Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.09.49

Christiane Dehl-von Kaenel, Geometrische Keramik. Deutschland, Bd. 85. Berlin, Antikenmuseum ehemals Antiquarium, Bd. 10. Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum.   München:  Verlag C.H. Beck, 1980.  Pp. 125; 22 p. ills., 56 p. of plates.  ISBN 9783406578397.  €98.00.  

Reviewed by Mary B. Moore, Hunter College, CUNY (
Word count: 2501 words

This impressive new CVA presents 110 Greek geometric vases and fragments in the Berlin Antikensammlung, including seven that were lost in World War II and known today only from photographs. The majority of the vases are Attic, one is Argive, two are Cycladic, nine Boeotian and ten East Greek. The fabric of nine entries is unidentified. Most of the vases were purchased in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and many have known provenances. In the 1990s, the collections of Frank Brommer and Emil Kunze came to the museum as bequests. Most of this material has not been published in detail, although many vases appeared in Coldstream's lists of attributions.1 The catalogue begins with one Submycenaean and two Protogeometric vases, then proceeds by fabric beginning with the Attic material and within each of these sections the vases are presented chronologically. Seven indices follow: I, a concordance between inventory numbers and plate numbers; II, painters and workshops; III, origins - findspots; IV, origins - collections and purchases; V, subjects; VI, ornaments; and VII, supplementary catalogue: Beilagen 1-20 are profile drawings, 21-22 illustrate the vases lost in WW II. Fifty-six excellent black and white plates complete the fascicule.

The one Sub-Mycenaean vase is a small lekythos with a spherical body sparsely decorated with compass-drawn half-circles on the shoulder, bars on the handle, the rest black save for two lines in reserve that continue around the body. A neck-amphora and a small one-piece amphora with a lid represent the Protogeometric material. A cross-hatched triangle between a crested half-circle with a checkerboard core decorate the shoulder of the neck-amphora. The lid of the one-piece amphora projects well beyond the edge of the mouth (pl. 2, 4) which is odd (later, the diameter of the lid equals the diameter of the mouth), but Dehl-von Kaenel cites good parallels.

The Attic geometric material begins with a group of six vases, the so-called "'Fundgruppe' aus Attika", which come from the collection of Dr. Ph. Margaritis and was bought in Munich in 1909 (six vases in Munich come from the same find) (p. 16). They range in date from Early Geometric II to Middle Geometric I (c. 860-850 B. C.). The first two are a pointed pyxis and an elegant standard pyxis, each with its lid. Ornaments include hatched orthodox meanders, as well as a single zigzag with the apices filled and a dot in each interstice, also multiple zigzags, all drawn with pinpoint accuracy. Most interesting is a bowl with a handle in the shape of a human leg and foot which appears to be shod (a thin glazed slab of clay protruding beyond the heel suggests the sole of a sandal) (pl. 4, 1-3, and 5). This unusual bowl has a good parallel found in a tomb on Kriezi Street in Athens in 1968, as noted by Dehl-von Kaenel (p. 19). A clay tripod support fashioned by hand from slabs of clay probably imitates metal prototypes (pl. 5). Hatched orthodox meanders decorate the outer surface of each leg. Near the bottom of two legs, there is a drilled hole; at the bottom of the third is a small projecting ring. It is unclear what their function is.

Next is a group of pyxides, some with their lids. Most important among these is the horse pyxis (pl. 8), the latest of the group (Middle Geometric II to Late Geometric I a, ca. 760 B.C.). It was found in a grave in the Dipylon cemetery in 1876. A contemporary oinochoe, from the Kunze collection (pl. 9, 1-3), has pairs of drilled holes along the join of a break in its trefoil mouth indicating that it was mended in antiquity (pl. 9, 3). Vases repaired with lead mends are fairly common in the sixth and fifth centuries B. C., but the one on the Berlin oinochoe is among the earliest known examples of this practice and may indicate the vase was valued by its owner. A small krateriskos preserves an early example of gadroons (pl. 10, 1-3), slightly raised curved moldings, separated by curved depressions; sometimes they are called "pseudo-flutes".2

The rest of the Attic material is Late Geometric. Quite tantalizing is the fragment of a large pedestaled krater attributed to the Workshop of the Dipylon Painter, who represents the gold standard for geometric artists. All that remains of the figural decoration are the hind legs of a chariot team to right (pl. 11, 1). Dehl-von Kaenel is convincing when she compares it with a very similar fragment in the Musécoute e Rodin in Paris that goes with two non-joining fragments in Tübingen and one in Athens and rightly concludes that the five fragments belong to the same krater (p. 31). She attributes a shoulder-handled neck-amphora to the Hirschfeld Workshop (pl. 12). It has very restrained decoration overall, but the middle metope on the shoulder depicts two horses facing one another with a bird above the back of each. The scene may be the ancestor of two antithetical horses standing in a stable or at a feeding trough, a subject better known in Late Geometric Argive ware (see pl. 45, 2) than in Athens. A trefoil oinochoe was liberally decorated by an artist who, to judge by the large number of different ornamental patterns, seems to have been trying out as many of them as possible. The result is a very 'light' vase (pl.14). In addition, there is a row of five nude male figures on the neck with hands linked. On the shoulder, there is a water bird to right, between two plastic mastoi and as fill there is a snake indicated by a simple wavy line with dots and a small triangle for its head (pl. 15, 2). Dehl-von Kaenel links this very "busy" vase with painters in the Circle of the Lambros Workshop and the Burly Workshop, but concludes there are not enough criteria for a firm attribution to either (pp. 37-38).

Horses are an important theme in early Greek art and images of them appear frequently on Geometric pottery, especially on Attic and Argive vases. Several Late Geometric Attic vases in this fascicule provide ample evidence. One is a pyxis with four horses on its lid and one in each of two metopes on the pyxis itself (pl. 15. 3 and 5, pl. 16, 1 and 4). Three water birds accompany each horse, two on its back and one beneath its belly. Among the criteria for attribution of the pyxis to a painter of the Bird-Seed Workshop, the most important is the row of dots issuing from the mouth of each painted horse, the so-called "bird seeds". Marching warriors accompanied by horses are the sole decoration of a neck-amphora from the same workshop, attributed by Himmelmann-Wildschütz (pl. 17 and pl. 18, 5). Much of the glaze abraded on this vase and Dehl-von Kaenel helpfully includes a line drawing (p. 42). Two more neck-amphorae depict horses. The one attributed by her to the Rattle Group shows a warrior with a Dipylon shield standing between two horses holding them by a lead line (pl. 20), called a 'horse-leader' which occurs frequently on Late Geometric Attic pottery. On the body of the next neck-amphora, attributed by Metzler to a painter from the Group of Athens 894, the artist depicted a frieze of chariots to left (usually, they move to right) and on the shoulder a frieze of coursing hounds, below a plastic snake (pl. 21). This is a prolific group of painters active in the late eighth century who are rather short on talent, but long on depicting new and interesting subjects. A neck-amphora attributed by J. M. Cook to the Philadelphia Painter is richly decorated with figures (pls. 22-23): a row of mourners on each side of the neck, a procession of chariots to right on the body and below it a frieze of warriors to right, each armed with a round shield and two spears. The date of this amphora coincides with the introduction of hoplites and their specially-designed armor which included a round shield. An eight-pointed star within two concentric circles (some dotted) decorates the shield of each warrior, probably an early example of a shield device which became a prominent feature of shields on Attic pottery, particularly in the sixth century B. C. Horses at a manger decorate the neck of an amphora attributed by Coldstream to the Empedokles Painter (pl. 24, 2-3 and pl. 25), another popular subject in Late Geometric. Grazing horses appear in a panel on the shoulder and on each side of the handle zone of a hydria attributed by Coldstream to the Circle of the Vulture-W7uuml;rzburg Group, a group within the Workshop of Athens 894 (pl. 28, 7-8) and on the neck is a frieze of dancing women (pl. 28, 6; pl. 29 for the whole vase).

The rest of the Attic material consists of smaller vases with less figural decoration: oinochoai, tankards, kantharoi, bowls, and cups. An oinochoe attributed by Dehl-von Kaenel to the Bird-Seed Workshop is most unusual for twice depicting a double row of coursing hounds, one on the shoulder, the other on the body, the latter pursuing a hare (pl. 32 and 33, 3-4; pp. 62-63, figs. 4-5 for a drawing of each). Also, on this vase there is a group of seven male dancers, each with one leg bent sharply (p. 63, fig. 6). Unfortunately the glaze on this vase is very abraded so the drawings are especially welcome. A man holding two horses recurs on a trefoil oinochoe attributed by Coldstream to the Concentric Circle Group, named for this motif that appears on the sides of its vases, all of them oinochoai (pl. 34 and pl. 35, 1-2). A lone horse appears on the neck of an unattributed oinochoe (pl. 35, 3) and a tripod cauldron on the neck of another (pl. 35, 4). This imitates the large elaborate bronze examples introduced into Greece about this time, which must have impressed all who saw them.

Among the smaller Attic vases, I single out two. One is the basket (pl. 40, 2-3) that imitates real baskets made of wicker; as far as I know all the known examples come from Attika. The other is the pomegranate (pl. 43, 10), a shape dedicated in sanctuaries or placed in graves.

The one Argive vase is a large handsome Late Geometric II (ca. 730-700 B.C.) pedestaled krater (pls. 44-45), attributed by Coldstream to the Painter of the Sparring Horses. It was mended in antiquity for there are ten drilled holes arranged in pairs near the bottom of the stand (pl. 45, 3). Horses appear frequently on Argive geometric pottery and on this krater there are four, each in a metope. They are splendid animals with strong necks, deep chests and tails that are more elaborate than the usual pipe-like appendage. A fish appears below the belly of three of the horses. Beneath the belly of the fourth, is a rectangle in outline supported by a vertical line with braces. It probably represents a manger. Above the back of each horse is an L-shaped object that is not a filling ornament that emphasizes the curve of the animal's neck (pace Dehl-von Kaenel, p. 87), but probably indicates a rafter in the stable.3

A small oinochoe and a plate comprise the Cycladic material (pl. 46, 1-4). Pyxides, one with its lid, a small kalathos, two miniature jugs and a kantharos are Boeotian (pls. 46, 3, 5-6 and pl. 47). None is decorated with figures. The underside of one pyxis has an unusual swastika: concentric circles form its core and each arm is drawn with three lines (pl. 46, 6). The East Greek material dates from Early to Late Geometric and for the most part has rather restrained decoration. Important is a small grave group found at Vizikia near Camiros on Rhodes: three Middle Geometric oinochoai (pls. 48, 4, 6-7). Most interesting is the Late Geometric eshara found on Rhodes (pl. 49, 8 and pl. 51). Three concave cylinders of differing heights comprise its general form. Five hand-modelled birds are attached to the top cylinder. Painted hatched meanders combined with vertical plastic snakes decorate the middle one which has two vertical handles. The lower cylinder has simple wavy lines bordered by lines. Dehl-von Kaenel notes that so far there is no comparison for this eschara (p. 101).

The last section of the fascicule contains vases of unidentified fabrics (pls. 52-56). One is a krater-pyxis with well known geometric ornaments. Despite comparisons with Attic, the unusual combination of ornaments argues against an Attic origin (pl. 52). A spouted krater has been designated Cycladic or Melian. Some of the decoration is very Attic, such as the checkerboard pattern, but its combination with rows of water birds is not (pl. 53). There are two neck-amphorae, one with a man grazing his horse on the neck, a grazing deer about to be attacked by a hound on the shoulder (pl. 54); the other has ornament only (pl. 55). The rest of the vases in this section are a flat-bottomed aryballos, a krateriskos, a skyphos, and a ring askos (pl. 56).

The text concludes with an Appendix by Ursula Kästner who presents the seven vases lost in WW II (Beil. 21-22). The Attic material consists of a round pyxis with lid, the base of a pyxis decorated with geometric patterns, a good oinochoe with a horse in the metope on its neck and gadrooning on the body, a tripod stand, and a late oinochoe. There are two Boeotian vases: an oinochoe with grazing deer on both the neck and the body, a snake outlined with dots on the shoulder; a pyxis with a horse on its lid and a frieze of water birds painted on the body. Both of these are Late Geometric.

The plate layout is excellent with no wasted space and the superb black and white photographs of whole vases and pertinent details are a pleasure to study.

Dehl-von Kaenel describes each vase in painstaking detail using very clear, precise language. For each entry, she gives excellent descriptions of shape, ornaments, and figures, each with copious bibliography and discussions of comparanda that are useful and informative without being redundant. She fully explains the attributions to painters or assignments to workshops (whether hers or those of other scholars) so that the reader, especially a newcomer to the study of Greek vases, understands all the reasons for her decisions and can readily consult the references she so ably provides. This is an exemplary CVA, a model of how to write one. It is to be hoped that Dehl-von Kaenel will produce other CVA fascicules. I read this one with great pleasure.

Table of Contents

Attisch geometrisch
Argivisch geometrisch
Kykladisch geometrisch
Böotisch geometrisch
Ostgriechisch geometrisch
Geometrisch unbestimmt
Fremdbesitz in der Berliner Antikensammlung
I. Konkordanz Inventarnummern - Tafelnummern
II. Maler und Werkstätten
III. Herkunft - Fundorte
IV. Herkunft - Sammlungen/Ankäufe
V. Verzeichnis wichtiger Begriffe
VI. Verzeichnis ausgewählter Ornamente
VII. Beilagenverzeichnis


1.   J. Nicolas Coldstream, Greek Geometric Pottery, London 1968.
2.   See, M. B. Moore, CVA, Metropolitan Museum 5, New York, 2004, p. 65.
3.   See Moore, op. cit. p. 56. For mangers, see eadem, "Horse Care Depicted on Greek Vases before 400 B.C.," Metropolitan Museum Journal 39, 2004, pp. 42-45.

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