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La cité des regards: Autour de François Lissarrague
October 2020 (124.4)
La cité des regards: Autour de François Lissarrague
Edited by Vasiliki Zachari, Élise Lehoux, and Noémie Hosoi. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes 2019. Pp. 306. €30. ISBN 978-2-7535-7609-4 (paper).
François Lissarrague, one of the most influential scholars of Athenian vase painting since the days of J.D. Beazley, has long been a leader of what is conventionally dubbed the “Paris School” of structuralist research on ancient Greek culture. Just a few of the methodological lessons and thematic trends to emerge from his rich oeuvre include the importance of approaching vases as coherent, functional objects rather than simple supports for images; the necessity of considering sequences of images in order to understand how, in individual scenes, artists configured the possible visual elements to generate meaning; and the duality of playfulness and seriousness with which marginal figures or decorative elements could be used to think about both depiction itself and Athenian society—in short, an anthropological approach in which images on vases are taken as evidence for social codes, structures, and categories of classification. In their introduction to the volume under review, Vincent Azoulay and Florence Gherchanoc offer an intellectual history of Lissarrague's career, and a complete bibliography of the honorand is included. Also of much interest is an interview with Lissarrague and Alain Schnapp, conducted by two of the volume's editors, and published online (“Image et pensée chez les Grecs passées aux filtres des catégories modernes,” Images Re-vues 11, 2013).
The editors offer La cité des regards in homage to Lissarrague not only as a scholar but also for the “résonance” of his pedagogy. Its richly varied essays, all in French, reflect much of the range of Lissarrague’s interests. One could grouse that the essays shy away from considerations of much contemporary Anglophone art historical scholarship (e.g., art and text, or affect, or philosophical aesthetics), but they are steeped instead in the voluminous recent European literature on vase painting. Many of the chapters draw on the authors’ book-length research projects, for which they serve as engaging advertisements or preludes. As a whole, the book is well produced and illustrated (with more than 100 drawings, rollouts, photographs of vases, and details, just one or two of which I found insufficient for their purpose).
The 16 essays are arranged in five sections. Lissarrague's work on the history of study and collecting is celebrated in the first section, “From Objects to Drawings in the 19th Century” (title translations are my own). Élise Lehoux analyzes Eduard Gerhard’s collection of illustrations of mythological scenes on ancient monuments, his Kunstmythologie, as a sort of proto-LIMC that functioned as a database for recombining images on a variety of principles, for use especially in teaching (before the era of slide projection), while Marie-Amélie Bernard uses a pair of drawings to illuminate an episode in the imbrication of commerce and scholarship so characteristic of the 19th century. Three of four essays in the next section (“Ritual Through the Filter of the Image”) deal with rites of passage and transition: marriage vase iconography (Gaëlle Deschodt); Parthenopeus qua ephebe (Benjamin Perriello); madness, purification, and age classes (Francesca Marzari). The final chapter, by Marta Pedrina, uses an Italian vase depicting Alcmene on a pyre to juxtapose supplication and seduction, marriage and sacrifice.
The third section (“Figures of Mythological Characters”) begins with Ilaria Sforza's chapter on the spectacular hydria in the Vatican, attributed to the Berlin Painter, depicting Apollo, lyre in hand, carried across the sea on a winged tripod. Sforza illuminates the significance of Apollo’s attributes on the hydria by looking at sequences of related imagery in which some compositional elements remain constant while others vary, a nice illustration of Lissarrague's structuralist technique. Yet I would question Sforza's choice (following Alan Shapiro and other scholars) to label the subject of the hydria as Apollo Hyperpontios, an epithet that seems to derive ultimately from Beazley’s whimsical description of a black-figure vase with similar iconography (ABV, 685, no. 8). But there simply is no “Apollo Hyperpontios”; the adjective is attested just a few times in Greek literature, never attached to Apollo. Sforza argues that the hydria may depict not Apollo's journey from Delos to Delphi (as Beazley thought) but part of his Hyperborean detour before founding the sanctuary at Delphi. If we avoid reifying the iconography as a “depiction of Apollo Hyperpontios,” its possible associations (narrative and otherwise) could become more fluid.
The next chapter, by Philippe Arnaud, presents a lost Chalcidian amphora depicting Ajax dueling a pack of Trojans over the corpse of Achilles while Diomedes, away from the melee, has his finger bandaged. The three great Greek heroes of the Iliad are shown as spanning the warrior's experience: fighting, wounded, dead. In her contribution, Annaïg Caillaud revisits winged female figures identified as Nike, Iris, or Eris; this creative chapter is bursting with ideas about the history and significance of the fusion (and confusion) between the three winged deities and their iconographic role as signals of divine activity. The Paris School approach is on full display in Hélène Collard’s contribution. She analyzes one type of Locrian pinax depicting a sanctuary scene in which two worshipers are separated from a pair of statues by an altar depicting a satyr copulating with a deer, or, Collard suggests, seizing it for sacrifice. Collard shows how, whatever exactly the satyr is up to, the scene operates simultaneously along the axes of “sacrifice, chasse, érotique” (196), a reading that advantageously connects this type to the pinakes’ overarching marriage thematic.
The four chapters in the penultimate section (“Images in Context”) all deal with erotic scenes, with the exception of Nikolina Kéi’s reflections on the octopus as a symbol of metis and poikilia. Nina Strawczynski explores how vase painters often used objects depicted mid fall not so much to evoke narrative instantaneousness as to characterize the erotic ripeness of a character in the scene. Monica Baggio evaluates competing identifications of the woman on a vase in Taranto as Penelope or Eriphyle, while Ekaterina Reshetnikova explores the ambiguity of the hare as a love gift, focusing particularly on a fascinating amphora by the Kleophrades Painter. The essays end superbly with the final section, “Fragmented Images.” The first of two papers, by Vasiliki Zachari, deals with the rather small corpus of scenes unpopulated by humans, with special attention to altars and the implied residues of ritual action there depicted, absence of worshipers notwithstanding. Finally, Nikolaus Dietrich appraises, with characteristic conceptual precision, the “heuristic value of the fragment.” Scholarly procedures and intellectual contexts provide the theme, a sherd of a cup by Douris, the subject. Lehoux and Zachari’s brief conclusion draws together some shared themes, and abstracts of each chapter bring the volume to a close.
By this point, it should be clear that La cité des regards is a successful homage. The multinational cadre of Lissarraguistes contributing to this volume, and especially its editors, are to be congratulated. Some essays are more descriptive, others more analytic, but almost all are exciting and erudite. That the structuralist approach has been enormously productive and intellectually satisfying seems undeniable; that it, in turn, has its own limitations is also clear. These have been widely discussed under the general rubrics of archaeological context and diachronicity. In some of these essays, hints of ways forward appear: Baggio and Caillaud, for instance, invoke the development of iconographic traditions, suggesting ways in which vases can be understood as chronologically sequential solutions to the same underlying problem, à la George Kubler, without discarding the field’s rich supply of textual, narrative contexts. And, while little is made of findspots or archaeological context per se, the visual languages of different regional schools of vase painting receive some attention. At the risk of overfreighting a Festschrift with scholarly politics, it is also worth pointing out that the collection illustrates the enduring viability of the hermeneutic that was announced by Lissarrague and colleagues in La cité des images: Religion et société en Grèce antique (F. Nathan 1984) almost 40 years ago. As classical archaeologists become keener and keener on quantitative and scientific approaches, these resolutely art historical essays may strike some readers as already dated—but in fact they demonstrate the rewards of looking closely at the formal and depictive choices made by ancient craftsmen. In the end, what makes this volume work is precisely that its contributors are skillful practitioners of the honorand’s research paradigm.
Eric W. Driscoll
American School of Classical Studies at Athens