Moignard's book is intended as a textbook for beginning students of Greek vases. Her approach is significant for its fresh approach to questions of interpretation, dating, hidden aspects of value, style, and the impetus behind the collector's choice of Greek vases.
At the outset the author remarks upon the general absence of ancient sources, critical commentary or biography on the makers of Greek vases. In the preface, Moignard summarizes problems related to the understanding of Greek vases, including interpretation, provenance, artists and art value, as well as the value of Greek vases as museum collections. Moignard also provides a brief chronology for stylistic dating of Greek pottery.
In Ch.1 Moignard discusses the importance of new approaches to the study of Greek vases, highlighting the significance of archaeological context, production history, trade, women, burial customs and ritual, and narratives of social life. She also highlights how different disciplines have found ways to benefit from Greek vases depending on their fields of interest (archaeologists, filmmakers, designers, etc.).
Moignard points out that the image reflects the society by and for which it was produced and notes the importance of vases as archaeological finds for the chronology of archaeological sites. She also describes how a ceramic object is an historical source both chronologically and stylistically.
Moignard notes that potters follow the traditions of their time. She summarizes communication of ideas through trade and other means, how design choice developed through Greek interaction with other cultures (Near Eastern, Egyptian, Etruscan), and how designs and figural choices and techniques of certain producers (e.g., in Athens, Corinth) define chronology. There is some redundancy in her descriptions of styles of well-known vessels and styles of painters.
In Ch.2 Moignard summarizes the early accomplishments of Beazley and Trendall in the classification of Greek vases through the identification of distinctive details in a painter's drawing, with comments on Beazley's legacy, assumptions and methods. She then presents a study of five painters, in an effort to create a new approach for understanding these artisans and the vessels they crafted. For example, in discussion of the placement of images or patterns in certain fields in order to attract the attention of viewers (e.g., the Dipylon Vase).
Ch. 3 deals with the shape and function of well-known types of Greek vessels. Then Moignard touches on Athenian interaction with other cultures (e.g., Etruscan), resulting in the adoption of new forms derived from metal prototypes. The use of certain vessels during symposia and their self-referential visual imagery are described in detail, although some information on iconographic choice is repetitive. Moignard continues with discussion of the viewer's attention to choice, reflecting social and political purposes. She then presents Greek vases exported to Italy, most of which depict themes of afterlife, elements in the life of the buried person, and heroic and mythological imagery. The typical grave assemblage is also described, containing cups, oil bottles, wine vessels.
Ch. 4 discusses the imagery on vases and the development of story-telling methods, particularly images of everyday life and the difficulties of their interpretation. Moignard presents literary evidence for types of generic women's activity on vases and points to imagery as a source for understanding clothing and accessories used by women on specific occasions. She brings to the reader's attention how scenes of viticulture, household industries, religious rituals, processions (wedding or funeral), athletic competitions, and battle scenes, including a naval battle, summarize everyday life in a way not always communicated by archaeological and literary evidence. The author then summarizes preferred themes for the depiction of myth and narrative (e.g., the Trojan War, Dionysiac scenes, deeds of Herakles) and new elements that merge into Greek art (Near Eastern motives).
Moignard uses excellent examples to explain the evolution of particular scenes, the lack of contemporary textual sources, and how descriptions of iconography by later authors (Pausanias) create difficulties for understanding narrative (e.g., deeds of Heracles, Apollo, the Theban cycle, departure scenes). She then discusses the artist's choice of including meaningful objects in depictions to help both the ancient and modern viewer to fill the gap left by absence of a textual source.
She brings our attention to the whole setting, details of the scene, and the choices made by different artists in the representation of standard scenes. As an example, she uses a Corinthian krater of early sixth century B.C. depicting a rare scene of the departure of Amphiaraos, in order to show the artist's choice of a vehicular departure scene in an architectural setting, the placement of Eriphyle at the very edge of the household supporters, asserting the importance of her role by depicting her holding the key object (necklace) for the narrative.
Moignard asserts the importance of looking at details, citing Exekias's amphora depicting the homecoming/departure of Kastor and Polydeukes as an example of a picture crowded with detail. Moignard also points to an Attic red-figure skyphos by Brygos depicting a scene directly derived from Iliad Book 24, as an artist's synopsis of the story for the sixth century BC viewer, in which Achilles is lying on a kline just finished eating and under the kline the bleeding body of Hector is depicted.
Moignard explains that standard versions of a story can be assumed from the fact that they appear in many repeated examples. She emphasizes the importance of presenting well-known stories (e.g., Perseus-Medusa), how elements of such a story can be left out (e.g., the fountainhouse in Achilles-Troilos scenes), and how emotional content or relationships are depicted as part of the narrative (the Sosias painter's tondo of Achilles bandaging Patroklos). She also adds that every picture can tell a story, but not all narrative art has to involve identifiable people or depict a known myth.
Moignard remarks that scenes of myth depicted on vessels for symposia were later adapted for funeral purposes. As an example, she provides an amphora by the Berlin painter of 500 B.C. that depicts Athena with a hydria and Herakles on the other side with a cup. In Moignard's view, the artist presents Heracles as conquering death and going to heaven. The scenes of everyday life and those involving women become commoner in the late fifth and fourth centuries B.C. at a time when the men are away fighting in the Peloponnesian War. In Ch. 5 Moignard summarizes the history of collecting and the specialist scholarship on Greek vases, their findspots, the impetus behind collecting, the market in Etruria from the seventh to the fourth centuries B.C., and the eighteenth-century interest in collecting classical artifacts. Moignard discusses the eighteenth-century publication of Sir William Hamilton's collections and the sale of his collections to the British Parliament, which served as a public gallery in 1772. Moignard then summarizes 19th- and 20th-century large collections in Europe, in the United States and in public and private collections.
She notes Eduard Gerhard's classification of vessels by style, which followed the recognition of the differences in Attic and South Italian fabrics. Late 19th-century scholars focused on the provenance of these vessels and on trade connections, and then on stylistic development, which led to an established chronology for each group. Signatures on the pots made it possible to identify potters and painters. W. Klein published a monograph on Euphronios (1879), followed by A. Furtwängler's Griechische Vasenmalerei in 1902, with full size drawings by K. Reichhold.
Moignard presents the importance of Beazley's earliest publications (1908-1911) and his contributions to scholarship until his death in 1970, as well as recent scholarship that raises questions about his aims and methodology, his attribution system, and how it created hierarchical value.
Moignard summarizes today's views on Greek vases and collections. She starts with the British Museum, noting its goals of enlarging its collections (1960s), and displaying them, as was the early custom, with no context or explanatory labels. She mentions that with few exceptions, most museums now provide more information on the context of the vessels they display.
Moignard remarks on the quantity of material from excavated sites and the attempt of major excavations to create typologies (Athenian Agora) and to place pottery within a chronological, social and historical context. She asserts the importance of textbooks that move beyond a traditional art historical approach and consider localized production and use.
Moignard cites the Thames and Hudson World of Art as a good textbook with good illustrations and informative commentaries, and with information on technical aspects of production as well as historical and social context. She then remarks upon books with large-format pictures, such as Arias, Hirmer and Shefton's History of Greek Vase Painting, which is arranged chronologically, with more attention to some of the more important painters, and mainly an art-historical approach. On the other hand, Beazley and Trendall's catalogue volumes have major lists of attributions by painter, workshop, and group within Athenian and South Italian fabrics. She summarizes the importance of these works in the contemporary study of the vases in their ancient context.
The author discusses the internationally sponsored object-based catalogues of the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum (CVA), as well as single-painter monographs derived from the Beazley-Trendall lists, including the Kerameus series, which allows the publication of pots as individual items.
Moignard remarks upon two significant trends in publication. Some scholars do not accept Greek pots as significant objects of art and understand Athenian pottery production as an industry copying prototypes in much rarer materials. Their work has led to a new program of research into a hierarchy of materials in the ancient world. Other scholars have objectives nearer to those of the contemporary critical biographer, questioning the procedure by which the biographical person is invented and the literalism that the standard, chronologically controlled mode induces in a reader's reception of its subject. Moignard asserts that new trends in publication format are fun to read but the standard publication format may be more useful for the specialized academic world (p.102).
There is a list of illustrations with conventional dating of vases (pp.6-8). Each chapter is followed with suggestions for further reading in the following areas: handbooks with critical discussions, illustrated volumes, typological catalogues, discussions of painters and production, iconographical studies, works on technique, trade and chronology of Greek vases, and works on scholars who have influenced the study of Greek vases (pp.105-107). Readers will find a useful study guide for students, including questions on method, as well as on Boardman's and Beazley's approach to the study of Greek vases (pp.109-110). This is followed by a short glossary (pp. 111-113) and index (pp.115-116). Moignard also includes a list of museums with substantial collections of Greek vases, as well as online illustrated resources (e.g., Perseus) and archives (e.g., The Beazley Archive) (p.103).