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Vases en Voyage: De la Grèce à L’Étrurie

Vases en Voyage: De la Grèce à L’Étrurie

Musée Dobrée. Pp. 224, color figs. 291, maps 3. Éditions Somogy d’Art, Paris, and Conseil General de Loire-Atlantique, Nantes 2004. €25. ISBN 2-85056-715-9 (paper).

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This richly illustrated and informative catalogue accompanies an exhibition of ancient Greek and Etruscan art organized by the Musée Dobrée, Nantes, drawn from French regional museums in Brittany and the Loire and shown at nine venues in France from January 2004 to April 2007. Although it focuses on vases from Athens, mainland Greece, and Italy, the catalogue also includes terracottas, bronze vessels, utensils, fibulae, and coins. The Voyage is manifold: from Greece, Etruria, and southern Italy to 19th-century French collections, to the museums where they now reside, and to the nine venues of the exhibition.

Jean-René Jannot reviews the history of French collections of Greek vases. The history of collecting is a burgeoning field (see V. Nørskov, Greek Vases in New Contexts [Aarhus 2002]), and it is critical that museum publications include this information. Greek vases—called “Etruscan” at first—were acquired in the 19th century by French travelers on the Grand Tour. Stendhal bought them as gifts for friends. French dealers sold antiquities acquired from “excavations” in Italy; one such gallery existed in the Place de la Madeleine in Paris. Most French museum collections were formed from such finds, making it difficult to reconstruct an archaeological provenance for these objects.

Concise histories of five of the lending museums’ collections follow. Sources include gifts and bequests from private collectors, purchases, and transfers from other museums. Of mysterious origin is a red-figure kylix by Epiktetos (ARV², 76, no. 83) in the Musée vendéen de Fontenay-le-Comte. The vase, which was known to Beazley only through a drawing, was found at Vulci in 1829, belonged to Lucien Bonaparte, passed through sales in London (1838) and Paris (1843), and then disappeared. Only after the publication of the drawing in 1998 was the identification made; how the vase reached the museum is unknown.

An outstanding collection is that of Lancelot Théodore Turpin de Crissé (1781–1859) bequeathed to the Musée Pincé d’Angers. Turpin de Crissé acquired his love for antiquities as a young man on his first trip to Italy in 1807 and developed it while resident at Malmaison, where he served as chambellan to the empress Josephine from 1809 to 1814. He bought the best Campanian and Greek vases he could find on subsequent trips to Naples and Venice and purchased others from major antiquities collections. He also kept meticulous inventories, drew the vases himself, and even designed exhibition cases for them; all this information came to the museum as part of the bequest.

Dominique Briquel relates how many of the objects in the exhibition came originally from a collection formed by the Marquis Giampietro Campana between 1830 and 1850 with funds embezzled from the Papal State at Rome. He exhibited it in his villa/museum near Saint John Lateran in 1846. In 1857, the embezzlement was discovered and Campana was arrested. The Vatican seized the collection, and in 1861 sold part of it to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the remainder (610 crates containing 11,835 objects) to the French government. The French portion was exhibited briefly in the new Musée de Napoléon III, but after the museum was closed in 1862, a committee was formed to disperse the collection to the Musée du Louvre and 49 provincial French museums. The Louvre kept the jewelry, bronzes, and glass, and anything with an inscription (some inscribed vases, however, went to provincial museums). Unfortunately, the dispersal of the Campana collection resulted in the scattering of tomb groups, thus destroying what little archaeological association had survived. In most instances, however, the Campana contributions formed the foundations of the provincial museums’ antiquities collections, ensuring that ancient Greek art would be represented and studied throughout France.

Two essays on the history and philosophy of conservation follow. They acknowledge the extraordinary skill required to support the 19th-century taste for reconstructing and repainting objects so that they appeared intact, and they review the changing approaches to restoration since then. Most, if not all of the objects in the exhibition have undergone conservation in recent years, benefiting especially from the removal and correction of old restorations. The conservators are identified in the catalogue entries, thus documenting another important aspect of an object’s modern history that is rarely published.

The remainder of the catalogue presents individual entries on 220 objects, organized into four sections, each introduced by one or more essays. Every object is illustrated in color, some in multiple views, some with enlarged details that give a vivid sense of style and technique. The entries, written by a distinguished team, include detailed descriptions, but regrettably most offer minimal discussion of subject or style. Occasionally, however, engaging suggestions do appear, such as the proposal that a bird flying near a chariot might represent victory, and the white color of the charioteer’s chiton might indicate a special garment donned for the victory lap (68). Bibliography is restricted to publications of the exhibited objects; unfortunately, comparanda are not provided. Many of the vases are not attributed and would be considered modest by Louvre standards, but because such vases are rarely published outside the CVA (only available for Nantes among the lending museums), the detailed descriptions and color illustrations are particularly valuable.

The first section covers the orientalizing and Archaic periods. Essays by Dominique Frère focus on the voyages of Greeks and their vases evoked in epic and myth and confirmed through archaeological finds of Corinthian and Attic vessels in colonies and trading centers throughout the Mediterranean. Standard epic themes of ritual hospitality, wine drinking, battle, and competition shown on black-figure Athenian vases are woven by Frère into a heroic ideal of the Greek citizen’s life. Corinthian perfume vessels and drinking cups testify to the city’s far-flung and profitable commerce. Etruscan imitations of Corinthian pottery and Etruscan bucchero ware replicating Greek shapes reflect the influence of these imports.

The second section focuses on Athenian vases from the end of the sixth through the fourth centuries B.C. Jean-Jacques Maffre’s essays masterfully interweave the history of Athens with that of its vases. Red-figure scenes from daily life dominate this section. Two notable fourth-century Athenian red-figure kraters show mythological scenes, one with Herakles, Dionysos, and Ploutos reclining at a banquet, the second with a lively multilevel Amazonomachy.

The third section focuses on south Italian and Etruscan vase painting in the fourth through second centuries B.C. Laurent Hugot’s essays trace the Athenian sources and local history of the Lucanian, Apulian, and Campanian workshops of south Italy and the Faliscan school of Etruria. Strange hermaphroditic Eros figures appear on Apulian vases, among them two fine rhyta (hound and bull), while women are more frequent elsewhere. A characteristic Samnite warrior appears on a Campanian krater. Several examples of the applied red decoration used instead of red-figure on some Faliscan vases are included. The pottery reveals its Athenian sources in style and subject, developed by the fourth century into peculiarly Italian variants of both. The section ends with some characteristic black glaze ware and with three Etruscan terracotta cinerary urns with battle scenes, perhaps representing the combat of the sons of Oedipus.

The final section explores the cultural basis for the themes on Athenian and south Italian vases. Véronique Mehl combines myth (Ulysses and his companions fleeing Polyphemus, Achilles and Cheiron, the mission of Triptolemos), the Athena Promachos of the Panathenaic games, the ubiquitous Dionysos and his companions, and the quintessential Greek heroes Herakles and Theseus with scenes from daily life focusing on marriage, death, and ritual offerings. Representative terracotta figurines, ably presented by Sophie Picaud, and selected coins from Greece and south Italy round out the exhibition’s offerings. The catalogue closes with an appendix of 65 profile drawings of Greek and Etruscan vases, organized by function, a glossary, and a bibliography.

The catalogue is a welcome introduction to the collections of museums in the Loire and Brittany, previously not well known, and a successful use of a broad and varied assemblage of objects as evidence for and illustrations of Greek history and culture. Those interested in the theme suggested by the exhibition’s title—vases that voyaged to Etruria—should consult Christoph Reusser’s important study of Greek vases found in Etruscan contexts (Vasen für Etrurien [Zurich 2002] reviewed by D. Paleothodoros [AJA 108 (2004) 122–23]).

Susan B. Matheson
Yale University Art Gallery
P.O. Box 208271
New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8271

Book Review of Vases en voyage: De la Grèce à lÉtrurie, by Musée Dobrée

Reviewed by Susan B. Matheson

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 110, No. 2 (April 2006)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1102.Matheson

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