Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.08.03

Thomas Mannack, The Later Mannerists in Athenian Vase-Painting.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2001.  Pp. 153.  ISBN 0-19-924089-2.  $90.00.  



Reviewed by J. Michael Padgett, Princeton University Art Museum (mpadgett@princeton.edu)
Word count: 1717 words

The later "Mannerists" are among the unloved step children of Attic vase-painting, a legacy from Sir John Beazley, who himself had little regard for them, once referring to the Nausicaa Painter, perhaps the best of the group, as an "incompetent."1 This volume in the series of Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology is a revised translation of Thomas Mannack's 1991 German thesis at the Christian Albrechts University, Kiel. He is under no illusions about the artistic quality of many of the works in question and should be thanked for assuming the task of subjecting them to a close study, the lack of which has been felt by students of classical vase-painting and iconography. His approach is traditional and straightforward, with chapters on the nature of mannerism in Attic vase-painting, the styles of the individual artists, shapes, ornaments, iconography, chronology, a brief summary, a catalogue of vases, an index, and 64 "plates" (94 images on 24 pages). The reliance on Beazley and his methodology is absolute, which is understandable considering both the nature of the subject and the fact that the author is a Research Officer in the Beazley Archive at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; his name will be familiar to anyone who has consulted that useful but deeply flawed resource.

Beazley described the Mannerists as "One workshop, specializing in third-rate column-kraters, pelikai, and hydriai, ... traced from the Archaic period down to the end of the fifth century or near."2 The mannerism he had in mind was not that of Italy but of early 16th-century Antwerp, with its incongruous mixture of old forms and new. As the Flemish mannerists stood to late Gothic and Renaissance, Beazley felt, these vase-painters stood to Late Archaic and Early Classical. Many have speculated on the precise meaning of "mannerism" in this and other contexts, and Mannack gives an overview of the literature on the subject. Beazley himself, however, seems to have wanted nothing more than to cite an historical example to illustrate the peculiar character of these works. "If 'archaising' or 'subarchaic-mannerists' would express my meaning better," he said, "I would be willing to add the adjective."3

As the Early Classical style began to take shape in the 470s, many older artists, such as the Berlin Painter and the Triptolemos Painter, clung to established Archaic conventions. What sets Beazley's "Earlier Mannerists" apart are certain particular shared tendencies: elongated figures with small heads; angular movements and exaggerated gestures; stiff drapery with repetitive stacked pleats; a fondness for column-kraters. The founder of the workshop, around 500 B.C, was Myson, and it is his pupils and followers who comprise the Earlier Mannerists. The most important of these are the Pig Painter, the Leningrad Painter, the Agrigento Painter, and the Oinanthe Painter. Joining them is the Pan Painter, who, however, stood apart from the others both in his superior ability and in the diversity of his workshop connections. Mannack devotes a chapter to the Earlier Mannerists (except the Pan Painter), but their works are not included in the catalogue; he explains that this is in deference to Louise Berge's long-awaited monograph on Myson and his followers, but the omission can only be lamented.

The Earlier Mannerists were followed before mid-century by the "Later Mannerists," the earliest of whom, the Nausicaa Painter, began his career around 460 B.C., overlapping the late Leningrad Painter, from whom he seems to have learned his trade. By this time the lingering, sub-archaic mannerism of the Earlier Mannerists had largely disappeared, and along with it any connection with the specific type of mannerism evoked by Beazley. The influence of other vase-painters becomes more noticeable, particularly that of the Niobid Painter and the Altamura Painter. Strictly speaking, then, these later artists are mannerist only in the sense that they continue the Mannerist Workshop and maintain its fidelity to the column-krater, never a popular shape with the best red-figure painters and increasingly old-fashioned as the century progressed.

In addition to the Nausicaa Painter, the Later Mannerists include the Painter of Tarquinia 707, the Orestes Painter, the Hephaistos Painter, the Duomo Painter, the Painter of Oxford 529, the Painter of London E 488, and the Io Painter. These are followed around 430 B.C. by the "Latest Mannerists," the Painter of Athens 1183 and the Academy Painter, the latter active until the very end of the century. All of these painters receive the author's close attention, and his descriptions of their particular styles and habits of drawing hereafter will be considered authoritative. His catalogue follows Beazley's lists of attributions, revised and augmented with new attributions. As he did for the Earlier Mannerists, Beazley also identified a considerable number of vases by "undetermined" Later Mannerists, some of which Mannack now assigns to specific hands, although he adds to their number nearly as many as he takes away.

The Nausicaa Painter was named by Beazley for a neck-amphora in Munich (for some reason not illustrated) with the naked Odysseus encountering the Phaiakian princess and her handmaidens. On an amphora of different shape, in London, he actually signed his name as artist: "Polygnotos egrapsen." Two other Early Classical vase-painters also signed vases with this name, and there is no agreement as to whether these are their actual names or whether one or all three were adopting the name of the great Thasian muralist, one of whose panels in the Pinacotheca of the Propylaia at Athens depicted Odysseus and Nausicaa. Although of limited competence as a draughtsman, the Nausicaa Painter, like some other Mannerists, is known for unusual mythological subjects; in addition to his name-vase, we have the daughters of Danaos, Herakles and Busiris, Rhea with Zeus and Kronos, Herakles in the house of Dexamenos, and the infant Herakles strangling the snakes in his bed. Mannack rejects Bothmer's attribution to the Nausicaa Painter of a pelike in Boston with Phineus and the Boreads, citing the unusual shape and ornament and relegating it to the list of "undetermined" vases. If, however, one continues to agree with Bothmer it merely points up the difficulty that can arise in distinguishing individual hands among the Later Mannerists, where the low quality and strong 'house style," as Martin Robertson has called it, caused even Beazley to leave many works in the undetermined category. Mannack himself, although he makes several new attributions and lists some by others, is perhaps too despairing, saying that "Beazley's elaborate system of relationships between different painters has been avoided, because his keen eye and vast knowledge could not be equaled." Well, maybe not, but one may be forgiven for trying. On other issues -- the continuing favor shown to old fashioned shapes and subjects, the place of the workshop in the export market, the influence of monumental public wall paintings, the curious homogeneity of the "undetermined" vases -- the author diligently lays out the known facts but is hesitant to draw any but the most modest conclusions. This may be wise, considering the paucity of reliable information and the weakness of statistical models, but it does not make for stimulating reading.

This is not a book for undergraduates. One needs a general knowledge of the world of Attic vase-painting to understand the place occupied within it by the Later Mannerists. The analysis is dry and aimed at specialists, and the price will insure that few others see the book outside a library. The works, too, are often dull, but several are of considerable interest, and a few are even beautiful. This, however, is difficult to demonstrate from the illustrations, which are small and inadequate. The author's thesis photographs ought to have been upgraded and augmented. One cannot expect color illustrations in a book with such a limited market, but in a work on style it was a mistake to provide so few details of the figures, especially those referred to in the text as exhibiting particularly diagnostic features. Nearly all of the images are of complete vases, which not only makes the individual figures difficult to see but also was unnecessary, since the shapes and ornaments of Late Mannerist vases, if not exactly uniform, are notoriously monotonous, a fact only emphasized by the careful drawings of profiles and palmettes in the chapters on shapes and ornaments. Instead, the only supplementary pictures are a few drawings by Beazley, which although useful are no substitute for a selection of clear photographic details. The plates, moreover, do not follow the order of the catalogue, and neither the catalogue nor the List of Plates gives the page numbers in the text where they are discussed, a particular hardship if one wants to read about the few Earlier Mannerists vases that are illustrated but not catalogued. As for the catalogue itself, one could wish that author had cast a wider net in garnering new attributions. He has flipped through the catalogues of the auction houses (possibly missing a pelike by the Duomo Painter? See Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, January 20, 1967, no. 209), but there are several Later Mannerist vases and fragments in public and private collections, and in the art market, that are not included. Graduate students may well be unacquainted with these, but their advisors ought not to be, and it would behoove the Beazley Archive, if it is not to lapse into ossified irrelevance, to keep up with them as well.

Does anyone still care? The assault on Beazley and his methods lately appears to have tapered off, and the production of scholarly works on individual vase-painters and groups continues only slightly abated, albeit hedged round with a certain self-conscious defensiveness. Some of the attacks reached a curious level of virulence, as though his detractors wished to replace Beazley's dominance with a new dogma that made a virtue of ignoring style altogether, perversely decreasing our understanding of the iconography whose precedence they pretend to champion. There are many approaches to the study of Attic pottery, and none need be exalted at the expense of another, especially one that is the foundation of the entire field. Those impatient with connoisseurship will approach a book such as this with reservation. Others, however, will recognize that even works of low quality can still yield a rich harvest if studied with rigorous method, close attention, and an open mind. In just this way, the author of this work has added to our incremental understanding of Athenian society.


Notes:


1.   J. D. Beazley, Attic Red-Figured Vases in American Museums (Oxford 1918) 122.
2.   ARV2 562.
3.   J.D. Beazley, Der Pan-Maler (Berlin 1931; English ed. Mainz 1974) 8-9.

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