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La Céramique Grecque à Reliefs: Ateliers insulaires du VIIe au VIe siécle avant J.-C.

La Céramique Grecque à Reliefs: Ateliers insulaires du VIIe au VIe siécle avant J.-C.

By Eva Simantoni-Bournia. Pp. 247, pls. 72. Librairie Droz, Geneva 2004. €142. ISBN 2-600-00936-1 (paper).

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The big Aegean clay pithoi decorated in relief have been known to the scholarly world from the middle of the 19th century. After the first flurry of interest, with Salzmann’s excavations at Kameiros in Rhodes and particularly with the discovery, at a time when the Tanagra figurines had contributed to Boiotian fame, of what became known as the Tenian-Boiotian pithoi (now in Boston and in Athens) in that same region, these important vessels were overshadowed by an intense interest in Attic painted pottery and the mythological repertoire on black- and red-figure vases, despite continuing interest in bronze and gold toreutic work from Crete, Attica (Athenian Acropolis), and Olympia. It was this metalwork, together with the excavations of Kontoleon, followed by his important studies and those of Feytmans (Rhodian vessels) and Schäfer, that revived general interest in pithos decoration. A number of important studies then appeared, and the jars began to take their proper place. The book reviewed here is the first general study of the Aegean pithoi since Schäfer’s Studien zu den Griechischen Reliefpithoi des 8.6. Jh. v. Chr. (Kallmünz 1957). It follows a series of conferences given by Bournia at the École des Hautes Études in 1999.

In the use of chronological grouping, she has followed Schäfer’s system, but she has adjusted many dates and broken up some groups where necessary. With the addition of much new material, Bournia presents pithoi across an extensive geographical region, providing a comparative study of technique, style, workshop connections, provenance, and circulation. For the Cyclades, this is especially useful in clarifying similarities and differences from island to island. New fragments and further study of the Xobourgo (Tenos) finds have made attributions to specific hands or pithoi more feasible than before; here, with patience and perception, the author makes major contributions. She is cautious but creatively imaginative in her interpretations. Our knowledge of the repertoire and understanding of the syntax of the vessels are thus greatly expanded. Greater emphasis is placed on the Cyclades, as they have provided the most recent remarkable additions, and it is here that the greatest thematic variety and most striking mythological and epic scenes are found. The Cretan category, too, has increased since Schäfer (1957), particularly with the robbery of the rich site at Afrati (ancient Arkades). For Rhodian vessels, she refers to published pieces.

The introduction (9–19) includes a bibliographical review and a discussion of the technical aspects of making a pithos (on the term, see 10–11; M. Caskey, “Notes on Relief Pithoi of the Tenian-Boiotian Group,” AJA 80 [1976] 19–20). With the conclusion (123–33) is a “Catalogue of Figured Themes” summarizing the repertoire chronologically by geographical location. An appendix (135–36) presents pieces in the Tenos Museum not previously fully published.

The illustrations are good, printed at adequately large scale. One illustration was omitted, leaving a blank on plate 28, figure 64. Included on the plates are most of the inventory numbers of pieces in the Tenos Museum. It might have been useful to have this information on the plates for pieces from other museums throughout.

Crete (21–47). Cretan pithoi are heavy-looking vessels decorated by means of a mold, rarely by hand, and with applied horizontal bands of clay, often stamped with decorative motifs. Especially on the later vessels, the main figured representation is on the neck. As noted by the author, the longevity of a mold can make dating difficult.

Like Schäfer, the author divides the pithoi into five chronological groups. She departs, however, from earlier studies (W. Hornbostel, “Kretische Reliefamphoren,” in Dädalische Kunst auf Kreta im 7. Jh. V. Chr. [Hamburg 1970] 56–93) with a modification of Schäfer’s dates, beginning the series of five groups 20 years later, at 690 B.C.E., lowering slightly the intermediate groups, and extending the duration of Group V into the middle of the sixth century, 20 years later than Schäfer’s lower limit.

Two main ateliers are in evidence: Afrati-Arkadhes and Prinias-Phaistos. The most productive was evidently Afrati (29–35). Combinations of themes and motives indicate that the Afrati and central Cretan ateliers were not totally isolated from each other (37). They have unique characteristics, agreeing stylistically with Lembesi’s distinction of the bronze ateliers (36 nn. 129–31). The Afrati figures have a “plastic exuberance”; those from the area of Prinias have a flatter relief and more abundantly decorated surfaces (30, 36). Both the author and Lembesi have made important contributions to our understanding of the Cretan metal and pithos workshops, making comparisons that show their stylistic relationship. To the fragments classified in the final Group V (590–550 B.C.E.) by Schäfer and Hornbostel, she has added a vase from the Cassel Collection (inv. no. T 765). As with metalwork, Cretan relief pithoi continue local traditions, resisting outside influences. She suggests possible continuity here, the ancient jars being the first examples of the Cretan tradition of pitharia, which continues today (47).

Rhodes (49–62). Rhodian pithoi are tall, elegant vessels, with most of the surface covered by fine, linear patterns in relief. The earlier studies by Feytmans (BCH 74 [1950] 135–80) and Schäfer (1957) are basic. Three centers of pithos production coexisted on the island: Lindos, Kameiros, and Ialysos. In Feytmans’ initial study, the ateliers were equated with the centers where they were found. Bournia notes the difficulty of distinguishing the ateliers, given the mobility of the roulettes and stamps employed for their decoration, noting also that clay analysis is missing. Schäfer divided the Rhodian jars into three groups: Lindos I (740–675 B.C.E.); Lindos II, Kameiros II, Ialysos II (675–600); Kameiros III and Ialysos III (600–510). Boardman lowered this sequence by 70 years, and Coldstream by 40 (with P. Themelis in agreement). Bournia notes (50) that the presence of a Protocorinthian aryballos reported by the excavator Sestieri to have been found in one of the pithoi dated by Schäfer in his early Group I appears to conflict with a date earlier than Late Geometric. She, too, has lowered the dates, but less drastically than other scholars, bringing the Rhodian pithoi into line with what is now known of early Cycladic and Cretan production.

Cyclades (63–145). In the Cycladic islands, the author recognizes a koine that distinguishes its work from the other centers. Within this, various islands have their own distinct ateliers, of which the Tenos and Naxos schools are prominent, with Tenos evidently exporting products, artisans, or both. With the finding of the Boiotian relief pithoi, it was thought initially that Boiotia was the center of production. Graindor (RA 6 [1905] 286–91) was the first to suggest that Tenos had a pithos production of its own. The excavations of Kontoleon at Xobourgo demonstrated that the center was indeed Tenos and that Boiotian “production” was secondary. While clay analyses have not been made, Bournia (63 n. 4) suggests itinerant potters from Tenos with commerce between Tenos, Boiotia, and the east coast of Attica. She quite rightly treats the Tenian, Boiotian, and Attic workshops as a stylistic entity. New excavations at Xobourgo directed by N. Kourou (University of Athens) will undoubtedly add to our understanding of the Tenos pithoi. The finding of more material from Chian and Naxian centers has brought the earlier emphasis on Tenian/Boiotian material into balance. The author has based her groups on those of Schäfer, adjusting the chronology and dividing his Group II into two (her Groups II and III).

Group I (740–700 B.C.E.; Andros, Tenos, Naxos, Amorgos). The “Zagora-Xobourgo Group” includes pieces from Naxos and Amorgos because, as the author notes, the variety of styles of the different island centers seen in the seventh-century development is not yet apparent. The Andros material (A. Cambitoglou et al., Zagora 2: Excavation of a Geometric Town on the Island of Andros [Athens 1988]), with a terminus ante quem provided by the painted pottery, is important for defining this early group. It required a lowering of Schäfer’s upper limit (second quarter of the eighth century) to no earlier than LG II (Caskey [1976] 19–41), making clear the overlap between the linear geometric and seventh-century figured style. Bournia (22–3) also reduces Kontoleon’s high dating of the dotted pieces (Andros, Tenos, Eretria).

Group II (700–675 B.C.E.; Tenos, Naxos, Attica, Boiotia, Euboia). The seventh century introduces the great period of Cycladic relief pithoi, with their dramatic and monumental epic and mythological scenes. Bournia discusses the pithoi of Groups II and III chronologically rather than thematically, an arrangement imposed by the nature of the material. She recognizes them as a continuous development with a clear difference in the fineness of work in period III. Group II takes us from the spindly figures of LG times to figures comparable to those on middle proto-Attic painted pottery (79). The author notes that an overwhelming interest in human and animal portrayal in myth and epic distinguishes Cycladic relief pithoi from Cycladic painted pottery, where “decoration and the agreeable aspect of life” (80) is paramount to the virtual exclusion of battle scenes. I suspect this may be related to the purpose of the jars, whether funerary or storage. She makes important attributions in this and the subsequent groups. There is but one Naxian fragment, dating to the first quarter of the seventh century; it preserves the legs of two horses, probably pulling a biga (Naxos 1640, pl. 44, fig. 111).

Group III (675–650 B.C.E.; Tenos, Boiotia, Naxos, Paros). The second quarter of the seventh century sees the acme of relief-pithos production. Thematic diversity is illustrated by a number of well-preserved pieces (89). The decoration of the Tenos variety continues to be handmade; a mold is employed for the Naxian vessels. We note two of the more significant attributions and interpretations.

A pithos fragment showing a contra naturam birth (Tenos B 3, here 94–5, pl. 50, fig. 122) has resolved the debate over the scene on an earlier “Birth Pithos” (Group II), with a winged figure springing from the head of a seated divinity (N. Kontoleon, “Η γέννησις του Διός,” Kritika Chronika 15 [1961–1962] 283–93). Proposals included the birth of Zeus from Ge (Kontoleon) and the birth of Athena from Zeus (Schefold, Simon), depending on whether the seated figure was bearded. The newly published fragment preserves part of the beard, and Bournia (84) compares the short goatee of a recently found archaic bronze statue of Ἁπόλλων’Οπλίτης (ArchDelt 49 [1994] B1, 331–33). There can no longer be any doubt that the scene shows the birth of Athena from the head of Zeus. Fragments of another pithos, probably also with a contra naturam birth scene, have added Kea to the list of islands producing relief pithoi of this sort (M. Caskey, “A Relief Pithos from Koresia, Kea,” in L. Mendoni and A. Mazarakis-Ainian, eds., Kea-Kythnos, History and Archaeology [Athens 1998] 477–84).

A Trojan Horse pithos (not the famous Mykonos pithos; see E. Simantoni-Bournia, “The Fall of Troy Once Again,” in N. Stampolides, ed., Phos Kykladikon [Athens 1999] 158–77) is preserved in 12 fragments (96–7, pls. 51–4, B 12, B 8, B 15, B 33, B 17, B 230, B 193, B 16). The author has made a brilliant graphic reconstruction, with the horse on the neck and the narration unfolding in two broad friezes on the belly, showing the battle and a field with vultures.

Naxian pithos production reaches its greatest intensity in the second quarter of the seventh century. It continues into the early sixth, but the production diminishes. The pithoi were made for the most part as funerary equipment for the aristocracy (E. Simantoni-Bournia, Ανασκαφές Νάξου: Οι ανάγλυφοι πίθοι [Athens 1990]). Paros too had a local industry. What little evidence there is at present from the seventh century shows that the pithoi were decorated by hand and stylistically belong to the general framework of the Tenian atelier. Parian production continues into the sixth century, with roulette decoration on applied clay bands.

Group IV (650–600 B.C.E.; Tenos, Boiotia, Naxos, Thera). Quality continues to be superb during the third quarter, but the last quarter of the sixth century marks the end of the evolution of this magnificent production. Among the attributions of interest are five fragments, B 26, B 19, B 20, B 5 (105–7, pls. 61, 62, and B 30 [not illustrated]), that the author attributes to a single pithos, interpreting it as the Departure of Amphiaraos (neck) with warrior and biga files on the body representing the seven heroes and their troops attacking Thebes. If correct, her interpretation provides an important addition to the repertoire.

An almost intact pithos from Thera (N.M. Kontoleon, “Theraïsches,” AM 73 [1958] pl. 101) is dated ca. 630 B.C.E., although it retains the spherical/piriform profile of the Mykonos pithos (110–11, pl. 65, fig. 157). The author notes that the charioteers, bigas, and winged horses are comparable to those seen earlier on Naxos; the division of the belly into metopes and the combination of hand-modeled decoration on the neck with mold-made figures on the body also occur in Naxos (pl. 56, fig. 137).

Group V (the sixth to the beginning of the fifth century B.C.E.; 113–14). These relief pithoi cannot be compared with the brilliant production of earlier years. The author notes that the political and cultural domination of Athens over the central Aegean played a part in such an artistic decline, but the poor state of the surviving material makes it difficult to assess.

Bournia’s book is clearly and concisely written, with full and excellent documentation throughout. It may be added to the pioneering works of Kontoleon and Schäfer as a fundamental study of the Cretan, Rhodian, and Cycladic relief pithoi from the eighth to the sixth century B.C.E. It is a necessary acquisition for any serious classical library, and for devoted pitharologoi it is a boon. The next step is surely a corpus, but this may take some time, given the increasing number of finds.

Miriam Caskey
American School of Classical Studies
Souidias 54
676 Athens

Book Review of La Céramique Grecque à Reliefs: Ateliers insulaires du VIIe au VIe siécle avant J.-C., by Eva Simantoni-Bournia

Reviewed by Miriam Caskey

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 113, No. 2 (April 2009)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1132.Caskey

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