Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.01.02

Mary B. Moore, Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. J. Paul Getty Museum Fascicule 8 (U.S.A. Fascicule 33).   Malibu, CA:  J. Paul Getty Museum, 1998.  Pp. 98.  ISBN 0-89236-134-4.  $95.00.  



Reviewed by Richard Neer, Department of Art History, University of Chicago
Word count: 3828 words

With this fascicule, Mary B. Moore completes the rapidfire publication of three first-rate catalogues of Athenian fineware. The earlier titles were Athenian Agora volumes 23 and 30, devoted to black- and red-figure finds, respectively. As excavation reports, the Agora volumes had a cohesiveness not to be expected of a CVA fascicule, the contents of which, after all, reflect the vagaries of the modern, not the ancient, marketplace. Yet the Getty volume is significant in its own right: it contains the red-figure and white-ground cups from the collection of Molly and Walter Bareiss, one of this century's finest private holdings. Since purchasing the Bareiss vases in 1985/86, the Getty has been making them available to the public through the CVA. The scope and ambition of this publishing program are very much to the museum's credit; one wishes that other institutions would follow its example. Moore's fascicule, moreover, contains the cream of the crop. Many of the vases in Getty 8 would be the showpiece of a lesser collection. Psiax, Oltos, Epiktetos, Euphronios, Onesimos, the Brygos Painter, Douris, Makron, the Antiphon Painter, the Foundry Painter: the artisans represented here comprise a veritable Who's Who of the late Archaic kylix. Not all the pieces have been published before, and the fascicule is full of pleasant surprises. Such a quantity of first-rate and famous pots poses a challenge to any author, and it is worth saying right off the bat that Moore has succeeded admirably in her task. This is a very good fascicule. In what follows, I shall discuss Getty 8 in some detail. Then, prompted by the fact that this fascicule is in a sense exemplary of the connoisseurial work being done today, the second half of this review will discuss briefly the role of stylistics and attribution in contemporary art history and archaeology.

CVAs adhere to a pretty strict format, and there is -- deliberately -- little room for an author to make his or her own distinctive mark. The greater part of each entry is devoted to a meticulous description of the object, be it a sherd or a complete vessel, adhering to a standard format. The purpose of these descriptions is to supplement the photographic plates and profile drawings included in the fascicule. Taken together, text and image are supposed to provide a reasonable substitute for the object itself. Moore's entries are exemplary in this regard: pithy, attentive, and concise. More to the point, they are useful in that they direct the reader's attention to details that might at first glance be missed. The photographs and drawings are likewise up to the Getty's traditionally high standards. The shots are clear, well-lit, and -- most important of all -- large enough to allow close inspection of the details: nothing could be farther from the dingy, postage-stamp-sized reproductions of old CVAs (and, sad to say, of too many modern publications). In short, from a technical point of view this fascicule is as close to flawless as one can reasonably hope. Even the typos are few and far between.

If the descriptions and plates are intended as stand-ins -- mnemata, perhaps -- for the absent objects, the last two subsections of each entry are meant to assist future research; they go under the headings "Bibliography" and "Comments." In theory at least, the "Bibliography" cites every photograph of the object in question published since 1989 -- when Beazley Addenda2 came out -- or earlier, if the vase is not in Beazley. It also cites every sustained discussion of the piece, with or without illustration; and, of course, it cites Beazley where appropriate. The "Comments," by contrast, concern style and iconography. Here, as in the descriptive sections, Moore provides succinct, accurate, and useful exposition.

Yet I have to confess that I found these entries to be, at times, too brief. For example, Moore rarely directs the reader to discussions of painters -- even important ones, like the Penthesilea Painter (cat. nos.6, 7, 75-7 9) -- except to cite Beazley's lists. If she were consistent in this practice -- if it were a matter of policy -- it might be all right; but at times Moore breaks her austere regimen and supplies comprehensive bibliographies, e.g. for Makron (cat. nos. 61-67, 95). As for painters, so for subject-matter: where the Gigantomachy warrants detailed discussion (cat. no. 8), satyrs and maenads (twelve vases) get nothing. The result is a puzzling inconsistency to the text, something the Getty's editorial staff should have caught. The "Bibliography" sections, likewise, are not always as complete as they might be. A few examples: cat. no. 17, by Epiktetos, is discussed as cat. no. 350 in Henry Immerwahr's Attic Script (Oxford, 1990); cat. no. 49, by the Brygos Painter, is discussed by Nigel Spivey in Ritual, Finance, Politics, ed. R. Osborne and S. Hornblower (Oxford, 1994); and cat. no. 106, probably by Euphronios, is illustrated in John Boardman, Athenian Red-Figured Vases: The Archaic Period (New York, 1975) as fig. 215, with discussion p. 133. It is always easy, and a bit unfair, to gripe about what an author has not said, and these oversights are fairly trivial. To repeat, therefore, Getty 8 is a superb fascicule, full of wonderful vases expertly treated.

It is impossible to discuss each and every interesting item in this fascicule. What follows addresses some of the lesser-known pieces (and a few famous ones as well).

Cat. nos. 17 and 18 are attributed to Epiktetos. The latter, as Moore points out, shows the unmistakable influence of Euphronios and therefore provides a further indication of links between two important workshops. Cat. no. 19 is an unpublished fragment with a nude, seated man seen from the front; Moore discusses the figure type and suggests that the fragment might be by Epiktetos as well.

Cat. no. 25 comprises thirteen fragments of a cup which Moore attributes to the Epeleios Painter. On the exterior it shows a cavalry battle, a theme popular in black-figure but relatively uncommon in red. Even here, none of the combatants seems actually to be mounted; the horses merely charge around the battlefield. The interior shows a youth dipping into a large bell-krater, an important document in the history of that shape. Several other previously unpublished works by or near the Epeleios Painter appear in the fascicule as well.

Cat. no. 31 is interesting in that its interior has a red wash of the kind known as "coral red." Moore removes this cup from the oeuvre of the Ambrosios Painter, where it had been placed by Bothmer; yet she implies that there might still be a link with the potter Kachrylion, in whose shop most known examples of the technique were produced.

Cat. no. 38 is a little-know n cup which Moore places (with extreme caution) in the vicinity of Apollodoros. The sympotic-erotic iconography is not unusual in itself, but some of the figures are strangely -- one would like to say deliberately -- androgynous, and the cup deserves to be better known.

The fascicule is particularly strong on works by or near Onesimos. Cat. no. 43 is a magnificent cup signed by Euphronios as potter with painted decoration attributed to Onesimos. Regrettably, Moore does not say where on the vase the signature appears, nor does she transcribe it; it is invisible on the photographs (unless the ]OS in the tondo is being taken as a signature, which is unlikely). The interior shows a drunken symposiast vomiting, and Moore has drawn up a new list of all such scenes. Cat. no. 44 is another vomiting scene; the vase has been mended and rephotographed, incorporating several joining Campana fragments from the Louvre. Cat. no. 45 is an unusual depiction of a youth, en face, bathing at a fountain (doubtless in a gymnasium). Cat. no. 46 is a single, fascinating sherd. On the exterior is a magnificently foreshortened centaur. On the interior is a warrior whose helmet-crest resembles nothing so much as a human scalp. Moore, following Dyfri Williams, takes it to be just that. However, J. Michael Padgett of Princeton has drawn my attention to a cup by Epiktetos (Florence 151209; ARV2 73.31; A.M. Esposito and G. de Tommaso, Vasi Attici [Florence 1993] p. 50, fig. 67) on which a similar crest appears. Padgett notes that, if these crests really were human scalps, one might expect them to resemble the hair of the people on the same vases, but they do not. It is therefore quite possible that they are simply crests of soft or floppy animal hair, different from the stiff bristles we normally see but not quite so exotic as a scalp. Finally, on pl. 416, Moore provides a lovely, Boardman-esque array of male profiles culled from these Onesiman vases, an inspired idea (see also pl. 420 for a similar array, this time Brygan).

Cat. no. 59, an unpublished "mild Brygan" cup, is one of the few cases in which I have a substantive disagreement with Moore. She identifies the exterior scenes as the dokimasia, or inspection, of Athenian cavalry horses. François Lissarrague has argued quite cogently, however, that we cannot safely identify a dokimasia unless the painter has included a katalogeus, or registrar, in the scene (cf. L'autre guerrier [Paris, 1990]: 22 4-29). No such figure appears on the Getty cup, and it might be more prudent to identify it simply as "Youths with Horses."

The High Classical vases are by and large more fragmentary and less interesting than the late Archaic. One may single out, however, cat. no. 85, attributed to the Eretria Painter: Moore aptly observes that Side A shows the influence of the Parthenon frieze.

As a grand finale, Moore has one of the most beautiful vases in existence: a magnificent -- and, tragically, fragmentary -- white-ground kylix with Dionysos and a satyr (cat. no. 106). The cup has been published many times before, but something has always gone wrong: either the fragments were improperly arranged, or the picture was dark. Here, at last, we have a good photograph of this masterpiece. It is neither red-figure, nor black-, nor even standard white-ground, but a rare hybrid known as "semi-outline." Against a white background, Dionysos is rendered in golden-brown contours, his servant in exquisite black-figure. The result is both a technical tour de force and a carefully contrived display of wine's two faces, bestial and divine. Because it is such a gorgeous oddity, the Bareiss cup poses special difficulties for the connoisseur. Attributions are divided between late Euphronios and the early work of his pupil Onesimos. The distinction between these two personalities is a notorious connoisseurial minefield, and Moore picks her way carefully. Though she comes down gingerly on the side of Euphronios (rightly, I think), she gives the contrary view a thorough airing. In this as in other matters, CVA Getty 8 is a model of its kind: neither vacillating nor strident, but judicious and informative.

As the above remarks suggest, many of these vases are already well-known, but the publication of a CVA fascicule has given the Getty an opportunity to mend, rephotograph, and generally review even the most celebrated pieces. Combined with Moore's thorough and lucid exposition, the result is a fascicule that every serious research library should own.

Though CVAs continue to appear with regularity, the intellectual climate has changed utterly in the eighty years since Edmond Pottier initiated the project. Today "the science of attribution" finds itself attacked from two sides. Hard-nosed positivists, including many art historians and field archaeologists, express distaste for its aestheticizing tendencies, its cult of individualism, and its subjective, even elitist, approach to the evidence.1 Postmodernists, meanwhile, often claim that connoisseurship is no more than a discursive fiction imposed by the disciplinary regimes of modernity upon the contents of the Mediterranean soil. Both groups make similar objections, but for opposite reasons: if the one dislikes connoisseurship because it does not produce hard facts, the other dislikes it because it is deeply suspicious of facts as such.

Such criticisms have their merits. They have brought an end to connoisseurship's long hegemony in classical archaeology, and they have opened new and exciting lines of inquiry (of which the works of Ian Morris and François Lissarrague are, in their different ways, outstanding examples).2 The days when an attribution was an end itself are gone -- and good riddance. But there is a real danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In the remainder of this article I will try to show that neither positivist nor postmodern historians can dispense with connoisseurship because it is the precondition of their inquiries. One can object all one wants to any particular attribution, any particular connoisseur -- one can heartily disagree with everything Beazley ever wrote -- but one cannot object to the connoisseurial project in principle and still talk coherently about the ancient world. The point has been made in the past, but bears repeating.

The first thing to note about connoisseurship is that it is not, fundamentally, a search for individual authors. Rather, it is a form of etiology: the inference of an artifact's spatial and temporal point of origin on the basis of morphological ("stylistic") criteria. That point of origin can be as specific as a person or as general as a place: it is all the same as far as theory and practice are concerned. That is, the connoisseur who attributes a potsherd to the Kleophrades Painter is performing the same actions, and for the same reasons, as the field archaeologist who sorts her finds at the end of a day's work. When the archaeologist classifies a newly-excavated potsherd as "Naxian Geometric" or "Hadra ware," she is using connoisseurial method: determining origin on the basis of style. Beazley's lists represent the most extreme -- or, charitably, the most optimistic -- variant of this practice: they claim to describe not just where a potsherd was made, not just when, but by whom. But the guiding assumptions in each case are identical: connoisseurship differs from ordinary pottery-sorting only in degree, not in kind.

Archaeologists may object that there is a world of difference between attributing something to a time or place, and attributing it to an individual "hand." But if there is such a difference, it works to the connoisseur's favor. Stylistic categories like "Middle Geometric", as William Coulson has emphasized, make reference only to the internal and autonomous development of the medium in question: an attribution to Middle Geometric claims nothing except that the sherd is in the style "Middle Geometric".3 It neither dates the sherd nor tells us about its origins: it simply fits it into a stylistic sequence. In short, it is Formalism, basically akin to Wölfflin's project of dividing art into "Baroque" and "Classical" styles.4 Connoisseurs, by contrast, always insist on the potential referentiality of artifacts: for them, style signifies. Alternatively, if the archaeologist wishes to insist that stylistic categories really are indicative of "national" or "cultural" identities, then she comes dangerously close to an archaeology of Volksgeist, a search for ethnic or racial essences as bodied forth in style. Such a practice does not seem intrinsically preferable to the connoisseur's insistence on individual idiosyncrasy. At any rate, the two are not mutually exclusive.

Archaeologists may also object that their stylistic judgements derive from a painstaking correlation of "hard" excavation data, and therefore have an objectivity lacking in Beazley's attributions. But this objection, too, is hollow. The very act of correlating data prejudges the issue for the objects of the comparison will of necessity be products of stylistic analysis. Imagine the following sequence:

(i) Working in trench A, an excavator notices that finds of a given type cluster in a certain stratum. (ii) Working in trench B, she again discovers that finds of a given type cluster in a certain stratum. (iii) She compares the distinctive finds from trenches A and B and determines that they are stylistically similar. (iv) She correlates the positions of these stylistically similar finds within the stratigraphies of trenches A and B to arrive at the beginning of a relative sequence. The similar finds may, for example, be said to be "contemporary"; the finds from lower strata in either trench will then be relatively "earlier," and finds from higher strata will be relatively "later." She may then repeat the whole process, e.g. comparing the "earlier" artifacts from trench A with those from the corresponding level in trench B to determine if they, too, are similar. And so on.

Connoisseurship precedes this entire process. In steps i and ii, the archaeologist seems to draw upon objective evidence: instead of associating artifacts by subjective, stylistic criteria, she merely associates them by physical contiguity, by findspot. But the problem lies in defining which contiguities are meaningful: after all, everything is contiguous to everything else in some sense. How does one define an assemblage, a stratum, a findspot in the first place? How does one deter mine that finds are "of a given type"? Answer: through the application of stylistic criteria. Style is the property which identifies an assemblage, stratum, or findspot as such.

It is debatable whether the identification of an assemblage, stratum, or finds pot already presumes a common origin for the artifacts involved. If it does, then steps i-iii are connoisseurial, in so far as they infer origins from style. If it does not, then steps i-iii are merely formal evaluations. Artifacts (and styles) are compared as it were in a vacuum; no conclusions are drawn. With step iv, however, the archaeologist clearly makes inferences about origins on the basis of style. In short, she acts like Beazley. One might say, therefore, that in so far as archaeology is not Formalist -- in so far as it seeks etiology in morphology -- it is aligned with connoisseurship.

So: archaeologists and connoisseurs perform similar actions. More importantly, however, they do so for a similar reason: they are each committed to a realist view of style. They are committed to the idea that style is not just a construct, but a real property of real objects in the real world. Connoisseurs are committed to this idea because they believe that personal style is a real property of individuals. Archaeologists are committed because they believe that period and regional styles are (or were) real properties of periods and regions. To see that such is the case, one need only imagine a world in which we could not or would not say that a potsherd is Archaic, not modern; that it is Greek, not Chinese; that it is even a potsherd in the first place, and not an oddly-colored pebble. In such a world, it would be impossible to recognize an artifact as such. And without artifacts, without a "material record," archaeologists and art historians would have nothing to talk about.5

The realist view of style, and the practice of stylistic etiology it entails, precedes any and all archaeologic al work. It does so because it is what allows us to recognize artifacts as such. The entire ancient world is built up out of innumerable attributions, many of them so basic as to remain tacit. For example, the distinction between man-made artifacts and natural forms involves a tacit attribution. When an excavator throws away what she perceives to be pebbles and saves what she perceives to be artifacts, she is making attributions: in the broadest possible sense, the artifacts are those things she perceives to be "in the style of humans."6 Such attributions may appear so obvious as to be irrelevant. Yet controversies over borderline cases like the so-called Berekhat Ram figurine -- which is either the earliest known example of human representational activity, or a funny-looking rock -- reveal that the identification of an artifact as such is an important act of critical judgment.7 More specific analyses identify period, regional, and even personal styles: Ancient Mediterranean, Archaic Greek, Attic red-figure, the Berlin Painter. Philology, the connoisseurship of texts, has its own degrees of specificity and its own techniques; its importance for historians is obvious. Nobody has to believe in all or any of these attributions, but one cannot disbelieve any one of them simply because it is made on the basis of style if one also wants to keep any of the others. Positivist archaeologists and historians presuppose the validity of stylistic analysis because stylistic analysis provides them with all their evidence for past actions and events; it reassures them that they are, in fact, archaeologists and not just misguided geologists.

Interestingly enough, it is at just this point that anti-positivist skeptics jump into the fray. The absolute priority of style makes it possible that connoisseurs actually produce the artifacts they think they recognize, and that what we call "the ancient world" is in fact no more than a discursive conceit. It has nothing to do with the actuality of the past: as Michael Shanks puts it, "Stylistic attribution has little bearing on anything other than the discourse of style to which it belongs."8 Adherents of this view ought in principle to refrain from making truth-claims about the ancient world (though they usually do not). As argued above, all knowledge about the past depends either directly or indirectly upon stylistic attributions (or, more precisely, on evidence which is identified as such by stylistic criteria). It follows that if we reject outright the very possibility of making attributions, if we maintain that stylistic analyses do not refer to anything outside "the discourse of style," then we must also reject all the theories about the past derived from those same stylistic analyses.9 And that means refusing even to talk about the ancient world as anything other than a fictional place: in effect, assassinating the memory of the past.

Instead of focusing on style as a discursive phenomenon, therefore, it might be more promising to develop an historical pragmatics of style -- studying wh at it did, for whom, and when. Style understood neither as a discursive fiction nor as a reflection of national essence but as the site of discourse and ideology itself: as, to use George Kubler's useful metaphor, a "fossil action."10 But such a project would require us first to accept that styles really exist.

Again, we need not accept any particular attribution. Just the reverse: attributions, all attributions, are always debatable. It is, I suspect, this very openness to debate that critics on both sides find disconcerting. Connoisseurship, and stylistics generally, seem so desperately uncertain, so disconcertingly an ex post facto arrangement of the evidence. My point is simply that it is not alone in this regard. The same is true for archaeology as a whole.11 In itself, our dependence upon style and inference is only specially worrisome if we are so misguided as to believe that historical knowledge is ever anything but incorrigibly inferential, hypothetical, and tropological through and through. Attributions -- and CVAs -- are not the be-all and the end-all of art history and archaeology; but they are indispensable, and neither more nor less speculative than anything else.


Notes:


1.   For example, the great Otto Pächt in The Practice of Art History: Reflections on Method, tr. D. Britt (London, 1999): 65-70.
2.   E.g., I. Morris, Burial and Ancient Society (Cambridge, 1987); F. Lissarrague, Un flot d'images (Paris, 1987).
3.   W. Coulson, The Greek Dark Ages (Athens, 1990).
4.   H. Wölfflin, Principles of Art History, tr. M.D. Hottinger (New York, 1950).
5.   Cf. George Kubler, The Shape of Time (New Haven, 1962).
6.   Another way of putting it would be to say that an artifact is that which has a style in the first place, and a natural object is that which is style-less. Possession of style on the one hand, and the status of being an artifact on the other, are synonymous. Cf. K. Walton, "Style and the Products and Processes of Art," in B. Lang, ed., The Concept of Style (Ithaca, 1987): 73.
7.   Cf. W. Davis, Replications (University Park, 1996): 157-60.
8.   M. Shanks, Classical Archaeology of Greece (New York, 1996): 36.
9.   By contrast, if we accept the possibility of an attribution in principle, there is endless room for debate about particulars (Acheulean figurine or pebble? Euphronios or Onesimos?).
10.   Kubler, op. cit. 56. See al so M. Conkey, "Experimenting with Style in Archaeology: Some Historical and Theoretical Issues," in M. Conkey and C. Hastorf, eds., The Uses of Style in Archaeology (Cambridge, England, 1990): 5-17.
11.   And probably for language as well. I have argued elsewhere (R.T. Neer, "Beazley and the Language of Connoisseurship" Hephaistos 15 [1997]: 7-30) that the potential aberrance of attribution is identical to that of linguistic denomination.

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