Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1998.08.10

De Puma, Richard, Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. United States of America Fascicule 31, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, Fascicule 6.   Malibu:  The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996.  Pp. 40, 53 pls.  ISBN 0-89236-293-6.  $90.00.  

Etruscan and Italic unpainted pottery has only recently come into its own, and yet it has always been of urgent concern to excavators; as more scholars turn to local museums for research and teaching, they too are sure to find these wares. Once virtually the only reliable reference was CVA Great Britain 10, British Museum 7 (1932), and it seemed as if other major museums didn't care about these orphans. Then came two ground-breaking studies, by N.H. Ramage and T.B. Rasmussen, of Caeretan bucchero from famous tomb groups in the Villa Giulia. Recently, two Louvre CVA's from J.M.J. Gran Aymerich (Louvre 20, 1982 and 23, 1992), and articles or monographs on some American and European collections have added to the options. For full references, see bibliography pp. xvi-xvii and catalog entries. In Italy, many private or smaller collections have been published recently, and a few exhibitions and specialty articles have offered particular insights. De Puma's preface gives a very brief sketch of the state of Etruscan unpainted pottery in America; his past works on the Field Museum and other collections make him the U.S. authority.

The Getty has done well by its Italian pieces with this volume of vases spanning the Villanovan (one urn) through Archaic Etruscan and Italic to Hellenistic periods (a single fine piece of Volsinian relief ware). Just under one hundred vases are represented, though about 30 exist as fragments only. It is unusual for an art museum to acquire sherds, as dealers often used to destroy them; but once enough Italian fieldwork has been logged for Mössbauer (neutron activation) analysis, it may be possible to link even these scraps with their city or workshop of origin.1 For a complete picture of the unpainted pottery industry of Etruria, it will still be necessary to consult all these works, for the Getty vases are many of them too fine to be the most representative samples, and surely reflect the taste of unusually knowledgeable dealers or buyers. Some vases are so unusual, in fact, that their authenticity has been questioned, needlessly, as demonstrated by modern analysis.

Most users of the CVA will snatch up a fascicule with which to identify a vase they have just excavated, either in the soil or in some museum. USA 31, Getty 6 will be very useful for this task, as it offers thorough description, exceptionally accurate parallels, and optimal references, but it could also serve as a starting point for much more complex inquiry. As De Puma indicates in his preface (xi-xiii), there are at least two "putative tomb groups" compiled here; although bereft of documentation, many of the bucchero vases are obviously from the same workshop, and if not buried together, were surely made by the same hands. If the museum's patchy documentation is correct, the groups, composed entirely of Vulcian bucchero pesante, are closely related, dated stylistically 575-540 and 575-525 BC. Within the CVA format, De Puma has done a beautiful and diplomatic job of describing and providing comparanda; material recently excavated in Italy but as yet unpublished is the only source of parallels (necessarily) omitted here. It remains only to suggest the social, economic, and perhaps art historical context of these vases.

Etruscan bucchero is decidedly distinctive, and has attracted attention ever since it appeared in the 7th century BC: fragments have even been found in the Corinthian Potters' Quarter and Athenian Agora. These are usually kantharoi, whose open shapes show they were imported for their curio value rather than contents; the kantharos in the hands of Attic or Boiotian Dionysos was derived from an Etruscan/Italic shape of long pedigree.2 The schemes of decoration used for dark, polished fabrics ranged from incision and stamped or molded relief to in-filling with red paint or even silver-plating, the latter two modes found in some of the earliest bucchero vases. Ultimately, the shiny red Arretine ware supplied to late Republican officers' messes was the successor to this Archaic innovation.

What are the uses of museum collections which are generally bereft of information on provenance? They can be invaluable for the study of fabrics, typology and technical details, especially if the museum permits scientific sampling and analysis. In this case, the Getty has supported state of the art thermoluminescence testing for authenticity (pls. 298, 302-303, 310-311). Types of decoration and iconography are also made available for further comparison when photos and drawings are well reproduced, as here: note gratefully the numerous drawings of profiles, incised decoration and relief-molded surfaces including handles.3 (Actual size drawings of all molded handles and reliefs would have been nice for field comparisons, as excavators will undoubtedly find siblings produced by the same molds as Getty pieces.) Among the figured decoration: pairs or scenes of fantastic and other animals including boar hunts (pls. 303-303, 313-315), processions with birds, beasts, man (pl. 295), horseman (pls. 296, 307.1-2), or winged human (pl. 297.2), other figures discussed below. None is the earliest occurrence of these images, but they illustrate the mainstream of Etruscan ornament. Collections assembled from random sources are always a good test of an author's confidence, since they invariably contain uncommon types which pose challenges of authenticity (see pls. 302-303, 310-311). In the case of Etruscan pottery, often the most bizarre objects turn out to be genuine. A perusal of the catalogue entries will be rewarded with insights into the background and uses of these pieces (for instance, traces of wear, as pl. 315).

Novice users will need to remember that the CVA is highly formal, and vases are grouped by nuances of shape. De Puma begins the volume with impasto and related plain fabrics, then moves to bucchero ware from amphorae and oinochoai through various cup types. A single Villanovan biconical urn (pl. 285) represents 8th century proto-urban Vulci, and, with a century's gap, stamnoid kraters (pls. 287-288) which are now coming into their own because of association with Greek banqueting customs.4 A small sample of Red Ware of the mid-6th century (pls. 295-297), commonly associated with Caeretan industry, introduces Orientalizing figured decoration with stamped friezes of humans and animals in fantastic boar hunts (see Pieraccini, cited in note 15).

The boat-shaped vessel (pl. 298) represents a tradition of funerary boat models that may be traced to model and actual longships in the graves of Villanovan I Tarquinii.5 While DePuma correctly notes their frequent association with early Etruscan male interments, at least one of the first models, a simpler type, was placed in a woman's grave at Tarquinia.6 Sardinian metal models, some of which appeared in Etruscan tombs, may be part of a tradition of boat-shaped lamps. On the Getty vase, authenticated by thermoluminescence (p. 9), ram protomes appear in place of the usual bird-figureheads.7 The red slip, perhaps in part retouched, is puzzling, and one thinks of the Phoenician Red-Slip ware which influenced shapes in the earliest Caeretan bucchero, but Phoenician boat models do not conform to this design.8

While all other vases in the volume may be considered Archaic (or Orientalizing) in style, the Volsinian "Silvered Ware" amphora (pls. 299-300) is of Hellenistic date, so shape and decoration do not correspond to any other pieces. The technique, however, is of relevance to archaic bucchero, since it was clearly intended to mimic actual silverware, its relief decoration, an Amazonomachy with affinities to the Bassai frieze, probably molded from impressions taken from real metal ware and washed with a tin-lead alloy. On one hand, it may be taken as illustration of Etruscan knock-offs of Greek-style luxury goods, desired for funerary use by a somewhat affluent bourgeoisie. In another way it marks the end of a tradition that began with the Iron Age, of decorating impasto vases with studs and inlays of tin or other metals (cf. p. 25 note 18 on mixed media). One awaits the promised full study of this ware by M.L. Catoni to further enliven the debate about the relative values of metal and clay in the classical Mediterranean.

It has become commonplace to assert the "metal prototypes" of sharply contoured or attenuated clay vases, such as the kyathos or kantharos, or of bossed or ribbed decoration like that of the Nikosthenics, and certainly one can find all these shapes assembled in sheet- and cast-metal. Yet, as asserted by D.K. Hill, the metal versions have actually copied pottery.9 It is really a nuisance for a metalsmith to produce such forms, when they may easily be formed on a potter's wheel. Imitation of metalware is demonstrated in certain early vases, but only because they simulated imported goods such as Phoenician or Assyrian vessels with fluted bodies or relief heads (compare pls. 318.1, 324.1-2). The large knobs of jugs and cups (pls. 290.1, 312, 323.1-2, 324.1-2, 325.1, 326) probably also simulate rivets, but they function only as surface decoration, not as structural elements, and are thus essentially in the tradition of Apennine and Villanovan pottery with metal studs.

In the CVA, the requirement to categorize by shape sometimes means a backward jump in geographical or chronological terms, so that the products of Vulci, Caere, Tarquinia, Orvieto or Chiusi are grouped together, and a chalice dated 600-575 BC follows one of about 550 BC (e.g. pls. 320,1 and 3). This should serve as a reminder that ALL stylistically assigned dates are relative and rounded, and should only be used for general purposes of estimation. The author does readers a favor by recording dates in as "fuzzy" a manner as possible, since even carefully excavated stratified contexts can seldom be used for minute dating, and the evidence of tomb groups, ultimately dependent upon the fragile tissue of Greek ceramic chronology, has problems of its own.

Sorting by shape also fosters a disjointed view of fabric, which may tell more than shapes about the potters and workshops involved. Thus bucchero sottile and pesante alternate in the CVA, when originally there was a diachronic trend in their use, and sottile is relatively rare, perhaps limited to very few cities of which Caere is the best known. In fact, the fabrics termed impasto, buccheroid, and bucchero are parts of a continuum of native Italian pottery reaching well back into the Bronze Age, involving the use of fairly coarse, heavy, colored clays which may be made black only on the surface (buccheroid, brief, experimental phase) or throughout (bucchero) by judicious manipulation of reduction during the firing process. Bucchero normale is nearer to 6th-century everyday ware, of good quality but rather plain versions of standard shapes; by the end of the 6th century, a grayish, sturdy bucchero ware seems to have lingered in Orvieto/Volsinii.10

In years to come, as more vases become accessible, we may expect to see experts able, like those who deal with Attic potters, to deduce different potters' hands from idiosyncracies of rims, handles and bases. Most of the distinctive Etruscan shapes are represented, albeit often in rather ornate versions, in the Getty collection: chalice, kantharos, spiral amphora and "kyathos." The latter three influenced Attic potters. The spiral amphorai in impasto found in the tomb groups of Pithekoussai have been interpreted as markers of ethnicity and gender, presumably the gifts brought by a native, Italian wife (Etruscan, Latin or perhaps Campanian) in marriage to a Greek or Levantine.11 Jugs, frequent in burials at Caere and Carthage, are not present: apparently the Vulcian upper aristocracy -- or modern antiquities dealers -- favored the Greek shapes we call oinochoai and olpai; for other basic bucchero forms, refer to Gran Aymerich's CVA Louvre 20 and 23. While a true Nikosthenic amphora shape (CVA Louvre 20, pls. 17-41) is not among the Getty pieces, the so-called Nikosthenic kyathos (pl. 324.1-2, p. 34) represents the Vulcian cup shape adopted by Attic potters. An interesting interplay between media/fabrics is seen in the phenomenon of face mugs, which occur in Etrusco-Corinthian ware as well as, here, in bucchero (pl. 328).

For the Caeretan pithos fragment, pl. 297.2, "unlevigated clay" seems strong; it would be odd if the clay should not have been cleaned at all; usually the coarse grits and pebbles have been introduced as strengtheners. What may be more important about these ceramics are labor organization and equipment. The impasto Villanovan urns (one, pl. 285) in which most cremated remains were buried, as well as some of the vases which accompanied them (not in Getty CVA, but see CVA Louvre 20) reflect craft production, hand-modeled and baked in a hearth (which is why they are so fragile now). They fall at the end of a tradition of families making pottery at home, whereas bucchero, often imitating Phoenician silverware or Greek painted vases, was an industrial product, thrown on a wheel and fired in a kiln, and thus a more anonymous sort of offering in home or grave. It signals a highly urbanized society and rather complex marketplace economy. Bucchero is a conservator's nightmare, because fabric and firing have left a very friable ceramic: perhaps indication of an expert yet hurried industry working to meet a heightened demand. The latest bucchero, found in smaller quantity, is sturdier.

As De Puma notes, the handwork of a biconical urn is invariably unique in its combination of motives, yet the patterns are so stylized that, to have understood them, artists and consumers must have been party to a very sophisticated grapevine of iconography. The "loving couple" portrayed in detail in a sort of window on the bucchero oinochoe pl. 304, p. 15, might be the same pair who are seen as stick figures seated opposite each other on Tarquinian urns12 -- clothing them as veiled Etruscan wife and warrior has lessened their story in a way. The suggestion that they appear in a window of a/their house is intriguing, although the curved, shield-like area below the window may, as suggested by De Puma, simulate a blanket on their bed.13 Part of this story may also have been expressed in the symbolic offering of paired objects, recognized by DePuma in the duplicate, extravagant pieces of his putative tomb groups (xii-xiii). Servizio per due was a tradition in Vulci and its territory (Poggio Buco), Chiusi and territory (Poggio Sommavilla), and at Faliscan Narce, contiguous territories of the interior which seem to have been linked by tribal, social or religious networks rather than linguistic homogeneity. The social system featuring couples as civic entities has been described by Bonfante.14 Emblematic of it are the famous Boston "couples" sarcophagi of the 4th-century Tetnie family, said to have come from Vulci, and the Hellenistic phenomenon at Chiusi of the lautni, freedpersons, whose married names are proudly painted on their bourgeois terracotta urns. These were regions in which agriculture was the primary tradition and the labor of both sexes was essential to the economy.

Several intriguing elements of iconography or style appear in the catalog. For instance, on the chalice pl. 289.1, a pattern of pendant triangles topped by circles has been very carefully finished with dots for hair and tiny arms, making them look suspiciously like the Phoenician Tanit-symbol.15 The truncated warriors on the handle of pl. 305 are likewise unusual as early examples of half-figure representations. The parallel, CVA Louvre 23 pl. 44.3, gives a rationale for this, showing them as if standing behind the fluted lower body of the vase. The dolphins, resourcefully restored in the chalice fragment pl. 320.1-2, p. 29, are also very early for bucchero, but painted models were readily available. Another insight on the industrial process may be seen in pl. 308, an oinochoe with stamped palmette & duck plaque on its body: the ducks are meant to be seen horizontally, as if swimming, the palmette upright, but here they are rotated 90-degrees to fit the field more economically. Items like this make one wonder how often Etruscan clients were expected to use bucchero pesante vases, and whether the old funerary attributions of bucchero pesante do not have some merit.16

The convenient drawings of animal processions invite the reader to second-guess a few identifications. On pls. 310-311, the two preserved (of three) predators interspersed among birds, goat and boar look so carefully delineated, one is tempted to interpret them as different species: rather than a feline with lolling tongue and bird on his back, why not a dog wearing a collar? The other beast has the short tail, massive haunches and neck, long muzzle and brindled or hackles-raised back of a hyena; if that is not likely, why not a bear? But I cannot find an identical figure in Etruscan or Protocorinthian vases.

Regional schools are becoming increasingly apparent in material excavated in Italy. While other collections show a bias toward Caere or Tarquinia, and the bucchero of shipwrecks -- and thus the ubiquitous kantharoi -- is dominated by the products of Vulci, the Getty collection is surprisingly homogeneous in its links with Vulci. The few items from Caere (sottile and early pesante) or Tarquinia (chalices)17 are the sort of characteristic imports that can be found in most other sites. Of the other major bucchero centers Orvieto and Chiusi are slightly represented, and Vetulonia, early and unusual, is lacking.18 Vulci, perhaps the most consistently plundered of all the Etruscan cities, has begun to receive recognition and scientific attention in the last decades, and eventually, these orphaned vases may be linked to specific tomb complexes or potters' workshops.19

Given the number of bucchero items which seem to have parallels in the north or interior of Etruria, DePuma has been very careful to offer excavated comparanda wherever possible, as for instance pl. 323 with bucchero vases found at Poggio Civitate (Murlo). This and related kyathoi have been described by the excavators as examples of a Murlo potter's workshop; they were sealed in the burnt debris within the Lower Building, and are of considerable chronological significance. The dates assigned by stylistic analogies to these pieces, however (most examples dated to the mid-6th century), have implications for the chronology of the Murlo Upper Building, which is said to have been constructed by or before 575 BC. Such evidence seems to support the contentions of Nancy De Grummond and others that the Upper Building should be reevaluated.20

Typographical errors are minor, as such examples: p. 14 should read Case e palazzi; p. 36 on pl. 325 should read Les canthares. Any impediments to easy use of this volume are inherent in the CVA genre: it is accessible documentation which will facilitate the next round of studies on these vase types. It is to be hoped that De Puma will next produce a synthetic work on Etruscan pottery.


1.   A beginning has been made by R.E. Jones et al., Greek and Cypriot Pottery. A Review of Scientific Studies, Fitch Laboratory Occasional Paper 1 (Athens, 1986) 347-348, 812. See also M.H. Tobey, E.O. Nielsen and M.W. Rowe, "Elemental Analysis of Etruscan Ceramics from Murlo, Italy," Proceedings of the 24th International Archaeometry Symposium, J.S. Olin and M.J. Blackman eds. (Washington, 1986) 115-127. Also T.M. Mannoni, "Il termine `bucchero' visto alla luce delle analisi microscopiche in sezione sottile," in Produzione artigianale ed esportazione nel mondo antico. Il bucchero etrusco. Atti del Colloquio Internazionale 1990, ed. M. Bonghi Jovino (Milan, 1993) 223-227 (this volume cited below as Produzione artigianale). J. Gran-Aymerich et al., "Sur deux groupes de bucchero, examinés au Louvre," MEFRA 97 (1985,2) 611-638.
2.   See, for instance, LIMC 3.2, pls. 301 ff., passim, and p. 415. See T. Rasmussen in Antike Kunst 28 (1985) 33-39, cited by De Puma.
3.   A drawing of the potnia theron handle of oinochoe pl. 306 is inexplicably lacking, although the handle is said to be more realistically rendered than its relatives in the collection.
4.   Cf. F. Delpino, "L'ellenizazzione dell'Etruria villanoviana: sui rapporti tra greci ed Etruria fra IX e VIII sec. a.C.," Secondo Congresso Internazionale Etrusco 1985, Atti, Studi Etruschi Suppl. vol. I (1989) 105-116. The Getty kraters illustrate Vulci of the 7th century, whereas Delpino's evidence for introduction of viticulture is from 9th-8th century Tarquinia.
5.   For actual boat burial, see D. Brusadin Laplace, and S. Patrizi Montoro, "L'Embarcazione monossile della Necropoli di Caolino al Sasso di Furbara," Origini 11 (1977-82) 355-379.
6.  H. Hencken , Tarquinia and Etruscan Origins (London, 1968) 30-31, 48, 136, pls. 76-77.
7.   In addition to DePuma's references on ship models, pp. 9-10, see M. Bonino, "Imbarcazioni archaiche in Italia: Il problema delle navi usate dagli Etruschi," Atti Secondo Congresso Internazionale etrusco, Florence, 1985, Studi Etruschi suppl. vol. 3 (Rome, 1989) 1517-1536; and J.P. Oleson, "A Bucchero Boat-Shaped Dish and Globular Aryballos in the National Maritime Museum Haifa," Sefunim 6 (1981) 27-33. Oleson later confirmed that the dish was technically impasto, see E.B. Shuey, Etruscan Maritime Activity in the Western Mediterranean ca. 800-400 B.C.: An Archaeological Perspective on Historical Interpretations (dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1982, University Microfilms 1983, no. 8321540), 248 note 111.
8.   See L. Basch, Le musée imaginaire de la marine antique (Athens: Institut Hellénique pour la Préservation de la Tradition Nautique, 1987) 303-319, figs. 642-646.
9.   D.K. Hill, "Technique of Greek Metal Vase and its Bearing on Vase Forms in Metal and Pottery," AJA 51 (1947) 248-256.
10.   For thorough background see J. Gran-Aymerich, "Observations generales sur l'evolution et la diffusion du bucchero," in Produzione artigianale, 19-41. Bucchero continued to the 4th century, with noted Campanian production in the 5th: see D. Locatelli in Produzione artigianale, 171-185.
11.   Cf. Gran Aymerich in Produzione artigianale, p. 35.
12.   Hencken, ibid., 34 fig. 6.
13.   See L.B. van der Meer, "Etruscan Rites de Passage," Stips Votiva, Papers Presented to C.M. Stibbe, ed. M. Gnade (Amsterdam, 1991) 119-126, and H.-G. Buchholz, "Das Symbol des gemeinsamen Mantels," Jahrbuch des deutschen archäologischen Instituts 102 (1987) 1-55.
14.   L. Bonfante, "Etruscan Couples and their Aristocratic Society," Women in Antiquity. Women's Studies 8 (1981) 157-187.
15.   Thus far, however, there seems to be no case for the primacy of this symbol in Punic contexts. While now attested in the Phoenician Levant, the earliest datable example of the symbol is on figurines in the Shave Zion shipwreck of the 5th-4th century: see M. Dothan, "A Sign of Tanit from Tel 'Akko," Israel Exploration Journal 24 (1974) 44-49; J.B. Pritchard, Recovering Sarepta, A Phoenician City (Princeton, 1978) 107-108 fig. 104; also Serge Lancel, Carthage. A History (Oxford, 1995) 201-204. A similar sign, perhaps selected from North African textile patterns, was circulated on painted ostrich eggs of the 7th century, as one from Montalto di Castro: see M. Torelli, "Un uovo di struzzo dipinto conservato nel Museo di Tarquinia," Studi Etruschi 33 (1965) 329-365, pls. 76, 79b. Some Caeretan pithoi show overlapping semicircles pendant below small circles, so perhaps this is merely an evolution of Corinthian painted patterns. Cf. M. A. Rizzo, Le anfore da trasporto e il commercio etrusco arcaico I. Complessi tombali dall'Etruria Meridionale (Rome, 1990) 63 fig. 77 no. 8, end of 7th century; also L. Pieraccini, "A Storage Vase for Life: The Caeretane Dolio and its Decorative Elements," in Etruscan Italy, ed. J.F. Hall (Provo Utah, 1996 reviewed here) 92-113, here p. 92 fig. 1.
16.   The Caeretan Red Ware stamped friezes (pl. 295) also show a casual attitude, with no attempt to avoid disruption or overlap of the repeated scenes. Certainly, many other items of pesante ware can be shown to have been designed for funerary deposition, such as the so-called focolare containers often found filled with bucchero miniatures representing metal or wooden utensils (illustrated by Donati, Studi Etruschi 36 (1968) 319-355 nos. 74-101).
17.   See G. Gualterio, "Contributo al riconoscimento della produzione tarquiniese di bucchero," in Produzione artigianale, 135-146.
18.   D. Gregori, "Una bottega vetuloniese di buccheri ed impasti orientalizzanti decorate a stampiglia," Studi e Materiali 6, 1983 [1991] 64-81; also found at Poggio Civitate/Murlo: Cristofani and Phillips in Studi Etruschi 39 (1971) 411-412, nos. 2-3. Cf. G. Bagnasco Gianni, "A proposito di tre kyathoi in bucchero a rilievo," in Produzione artigianale, 207-216.
19.   See F.R.S. Ridgway, "Vulci," in Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology, N.T. De Grummond ed. (Westport CT, 1996) vol. 2, 1180-1181; urbanistic background provided in M.E. Moser, "The Origins of the Etruscans: New Evidence for an Old Question," in Etruscan Italy, ed. J.F. Hall (Provo Utah, 1996 reviewed here), 28-43; G. Riccioni, "Vulci: A Topographical and Cultural Survey," in Italy Before the Romans, D. and F.R.S. Ridgway eds. (London, 1979) 241-276. Also La civiltà arcaica di Vulci e la sua espansione, Atti X Congresso di Studi Etruschi ed Italici (Florence, 1977).
20.   N.T. De Grummond, "Poggio Civitate: A Turning Point," Etruscan Studies 4 (1997) 23-40. For illustrations of the Murlo early bucchero, see K.M. Phillips, Jr., In the Hills of Tuscany (Philadelphia, 1993) 60-71, with original excavation reports listed in the bibliography by I.E.M. Edlund-Berry and Phillips, pp. 95ff. A monograph in press (Archaeological Institute of America/University of Pennsylvania; Bryn Mawr College dissertation 1993) by Jon Berkin on the bucchero pottery of the Murlo Lower Building will offer more thorough documentation of these chronologically crucial finds, a surprising number of which bear similarities to Getty and other vases.

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