by what is not included. The more significant omissions relate to Italian production (Paestan, Campanian, Faliscan, and Alto-Adriatic), but there are also important gaps in the production of mainland Greece (Chalcidian and Elean). Of course, it would be impossible to encompass all regional schools of red-figure wares in a single conference volume, and the present book is not intended to be a handbook, but rather a reflection of the current state of the topic.

Sabetai aims at recovering an iconographic pattern of celebrating the passage from adolescence to adulthood in the iconography of three red-figured bell kraters by a single painter (for whom the clumsy name “The Oblique Sprig Painter” is coined), unearthed from Tomb 491 in Akraiphia. Taken as a group, these images offer a panorama of cultic, Dionysiac, and athletic iconography, as “visual manifestations of values imbuing the polis culture of the fifth century” (16); dating is established as ca. 440–425 BCE. Kyriaki Kalliga’s careful study deals with the pottery finds associated with a pyre at Haliartos. The assemblage contained a large number of Atticizing black-figure in the Haemonian tradition and a kantharos by the Argos Painter showing a youth leading a horse on each side. The abundant Haemonian cup-skyphoi and cups (both Attic and Boeotian) from this assemblage might have been produced down to the end of the third quarter of the fifth century. However, a date after 450 for the undisputedly Attic palmette-lekythos (54, fig. 15) from the same tomb, raises questions that are not answered in the text. Alexandra Zampiti studies the kalathos pyxis, a peculiar Boeotian shape of the last third of the fifth century, whose ancestry is found in the late sixth century BCE. The shape, featuring a low ring base or a conical foot and an outcurving lip, is a Boeotian invention, deriving from an earlier type of handleless bowl, which has an offset lip and a ring or flat base, but is larger and broader than the pyxis. The shape is found in Boeotian and Euboean production, and more examples from the Leibethrian Cave and Akraiphia are published here. The section on Boeotian red-figure closes with a contribution by Christina Avronidaki, presenting a remarkable pyxis by the Painter of the Great Athenian Kantharos in a private collection. The iconography is both rich and unusual (a harp player in front of a girl seated on a rock; a group of maidens playing a ball game; women gazing at their reflection in a mirror; a girl at a basin).

The Corinthian pottery workshop is the subject of the paper by Ian McPhee, who provides a dense and rather definitive overview, considering aspects of technique, subject matter, style, repertory of shapes, and distribution. Kristine Gex discusses two Euboean workshops. An earlier workshop belongs to the 430s BCE and specialized in the production of red-figured and white-ground lekythoi, while the second workshop, tentatively placed in Chalkis, displays a variety of shapes (lebes gamikos, lidded bowl, kylix, skyphos). Jutta Strosczeck offers an overview of Laconian red-figure production focusing on three groups belonging to three distinctive assemblages (a house at Vourvoura in Kynouria, the British excavations in Sparta, and the burial of the Lacaedemonians who died in Athens in 403 BC in the Kerameikos). A recent excavation at Oresteion near Megalopolis in Arcadia (ArchDelt  2010, 660–65) yielded a number of important Laconian vases; of particular interest is a pelike showing an owl, which is very close to an example from Vourvoura (151, fig. 11a, b).

Anthi Aggeli presents an overview of the Ambracian red-figure workshop, which was active during the first half of the fourth century BCE and produced pelikai, small amphorae, lebetes gamikoi, skyphoi, and lekanides. The iconography belongs to the female sphere, and the style is coarse but powerful, with noted emphasis on pattern and floral work. Nikos Akamatis’ study summarizes his recent publications examining the workshop of Pella. Shapes (lekanides, askoi, and pelikai) and iconography are heavily Atticizing, with particular emphasis on female subjects. The author believes that the clients of the local workshop were mainly the women of Pella, while the men were using Attic imports, which accounted for 71% of the total number of red-figured vases found at the site (188).

The section on South Italian pottery opens with Schierup’s important contribution to the study of early Lucanian pottery, which takes as a point of departure the context and provenance of all early Lucanian vases known (cf. the list in pp. 209–16). She defines four major markets of early Lucanian pottery: Metaponto where the workshop was situated, its hinterland, and southern and central Apulia. In the home market, the range of shapes placed in tombs is varied and supplants earlier Attic imports. In all three other areas, larger shapes are used, and the distribution patterns closely follow trends already established in previous periods for Attic imports. E.G.D. Robinson’s contribution, perhaps the best piece of scholarship in this book, focuses on early Apulian, presenting cogent arguments for localizing the beginning of the production in Taranto itself, the largest site within this area in the mid fifth century BCE. Robinson shows that, from an early stage on, the production was targeted at Italic populations living around Taranto (223–24). He urges a reevaluation of the monumental earlier publications (A.D. Trendall and A. Cambitoglou, The Red Figure Vases of Apulia, 2 vols., Oxford 1978 and 1982), noting that whenever a stylistic group established by the latter was the subject of close scrutiny, problems with stylistic coherence and even dating arose (223–24).

The papers dealing with Sicilian red-figure underline the problematic nature of Trendall and Cambitoglou’s (1978 and 1982) classification. Sebastiano Barresi shows that the established orthodoxy on the beginnings of Sicilian red-figure in Syracuse by an Athenian migrant just after 415 BCE needs revising. It is instead proposed that Sicilian red-figure is a much more complex phenomenon that includes influences from South Italy (e.g., the Himera Painter) and workshops whose production begins in Sicily and later moves farther north (236–38). The chronologies established by Trendall and Cambitoglou for the end of the production are seriously challenged. Based on recent finds from Lipari, Adrano, and elsewhere, Barresi argues that production was standardized in the second half of the fourth and the early third century (244). The end of Dionysian rule in Syracuse brings a dissemination of workshops all around Sicily (Gela, Camarina, Adrano, Lipari), but with a strictly regional scope. Marco Serino presents a study of the Himera Painter. He convincingly revises the chronology of the painter’s beginnings, dating it to before 409 BCE (the destruction of Himera by the Carthaginians), and seeks evidence for the painter’s eventual South Italian ties. In addition, he argues that the diffusion of early Sicilian red-figure follows trends of imports, first of Attic vases before 415 BCE, and later of South Italian imports (252). The last paper on Sicilian red-figure, by Claude Pouzadoux and Pierre Rouillard, presents unpublished sherds from the French excavations in the Agora of Megara Hyblaea. While Attic sherds recovered in the site belong predominantly (95%) to the fifth century, the more abundant material of Sicilian red-figure is strictly confined to the fourth (82%), with a smaller proportion of vases belonging to the final decades of the fifth (18%).

Diego Elia summarizes his work on Locrian red-figure. It is now established that the Locri Painter was first active in Sicily, but then moved to Locri and, along with the Kneeling Eros Group and the Painter of the Pyxis RC 5089, held a sort of monopoly over the site from about 390 to 340 BCE. These results have also been confirmed by archaeometric analysis. The workshop had strictly local aspirations, but held a quasi-monopoly over the area, where only rare Sicilian imports are found.

Two papers on Etruscan red-figure close the volume. Maurizio Harrari looks at the outside decoration of cups from the Tondo Group, where couples face each other with special emphasis on the erotic and the Dionysiac spheres, motifs with expressly eschatological connotations. The second paper by Lisa Pieraccini and Mario Del Chiaro is concerned with one of the masterpieces of Etruscan red-figure, the eponymous amphora by the Alcestis Painter. The painter represents an Etruscan version of a well-known and popular theme, first introduced by Euripides’ Alcestis in 438 BCE and occasionally found on South Italian vases as well. Alcestis and Admetus (identified by the Etruscan versions of their names) are flanked by two daemons, Charu holding a hammer on the left, and a similar creature holding snakes on the right, tentatively identified as Tuchulcha, who appears on the Tomb of Orcus II at Tarquinia.

One of the expressed aims of this book is to document the “possible benefit of adopting a double perspective and possibly also a comparative approach to the regional productions of Greece and Italy, which are usually studied separately and in isolation” (11). To an extent, a comparative study is indeed possible. Sicilian, Etruscan and Boeotian red-figure are produced in various sites, enjoy a very limited vogue outside the region of production, and depend heavily on Attic prototypes. Red-figure from Ambracia and Pella are local, rather than regional productions. On the other hand, it must be admitted that Apulian, for all the dispersion of individual workshops in indigenous sites around Taranto in a later phase, is closer to Attic than to any other regional school (a point also emphasized by E.G.D. Robinson [218]) and thus fits uneasily here. Even if its position with respect to Attic production is a peripheral one, its establishment in Italy is certainly central, as exports range from North Africa to Sicily, Corinth, and the eastern Mediterranean, albeit in very small numbers.

Editing throughout the volume is excellent, with minor typos. Photographs are of average to very good quality. I found the fact that footnotes are printed in red ink unappealing, since it does not facilitate reading. The bibliography is extensive and comprehensive, but the layout in three columns is odd and makes some entries absurdly long (one extending to 17 lines!). These publishing curiosities apart, the volume is an important contribution to a rather neglected topic in ceramic studies, in vogue with the recent trend of placing emphasis on the archaeological contexts of figured pottery.

Dimitris Paleothodoros
University of Thessaly

Book Review of The Regional Production of Red-Figure Pottery: Greece, Magna Graecia and Etruria, edited by Stine Schierup and Victoria Sabetai
Reviewed by Dimitris Paleothodoros
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 124, No. 2 (April 2020)
Published online at
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1242.Paleothodoros


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