Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.02.11

Amy C. Smith, Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, Great Britain Fascicule 23, Reading Museum Service (Reading Borough Council).   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2007.  Pp. xvi, 47; pls. 40.  ISBN 978-0-19-726389-1.  £55.00.  

Reviewed by Mary B. Moore, Hunter College, CUNY (
Word count: 1266 words

This CVA fascicule completes the publication of Greek vases belonging to the Reading Museum Service (formerly known as the Reading Museum) that are on loan to the Ure Museum. The exceptions are the Cypriote vases and the fragmentary material which will be the subject of a separate publication. The contents of this new CVA are greatly varied, more than in most CVA fascicules; it ranges from Minoan to mainland Greece to South Italian. Most of these vases are published for the first time (there are a few exceptions).

The Introduction provides a concise history of the collection. The first Greek vases arrived in 1882 from the collection of Horatio Bland and they formed the nucleus of the museum's holdings of Greek pottery, consisting of Corinthian, Attic and Apulian material that reflected Bland's varied interests. In the following decades, there were several more donations as well as purchases. When known, provenances are given, but for most of the vases, their original location is unknown. An unexpected provenance is the cup that was dredged up in the River Thames and attributed to the Pithos Painter, an undistinguished late sixth-century Attic red-figured painter. The incrustation on the cup suggested to conservators that it arrived in the river at some time in antiquity. One wonders how that occurred.

The text begins with two undecorated Minoan conical cups and quickly moves on to Corinthian black figure and patterned vases, as well as black glaze. Worthy of mention are a Late Corinthian warrior aryballos, a good Late Protocorinthian pointed aryballos that has an elegant scale pattern, and a round-bottomed alabastron decorated with a seated sphinx. Inexplicably, the enlarged illustration of the last vase crops the lower part of the vessel (pl. 2, 1). There is a Corinthian red-figured pelike and a white-ground lekythos, both modest vessels, as well a variety of black-glazed and unglazed ware that ranges in date from the late sixth century to the early fourth. East Greek vases include two cups that resemble the Attic Siana cup, and a small unglazed Lydion. A pseudo-Chalcidian trefoil oinochoe decorated with komasts is attributed to the Polyphemos Group. This rather eclectic beginning of the fascicule concludes with Etruscan vases, including alabastra, a stemmed dish and a kantharos.

Next come the Attic vases. The black-figured material consists mainly of late lekythoi that are found in abundance all over the Mediterranean world. These belong to the Haimon Group and the Class of Athens 581, i and ii, painters short on talent but often innovative in choice of subject. A few black-patterned lekythoi and a cup type B complete the early Attic entries. The Attic red-figured and white-ground vases come next. The Pithos Painter's cup depicts in its tondo his customary seated figure wearing a kidaris. The exterior is glazed. There are three small squat lekythoi, two decorated with just a single palmette, the third with a charging boar. The small early fourth century bell-krater decorated with satyrs, Eros and a seated woman deserves a better presentation. The layout of pl. 15 should have included some details of this krater's figures, especially the satyr on Side B which reflects the satyr from Myron's famous group of Athena and Marsyas which stood on the Athenian Akropolis. According to Ian McPhee, the vase is close in style to the Painter of Athens 13894. The white-ground lekythoi are in a poor state of preservation, yet one can still make out the fine drawing on the one attributed by the author to the Painter of Munich 2335, an artist working during the third quarter of the fifth century B. C. The Attic material concludes with a black-glazed trefoil oinochoe, a skyphos, cup-skyphoi and a salt cellar. One plate contains Boeotian patterned, glazed and figured vases. The single vase with figures has a woman's head on one side, the other being patterned. The footer at the bottom of this plate (19) reads Bolotian instead of Boeotian.

The last group of vases are South Italian: Apulian, Campanian and Sicilian. The best are the Apulian, beginning with a handsome alabastron from the Alabastra Group. There is an unidentified woman moving to right, looking back and holding a box in her left hand on the front and, on the back, a figure of Eros sitting on a flower holding out a beaded necklace, the two separated by an elegant tendril ornament. Next come two pseudo-Panathenaic amphorae attributed by Trendall to the Split-mouth Group. Each depicts a woman seated in a naiskos flanked by a woman and a youth; on the other side, a female head to left. The two were probably made as a pair. There is a bell-krater attributed by Trendall and Cambitoglou to the Painter of Geneva 13108 as well as a rather nice column-krater attributed by them to the Snub-nose painter. The latter has an intriguing scene on the obverse of a youthful warrior seated on a rock holding a large phiale in his right hand, two spears in his left. A youth holding a pair of spears and a wreath stands before him; standing behind him is a well-dressed woman holding a situla and a sash. For this entry one would like a bit of commentary on the subject. A modest bell-krater from the third quarter of the fourth century shows a large plump bird that Trendall and Cambitoglou identified as a partridge. A metallic-looking epichysis and a handsome fish-plate are important pieces, especially the fish-plate attributed to the Group of Karlsruhe 66/160. There, each fish is so carefully rendered that its species may be identified. A hydria by the Painter of Karlsruhe B9 depicts a crane(?) standing in a perirrhanterion flanked by a youth and a woman holding a box. I am not sure the neck of the bird is long enough to be that of a crane and since its legs are overlapped by the wall of the vessel, one cannot determine how long they are. The rest of the Apulian vases are modest pieces: a kantharos, two lids, either from lekanides or pyxides, two squat lekythoi, a mug as well as two mug lids, two trefoil oinochoai, a pelike and a deep skyphos. The most important of these is the mug which shows a female figure and Eros, then a perirrhanterion with a bird identified as a wryneck. The drawing is rough and ready, but the artist (the Lampas Painter) was attentive to the features of the bird, an eager-looking little creature. The Apulian section concludes with patterned vases, an askos in the shape of a duck, black-glazed ware and Gnathian. A bell-krater by the Roccanova Painter represents the Lucanian material in this fascicule and the last entries are small Campanian and Sicilian patterned and black-glazed vases.

The descriptions are meticulous right down to including correlation of the color of the clay to the chips in the Munsell color charts. Useful comparanda are given for many entries. The text concludes with a Concordance of Greek Vases in the Reading Museum Service and an Index of Artists, Stylistic Groups, and Classes. A few criticisms. It is not clear why the miniature skyphos on pl. 18, 12-13 deserves a profile on p. 23, but no other vase does. The illustrations are copious, but most of the photographs are washed out and there is so little contrast between the images and the background that the vases look contoured. Often, there are distracting light reflections (pl. 29 is a particularly relevant example). In this time of superb photography, whether film or digital, the results should have been better. The cost of this fascicule seems excessive given how slim it is.

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