You are here

Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Greece 11. Athens 1: Museum of Cycladic Art

July 2011 (115.3)

Book Review

Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Greece 11. Athens 1: Museum of Cycladic Art

By Kleopatra Kathariou. Pp. 132, figs. 58, pls. 93. Academy of Athens, Athens 2009. Price not available. ISBN 978-960-404-166-4 (cloth).

Reviewed by

The figure-decorated pottery collections of the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens are well known through the illustrated catalogue by Marangou (Ancient Greek Art: N.P. Goulandris Collection. 2nd ed. [Athens 1996]). This volume is now superseded by the fascicle under review, which covers Athenian black- and red-figure and white-ground, Boeotian, “Chalcidian,” Corinthian, East Greek, Pontic, and South Italian red-figure pottery. A second fascicle, covering Geometric and Early Iron Age pottery as well as Athenian black-gloss pottery, is planned. Most of the pieces are already published, although there are a few exceptions. They include an Attic red-figure bell krater attributed by Kathariou to the Yalta Painter (bringing this craftperson’s oeuvre to a total of four), a series of undistinguished Attic black-figure lekythoi (e.g., pls. 27.1–27.9, 28.1–28.3, 29.1–29.3, 30.1–30.6, 31.1–31.6), a black-gloss exaleiptron (pls. 35.5, 35.6), and a black-figure cup-skyphos (pl. 37.1–37.4).

The Museum of Cycladic Art is celebrated for its holdings of marble Cycladic figurines. Most of the pieces have no recorded findspot, a side effect of the wholesale ransacking of Early Cycladic cemeteries (D.W.J. Gill and C. Chippindale, “Material and Intellectual Consequences of Esteem for Cycladic Figures,” AJA 97 [1993] 601–59). But what are the sources for the figure-decorated pottery that is displayed in an adjacent gallery in the museum? It is acknowledged that secure collecting histories—a more appropriate term than the widely used and imprecise “provenance” or “provenience”—are the foundations of a definitive publication such as the CVA (e.g., D.W.J. Gill, rev. of Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Greece 5. Thessaloniki 1: Archaeological Museum, by C.L. Sismanides, JHS 121 [2001] 219–20; E. Moignard, rev. of Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Germany 1: Vasenforschung und Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum-Standortbestimmung und Perspektiven, by M. Bentz and P. Zanker, AJA 108 [2004] 297; E. Simantoni-Bournia, rev. of Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Greece 8. Athens, National Museum 5: Attic and Atticising Amphoras of the Protogeometric and Geometric Periods, by N. Kourou, AJA 110 [2006]

Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris are reported to have started collecting in the early 1960s, “solely out of a love for Greek works of art, for aesthetic enjoyment and as a feast for the eyes” (9). However, the holdings of the museum now include material from collections formed by Lambros Eutaxias, Karolos Politis, and Athanassios Chatzidimos; the last collection was purchased in 1997. Two Attic black-figure skyphoi attributed to the Ragusa Group (pls. 41.3–41.10) are seen as “of exactly the same make and size and painted by the same hand, [and] should be considered a matched set that derived from the same grave” (10). It is suggested that the pieces were probably found in Boeotia, as the collector, Eutaxias, acquired material from that region of Greece. There is a short discussion of pieces purchased on the New York market (10–11), although it should be noted that three of the four Attic pieces purchased in 2000 came from Christie’s New York (Ancient Greek Vases Formerly in the Private Collection of Dr. Elie Borowski, 12 June 2000 [lots 46, 88, 93]). These are a black-figure hydria attributed by Kathariou to the Guglielmi Painter and to the Tyrrhenian Group (pls. 7–9) and two red-figure column kraters, one attributed to the Göttingen Painter (pl. 63) and one to the Agrigento Painter (pls. 66, 67). The collecting history of a “Chalcidian” oinochoe (pl. 54) can be traced back to 1907 (Christie’s London, 18 December 1907 [lot 65, no. 2]) via the Christos Bastis Collection (E.S. Hall, ed., Antiquities from the Collection of Christos G. Bastis: New York, 1987 [Mainz 1987] no. 149).

At least seven pieces surfaced through Sotheby’s in London during the 1980s. This is a period when, it is now known, there were serious problems with the consignment of large quantities of material apparently fresh from tombs in Italy to the London market via Switzerland (P. Watson, Sotheby’s, the Inside Story [London 1997]). The investigations led to a raid in the Geneva Freeport that yielded not only further antiquities but also a dossier of images. This raid has been a significant marker in Italy’s attempts to restrict the looting of archaeological material. The photographic records have led to a substantial number of identifications, and at least seven of the 130 or so objects returned to Italy from North American public and private collections first surfaced through Sotheby’s (D.W.J. Gill, “The Returns to Italy from North America: An Overview,” Journal of Art Crime 3 [2010] 105–9). These included two Attic black-figure neck amphoras, one Attic red-figure amphora (attributed to the Berlin Painter), two Attic red-figure kraters, an Apulian loutrophoros, and a Lucanian nestoris.

The very first piece in this CVA is an Attic black-figure neck amphora, attributed to the Swing Painter by Robert Guy (pls. 1–3). It had first surfaced at Sotheby’s in London (13–14 July 1981 [lot 277]). This pot featured in Renfrew’s discussion of the museum, where he noted: “One of the most handsome [vases] is a splendid black-figure amphora, assigned to the ‘Swing Painter’” (“The Goulandris Museum of Cycladic and Ancient Greek Art,” AR 32 [1985–1986] 135–36, fig. 6). What is unmentioned in the CVA is that the amphora in fact appears in the dossier of Polaroids seized in premises at the Geneva Freeport belonging to Giacomo Medici. It also features in the stash of images seized during a raid on the Greek island of Schinousa, suggesting it had, at some point, formed part of the stock of Robin Symes (Symes Archive, nos. 0243–0248). The Museum of Cycladic Art cannot claim to be unaware of the issue, as the amphora was specifically identified by Christos Tsirogiannis, at the time working as an archaeologist, seconded from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture to the Ministry of Justice, to research the international illicit antiquities network (N. Zirganos, “Operation Eclipse,” in P. Watson and C. Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities from Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the Worlds Greatest Museums. Rev. ed. [New York 2007] 323): “This vase, described as ‘exceptional’ by Tsirogiannis, is shown in the Medici archives, depicted in five Polaroids, where the vase appears partially restored, with holes and joins visible, encrusted with dirt, and is placed on a wooden box. The same vase, fully restored, appears in the Goulandris Cycladic Art Museum in Athens (col. no. 716), with no provenance.” Less than half of the neck amphoras attributed to the Swing Painter have a recorded or reported findspot. Six are said to be from Vulci, five from Tarquinia, two from Orvieto, one each from Castel Campanile, Cerveteri, and Locri, and a fragment from Adria. There is a fragment from Ialysos on Rhodes. This would suggest that most come from the area of Tuscany, and the appearance of this neck amphora in the Medici dossier, in its unrepaired state, suggests that it, too, was found within the confines of the modern state of Italy. Marangou had elsewhere observed that pots attributed to the painter “were chiefly intended for export to the Italian commercial market, and indeed most of them have been found in Etruscan graves” (Marangou 1996 [81, no. 116]). It should also be remembered that an Attic black-figure column krater attributed to the Swing Painter was withdrawn from the sale of the Graham Geddes Collection at Bonham’s in London in 2008 (15 October 2008 [lot 6]; see also D.W.J. Gill, “Looting Matters for Classical Antiquities: Contemporary Issues in Archaeological Ethics,” Present Pasts 1 [2009] 83–4). It had surfaced through Sotheby’s London (13–14 July 1987 [lot 440]).

Dipinti and graffiti are featured in a single plate of photographs, with line drawings at appropriate points in the text. There is no index. Among the more interesting examples is an apparent batch mark, perhaps of four items, on an Attic red-figure column krater attributed to the Leningrad Painter (pl. 64). The entry does not mention that the krater surfaced through Galerie Nefer Ancient Art, run by Frida Tchacos (Nefer 6 [Zurich 1988] no. 11; information noted at Sotheby’s New York, 5 June 1999 [lot 174]; 14 June 2000 [lot 94]; BAPD [no. 41687] adds Sotheby’s London, 10–11 July 1989 [lot 199]). The ex-Borowski column krater attributed to the Agrigento Painter (pls. 66, 67) appears to have a batch list in three lines. The line drawing is not helpful, and there is no photograph, but the graffito may indicate 16 “k(raters),” 30 “le(kythoi)” or “le(kanides),” and a single “pro(chous).” Such batch lists tend to be found in the West.

A typographic solution should have been found for the text to divide pots that appear on the same plate (e.g., three items feature on pl. 27, on pp. 44–6, on pl. 41, and on pp. 66–8). Overall, the volume serves as a permanent record of the figure-decorated pottery in the collection, but it also sheds light on the nature of private collecting in Greece during the late 20th century.

David W.J. Gill
Department of History and Classics
College of Arts and Humanities
Swansea University
Swansea SA2 8PP
United Kingdom

Book Review of Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Greece 11. Athens 1: Museum of Cycladic Art, by Kleopatra Kathariou

Reviewed by David W.J. Gill

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 3 (July 2011)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1153.Gill

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.