Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.02.16

Peter Connor, Heather Jackson, A Catalogue of Greek Vases in the Collection of the University of Melbourne at the Ian Potter Museum of Art With CD-ROM.   Melbourne:  Macmillan Art Publishing, 2000.  Pp. 208.  ISBN 1-876832-07-X.  

Reviewed by Jenifer Neils, Case Western Reserve University (
Word count: 1214 words

In 1951 when A. D. Trendall published a survey of Attic vases in Australia and New Zealand, he included in it a mere eight vases at the University of Melbourne.1 Today there are three times as many Attic vases along with representatives of all the other major Greek fabrics, constituting a valuable collection for teaching and research. Now these 76 vases have been published in a lavish all-color catalogue accompanied by a state-of-the-art CD-ROM, making this interesting collection accessible far beyond the Antipodes.

There are two phases to the collection. The first began in 1926 with the Sutton Bequest which stipulated that the funds (500 pounds -- or ten times the annual salary of a university tutor) be spent within three years. Thereby a collection of some 20 vases and 100 coins was rapidly acquired and exhibited. After a long lull, the second major phase of collecting began in 1969 when Peter Connor, teacher of classics at the University, became curator of the collection, and continued there over a period of nearly three decades until his untimely death in 1996. He helped the museum acquire a broad spectrum of vases ranging from the Mycenaean of the 13th century B.C. to Campanian of the 3rd century B.C., many of which he published over the years in learned and useful articles in Archäologisher Anzeiger. The latest vase to enter the collection is a red-figure krater formerly in the Geddes collection which was donated in memory of Peter Connor by the Classical Association of Victoria and friends. Its scene of female pursuit would have amused and delighted the honorand, whose photograph graces the end of this volume.

This lavish catalogue with its large format, excellent color reproductions including details, profile drawings, and extensive entries with full references was a collaborative effort. Peter Connor's notes and research were edited by Heather Jackson; introductions to sections were written by eminent vase-painting scholars like Elizabeth Pemberton and Ian McPhee; two attributions were provided by John Oakley; new photography was courtesy of the University's Multimedia Education Unit; and, perhaps most unique in a vase catalogue, location images from a tholos tomb interior to the Temple of Hera at Paestum along with stunning photographs of the Acropolis at Athens are the artistry of Frank Sear. The resulting volume is both a beautiful coffee-table book and a scholarly catalogue as comprehensive as any Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, a rarity in our field.

It is clear that this collection has been developed with an eye to teaching. So, for instance the fabric of an East Greek Ionian cup can be compared to a contemporary imitation produced in South Italy or Sicily. Or a tall Etrusco-Corinthian alabastron from the Sutton Bequest can be contrasted with a smaller Corinthian model donated in 1995. The quality of the painted vases is generally modest but there are some exceptions. Among the fourteen Corinthian vases, the Middle Proto-Corinthian aryballos is well executed with its two animal zones, the lower one showing a lively dog-hare chase. Among the sixteen Attic black-figure vases the neck-amphora with pairs of frontal horsemen on each side is exceptional for its iconography and the large deposit of iron still adhering to one of its handles (this in spite of the fact that the vase was lost in a Melbourne airport freight shed for more than a year). Rather than the Dioskouroi, these young equestrians with their synchronized glances and carefully poised spears might be performance riders like the Spanish picadors. Another unusual black-figure vase is an eye cup with the pairs of eyes filling the interior rather than the more usual exterior. The outside of this fully decorated cup is covered with grape vine and one lounging symposiast per side.

There are nine Attic red-figure vases, three of which are lekythoi with a single figure. The fourth lekythos, however, is atypical in having only shoulder decoration, a "mistress with maid". Even more interesting is a Nolan amphora of ca. 440 B.C. with a departure (or arrival?) scene consisting of a woman pouring a libation and a bearded man in traveling garb who appears to be wearing two petasoi. Since he is bearded and is leaning on a tall walking stick, he cannot be a young hero like Theseus; rather his aged appearance and the peculiar way in which his right index finger is pointing to his eyes suggest the blinded Oedipus, perhaps arriving in Athens, as later described by Sophocles. Certainly the finest vase purchased with the Sutton Bequest is the charming chous from the circle of the Meidias Painter of ca. 420 B.C. Whether or not it can be related to the Anthesteria (although this seems likely in view of the ivy-garlanded chous on a table to the right of center), the vase depicts four wreathed musicians all holding lyres. Three are young boys and the fourth is an older youth seated on a klismos, as if he were the music teacher. In the background hang two floral wreaths and what looks like the façade of a temple with large floral akroteria (the Parthenon?) in added white.

There are six East Greek vases in the collection, including a faience aryballos in the shape of a hedgehog. A black-figure neck-amphora with black body and male profile heads flanked by spindly raised arms on the neck is tentatively assigned to East Greek manufacture. A parallel for these orant-like figures can in fact be found on the shoulder of an Aeolian stamnos from Myrina (Louvre B 561).2 Of the ten vases from South Italy and Sicily, two are Campanian black-figure. The more unusual one is a so-called Pagenstecher lekythos of the first half of the fourth century B.C. with a comic actor dancing in his padded costume, an unparalleled image on this particular class of vases.

Two exceptions to this all-color catalogue of Greek vases are black-and-white illustrations of a lip-cup associated with Lydos and of a hydria by the Painter of Louvre F 6, both of which were stolen from the university in 1990. It is admirable that the authors nonetheless included these vases so that if they ever reappear they can be returned to Melbourne. The former has a unique gorgoneion in the tondo: double-tongued snake protomes flank the gorgon's nose. The hydria with its departing warrior has an almost exact replica formerly in the collection of Sir John Coghill.

The accompanying CD-ROM is a searchable database of high quality images of the vases, many of which are rotatable. One can access the individual vases in a number of ways: the Full List containing all 76 records; the Tour which is chronological by periods; Search which allows access by catalogue number, date, ware, artist, subject matter, and shape. There is also a glossary and a Help page which explains the navigational symbols. All illustrations can be enlarged to full screen, and the resolution and color are excellent. The Ian Potter Museum also maintains a virtual museum website at

As the first of a projected series of catalogues for the University of Melbourne's art collections, this volume sets a high standard for the others to follow. It is a fine example of how collaborative academic projects involving the latest technology can benefit a number of constituencies from the museum-going public to advanced scholars of Greek vase-painting.


1.   A. D. Trendall, "Attic Vases in Australia and New Zealand," JHS 71, 1951, 178-93.
2.   See J. Boardman, Early Greek Vase Painting (London 1998) 175, fig. 356.

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