Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.09.12

Athena Tsingarida (ed.), Shapes and Uses of Greek Vases (7th - 4th centuries B.C.). Proceedings of the Symposium held at the Université de Bruxelles, 27-29 April 2006. Études d'Archéologie 3.   Bruxelles:  Centre de Recherches en Archéologie et Patrimoine, 2009.  Pp. 382.  ISBN 9789077723852.  €90.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Lynch, University of Cincinnati (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Shapes and Uses of Greek Vases (7th - 4th centuries B.C.) presents 23 papers given at a 2006 conference sponsored by the Centre de Recherches en Archéologie et Patrimoine at the Université libre de Bruxelles. The CReA concluded in 2009 a five year study theme on the role of ceramics in ancient society. Other colloquia and roundtable topics in the series considered markets and distribution networks of Mediterranean ceramics. The overwhelming focus was on Greek painted pottery, specifically Attic figured pottery.

Although the papers originated as oral presentations, the written versions are, on the whole, of excellent quality with thorough references. This volume is generally well edited with only a few typographical errors, and it is especially well illustrated, often with color images. In only a few cases I wished for more illustrations. Several papers publish new pieces (Sarti, Malagardis) and others assemble new groups of vases (Mommsen, Oakley, Böhr, Kefalidou, Tsingarida, Malagardis). All of the papers take new approaches to understanding how Greek pottery functioned in a cultural context. Papers are in French, English, and German.

The papers in this volume explore the function and use of pottery through a study of its contexts. Contexts range from a vase painter’s artistic milieu, to the archaeological find contexts, to the context of a pot’s reception. As such, it is a welcome addition to a growing scholarly interest in how the images on a vase related to their intended use and users. Several papers also demonstrate how it is possible to start with Sir John Beazley’s work and move to questions of use and reception. Papers will be of interest to vase painting scholars, archaeologists, and classicists who integrate text and image. Some papers will fit well in graduate and upper level undergraduate syllabi to demonstrate the utility of a contextual approach for figured vases. In fact, I can imagine juxtaposing older articles with some from this book in an archaeological theory class to stimulate discussion about changing approaches to the study of material culture.

The papers are arranged into six sections with a foreword, an introduction, and a conclusion (see below). Both the introduction (Blondé) and the conclusion (Villard) applaud the participants’ deviation from typical approaches to image studies in which the viewer is not considered or is assumed to be an Athenian.

The first section addresses “Production: Workshops and Potters.” B. Kreuzer expands our understanding of exaleiptra (a.k.a. kotha or plemochoai) by comparing Attic and Boeotian painters’ approaches to decoration. She shows that the Boeotian ones should be associated with the world of men, not women as usually considered. She also suggests the Boeotian ones may have held ointments for anointing symposium guests. H. Mommsen isolates the idiosyncratic Botkin class (class = shape in Beazley-ese) of black-figured (hereafter, BF) amphorai in order to understand better the relationships among BF painters. She sees the innovative form and decoration of the class as originating in the workshop of Group E. C. Jubier-Galinier analyzes the distribution and painters associated with Doubleen amphorai in order to characterize the fluid workshop relationships between BF and red-figure (hereafter, RF) potters and painters. Like the Botkin class, the Doubleens also attracted innovators. J. Oakley assembles a catalogue of understudied Type D pyxides. He demonstrates that early imagery on their lids relates to the world of men (510-470 B.C.); then animals (470-430 B.C.); and ends with a variety of subjects (430-400 B.C.) They were used by men and women and are most commonly found in Greece.

The second section considers “Containers, Capacities, and Uses.” M. Bentz demonstrates that Attic BF neck amphorai do not have a standard size by analyzing their dimensions in a variety of graphs. None are found in Greece. In Etruria they are found in houses, sanctuaries, and graves, and they are even imitated locally. A.J. Clark does some experimental archaeology to show that oinochoai and olpai were probably filled by submerging them in a krater. He also considers the proportional relationship between oinochoe and cups: how many cups could a single oinochoe fill? E. Böhr considers the function of a group of small (ca. 20 cm diameter) kylix cups. She tentatively associates the cups with the initiation of youths into their phratry or with the philotesion, loving cup, presented by an erastes to his eromenos. The section ends with the debut of an amazing new web-based computer program for generating capacities of pots from a profile drawing. On behalf of pottery specialists all over the world, I thank the CReA scholars for this gift!

The third section is “Shapes and Uses.” T. Brisart uses the find contexts of decorated orientalizing pithoi from Aphrati on Crete to propose that the vessels stored resources for communal consumption and stood as a symbol of aristocratic community defined by commensal activities. E. Trinkl provides an exhaustive examination of hydriai and their many uses and meanings beyond water jar, and she emphasizes the ritual implication of their depiction in vase painting. E. Kefalidou associates a group of siphoning vessels with klepsydrai and proposes that they may have a ritual, libation function. A. Tsingarida, also the editor of the volume, presents a study of RF “Parade Cups,” kylikes and phialai with diameters greater than 35 cm. She suggests that they may have functioned in the Theoxenia, the festival of hosting the gods, and thus were suitable dedications for heroes and gods in Greece. In Etruria, where some 12 were found in graves and sanctuaries, they were ostentatious markers of status and similarly appropriate gifts for their gods. S. Sarti publishes for the first time an Apulian dimidiated (i.e., divided in two) plastic vase. She reviews the form in Attic and South Italian production and concludes that while the Athenian versions may be allegorical, the South Italian ones more prosaically refer to hunting, which in turn held elite allusions.

The fourth section, “Images and Shapes: Iconography and Uses,” unites iconographic interpretation with context and users. M.-C. Villanueva-Puig explores a vexing problem: Why does Dionysos appear so often on BF grave lekythoi? She concludes that Dionysos, as both carthartic and chthonic, can be read as a metaphor for the alterity of existence in the afterlife. She emphasizes that lekythoi from Athenian graves are particularly useful for studying the meaning of Athenian visual culture. E. Hatzivassiliou compares BF alabastra by the Diosphos and Emporion Painters to demonstrate that each has an individual repertoire of scenes. She concludes that alabastra should not be associated exclusively with women because they also bear images of the world of men, and that they may have been love gifts to a woman, man, or boy. F. Lissarrague reconsiders the role of shield emblems in vase paintings as reinforcing the culture of the symposium. He shows how emblems can subtly complement the main scene or remind the viewer/drinker of the intersection of war and the symposium.

The fifth section, “Shapes in Context” opens with the full publication of a spectacular BIO cup (a large BF kylix painted inside, out, and under the foot) from the Sellada cemetery of ancient Thera by N. Malagardis. With its grave assemblage it creates an image of aristocratic martial status. The cup is compared to the other 18 known examples, found in both Greece and Etruria. She concludes, as Tsingarida did for the RF parade cups, that the size is symbolic of heroic status appropriate for either the grave or a gift to the gods. V. Sabetai presents a study of loutrophoroi, a shape used only in Athens, and often assumed to be a grave marker. Archaeological contexts, however, indicate they were offerings, broken and burnt in honor of the unmarried dead, in a trench outside the grave. N. Massar situates Hellenistic unguentaria in a long tradition of funerary perfume vessels. Some non-functional unguentaria made for the tomb merely symbolize this tradition, and she emphasizes that for this reason, those from domestic settings and from graves must be study separately. A. Villing provides a thorough study of the function and symbolic meaning of mortars and holmoi. Mortars, for processing spicy sauces, were ordinary domestic objects. Holmoi, on the other hand, were used for grinding grain, and thus symbolized essential subsistence and are depicted on vases in ritual scenes. This is a useful article for anyone studying the ancient Greek household.

The final section is “The Greek Vase and its Purchasers.” The first article, J. de la Genière’s study of erotic scenes on late archaic vases, comes to some powerful conclusions. By demonstrating that vases with pornographic scenes were not found in Athens, she concludes that we must be very cautious about using vases found in Etruria to understand Athenian culture. She emphasizes that the painters had little concern for politics, but rather their objective was to sell pots.1 S. Paspalas provides the only paper on an eastern style of pottery: Lydian. He demonstrates that Lydian local production adopted and adapted features of Ionian pottery styles. P. Rouillard reminds us that Attic pottery went farther West than Italy. He discusses the role of vases in Iberian tombs as both symbols and functional ossuaries. Indigenous traditions of communal dining matched well the function of sympotic equipment.

F. Villard's conclusion provides a useful overview of the history of pottery studies (namely, Attic vase-painting studies) through a review of recent conference themes and objectives. He situates the present conference within its intellectual genealogy.

The volume focuses primarily on Attic figured vases and their contexts. This approach is valuable and very welcome, but the next steps will be to put Attic figured vases into a ceramic assemblage that includes plain and coarse objects—both in Greek and non-Greek contexts. It becomes increasingly clear, as several authors note, that each context, be it Athenian graves vs. Athenian sanctuaries, or Iberian vs. Etruscan export contexts, must be considered independently. Use in one place may be quite different from another. We must also consider the difference between the potter’s and painter’s intended meaning (or function) and the meaning created or assigned by the user. This also seems a fruitful area of research as J. de La Genière’s paper suggested. In sum, this volume demonstrates why iconographic studies of figured vases must consider how the vase operated within a variety of contexts in order to recover its original meaning.

Table of Contents

Francine Blondé, “Introduction”

I: Production: Workshops and Potters
Bettina Kreuzer, “The Exaleiptron in Attica and Boeotia: Early Black Figure Workshops Reconsidered”
Heide Mommsen, “Die Botkin-Klasse”
Cécile Jubier-Galinier, “Les ateliers de potiers: le témoignage des doubleens amphorae”
John H. Oakley, “Attic Red-figured Type D Pyxides”

II: Containers, Capacities, and Uses
Martin Bentz, “Masse, Form und Funktion. Die attisch-schwarzfigurigen Halsamphoren”
Andrew J. Clark, “Some Practical Aspects of Attic Black-figured Olpai and Oinochoai”
Elke Böhr, “Kleine Trinkschalen für Mellepheben?”
Laurent Engels, Laurent Bavay, Athena Tsingarida, “Calculating Vessel Capacities: A New Web-based Solution”

III: Shapes and Uses
Thomas Brisart, “Les pithoi à reliefs de l’atelier d’Aphrati. Fonction et statut d’une production orientalisante”
Elisabeth Trinkl, “Sacrificial and Profane Use of Greek Hydriai”
Eurydice Kefalidou, “Suction Dippers: Many Shapes, Many Names and a Few Tricks”
Athena Tsingarida, “Vases for Heroes and Gods: Early Red-figure Parade Cups and Large-scaled Phialai”
Susanna Sarti, “An Unpublished Dimidiating Animal-head Cup in the Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels”

IV: Images and Shapes: Iconography and Uses
Marie-Christine Villanueva-Puig, “Un Dionysos pour les morts à Athènes à la fin de l’archaïsme: à propos des lécythes attiques à figures noires trouvés à Athènes en contexte funéraire”
Eleni Hatzivassiliou, “Black-figure Alabastra by the Diosphos and Emporion Painters: Specific Subjects for Specific Uses?”
François Lissarrague, “Vase grecs: à vos marques”

V: Shapes in Context
Nassi Malagardis, “A propos d’une coupe de Sellada: les coupes de prestige archaïques attiques reconsidérées - Quelques réflexions concernant leur usage”
Victoria Sabetai, “Marker Vase or Burnt Offering? The Clay Loutrophoros in Context”
Natacha Massar, “Parfumer les morts. Usages et contenu des balsamaires hellénistiques en contexte funéraire”
Alexandra Villing, “The Daily Grind of Ancient Greece: Mortars and Mortaria between Symbol and Reality”

VI: The Greek Vase and its Purchasers
Juliette de La Genière, “Les amateurs des scènes érotiques de l’archaïsme récent”
Stavros A. Paspalas, “Greek Shapes among the Lydians: Retentions, Divergences, and Developments”
Pierre Rouillard, “Le vase grec entre statut et fonction: le cas de la péninsula Ibérique”

Conclusions: François Villard


1.   This reviewer presented a paper that reached similar conclusions in 2007 at the “Athenian Potters and Painters II” conference held at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, K. M. Lynch, “Erotic Images on Attic Pottery: Markets and Meanings,” Athenian Painters and Potters II, ed. J. Oakley and O. Palagia, Oxford, 2009, pp. 159-165. Both papers were in press at the same time, and I am pleased to see the confluence of ideas.

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