Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.04.32 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.04.32

H. A. Shapiro, Mario Iozzo, Adrienne Lezzi-Hafter, The François Vase: New Perspectives (2 vols.). Akanthus proceedings 3.   Kilchberg, Zurich:  Akanthus, 2013.  Pp. 192; 7, 47 p. of plates.  ISBN 9783905083330; 9783905083323.  CHF 70.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Mary B. Moore, Hunter College, CUNY (

Eleven speakers participated in this important conference devoted to the François Vase that was held in Florence on 23-24 May, 2003. The specialized information and perceptive observations shared by all the participants offer a most welcome addition to the vast literature about this famous vase, a volute krater signed by the potter Ergotimos and the painter Kleitias from about 570 B.C. now in the Archaeological Museum in Florence. New color photographs by Fernando Guerrini are an extra bonus.

1. H. A. Shapiro, “The François Vase: 175 years of Interpretation.” The significance of the François Vase was recognized from the moment it was unearthed and Shapiro gives a very clear summary of all the publications concerned with its discovery, shape, quality of drawing, inscriptions, and the most intriguing subject of all: is there a unifying iconographical program or not?

2. Maria Grazia Marzi, “Was the François Crater the only Piece from the Dolciano Tomb? “ Marzi had the good fortune to have full access to the immensely important archival documents that chronicle the discovery of the tomb in which the François Vase was found, on the property of the Dolciano grandducal estate near Poggio Regina (near Chiusi). Fragments of the vase were found as early as 1843 and more surfaced in 1844. Other artefacts included a princely set of banquet dishes probably dating to the second quarter of the sixth century B.C.

3. Christoph Reusser, “The François Vase in the Context of the Earliest Attic Imports to Etruria, especially Chiusi.” Vases by the Nettos Painter, active in the late 7th c., were the first to be exported to Etruria. The number increased greatly in the first decades of the 6th c., including vessels by Sophilos and painters in his workshop. The discussion of finds from contemporary tombs that contained pertinent material presents a fuller picture of imports from Attica to Etruria, which leads to the question: who acquired the François Vase and why? Unfortunately unanswerable, but most worthy of consideration.

4. Mario Iozzo, “The François Vase: Notes on Technical Aspects and Function.” After the restoration of the vase in 1973, Mauro Cristofani1 drew attention to a peculiar feature probably noticed only when examining the vase first hand: small holes drilled on and around the handles in a symmetrical arrangement, but without connecting channels (p. 55, figs. 1-2). What were they used for? A special ornament was one suggestion, another to secure a lid or strainer. But recent examination indicates they were the result of an ancient repair and the kind of lead used in them was common for Greek vases.2 The glaze on the inside of the vase fired red and shows signs of use from metal utensils and dippers (pl. 44). Repair and use link the vase with a symposium, which may be Attic, Etruscan or both.

5. Jasper Gaunt, “Ergotimos Epoiesen: The Potter’s Contribution to the François Vase.” The first part of this contribution considers volute-kraters potted before Ergotimos; second is the relationship of the François Vase to dinoi. Gaunt traces the antecedents of the Attic volute-krater, especially Laconian, Chalcidian and Corinthian kraters, all of which exhibit details that led to the grand Attic examples. He notes kinship with the dinos, a standed vase also used for important occasions. He rightly believes that the potting contributions of Ergotimos are just as revolutionary as the figural ones by Kleitias and describes them in detail, noting what is radically new in the François Vase: the neck in two degrees without an offset lip and the inventive structure of the handles. Gaunt suggests the latter may have been inspired by monumental architecture, specifically the volutes and small details of the Triton pediment on the Akropolis (p. 77, figs. 12-13).

6. Mario Torelli, “The Destiny of the Hero—Toward a Structural Reading of the François Krater.” The high quality of the François Vase and the large number of subjects offer a format for such an undertaking. Torelli opens with general remarks aboutrenewed scholarly interest in the concept of a figural program and the structure of representation. He describes each scene briefly, noting first of all the double signatures: in the Wedding Procession on Side A and in the Theseus scene on the rim of Side B, which Torelli interprets as the landing on Delos. The frieze below the rim on Side A focuses on Achilles, the greatest Greek hero, judging the Funeral Games for Patroklos; on Side B, Theseus, the national hero of Athens, fighting in the Centauromachy. The importance of the Wedding is obvious, since it is the largest and encircles the vase. Torelli notes that Dionysos is the central figure, but Peleus is placed to the far right. The last two friezes, the Ambush of Troilos and the Return of Hephaistos celebrate the metis of hero and god. Torelli interprets the program as a metaphor for the “biotic cycle of the esthlós” (p. 95), allusions to the aristocratic life when it is morally lived.

7. Bettina Kreuzer, “Reading the François Vase: Myth as Case Study and the Hero Exemplum”. Kreuzer presents a meticulous reading of the mythic figures and the moments chosen to depict them, which she thinks reflect their importance in contemporary Athens, specifically the difficult political situation in the city when Kleitias worked there. She believes (correctly) that the viewer would have recognized and understood each subject. She interprets the Theseus scene as the landing on Crete (p. 108, n. 8 for a good summary of this controversy) and notes that Theseus wears Ionian dress, which was recently introduced into Athens and is clothing typically worn by musicians. The Wedding is the most important event with the largest number of participants, indicating that community is the focus, not the individual, and takes place at a time when gods and men feasted together. The underlying message is the necessity to follow the rules given by the gods to secure an equitable functioning of the polis for the sake of all. Kreuzer suggests the pictorial images reveal that Kleitias was deeply concerned about communal life in Athens and expressed this in mythic terms.

8. Jenifer Neils, “Contextualizing the François Vase.” Neils offers a perspective not based on mythological narratives per se, but on their thematic relationships and the logic of their placement on the krater. She considers three interconnected contexts: nuptial, agonistic, ideological (i.e., political and religious). This interest stems from her doctoral dissertation on the youthful deeds of Theseus and her work on the Panathenaia. She argues that this compendium of mythological imagery is intimately linked to important events taking place in Athens in the second quarter of the 6th c. and that the positioning of the narratives on the krater might relate to communal values and aristocratic ideals. She eliminates the handle figures, deeming them irrelevant to the major themes (p. 120).

Neils notes that the Wedding is not the only scene with bridal connections; there are also others: Theseus and Ariadne, the Calydonian Boar Hunt, the Centauromachy, and perhaps the Ambush. She discusses these references briefly and suggests the François Vase may have originally been commissioned for an Athenian wedding, perhaps one with political connections, specifically that of Megakles who married Agariste, daughter of the tyrant of Syracuse, to celebrate that alliance (pp. 122-123). The Greater Panathenaia was reorganized in 566 B.C. and a link with this event is Theseus who was the founder of the Panathenaic Festival (pp. 125-126) and appears in festal garb on the vase. Neils identifies the amphora carried by Dionysos as one made of clay and holding oil, not wine, an allusion to the contents of the Panathenaic prize amphora.3 She concludes by remarking that a connection between the marriage and the festival represents the high point of aristocratic civic life in archaic Athens before the rule of Peisistratos.

9. Ralf von den Hoff, “Theseus, The François Vase and Athens in the Sixth Century B.C.” Theseus first appears in Athenian visual arts about 575 B.C. and is the second most important figure on the François Vase (after Achilles). The transformation of Theseus from panhellenic hero to polis-hero of Athens occurred during the time of Solon, and the François Vase is the most important record to illustrate how specific images of the Athenian hero were portrayed in the middle decades of the 6th century B.C. Von den Hoff presents a detailed summary of the important role of Theseus as polis-hero between the elite Athenian society and the rest of the local community and remarks that Theseus resembles many other figures on this vase (e.g., hunters; gods at the wedding). He believes that Kleitias’ visual construction of Theseus reflects the ideas and interests of sixth century Athens and that he is a model for aristocratic youth. Emphasis is placed on his role in the community, and von den Hoff believes these images reflect the collective interests of the Athenian ruling class. He admits, however, that we shall never know if any Athenian read the images as a political program (p. 146).

10. Judith M. Barringer, “Hunters and Hunting on the François Vase.” The scene of the Boar Hunt is strikingly new and significant both iconographically and metaphorically, as are many other subjects on the vase, though Barringer doubts there is a unifying theme. She considers all the hunting allusions on the krater, which yield new insight into the its imagery, and argues for a thematic coherence of a different kind, one based on aristocratic and martial iconography, as well as contemporary concepts of masculinity, heroism, and death. She describes the Boar Hunt in detail and remarks that all the pairs work in concert, except the Eastern archers who act as individuals and may indicate the recent Athenian contact with the Northern/Eastern world —but this does not answer the question why they appear in a scene having to do with Calydon. Perhaps it reflects the international significance of hunting. The flanking sphinxes are also an Eastern borrowing. In the Wedding, Chiron has the place of honor and Dionysos takes center stage. A subtle connection between the two ‘foreigners’ is that the tip of Chiron’s branch ends where Dionysos’s grape branch begins (pl. 25). The number of foreign names on the vase is also new. Kleitias’ innovations and clear technical skill suggest a more sophisticated intelligence than that of his colleagues.

11. Adrienne Lezzi-Hafter, “Where the Wild Things Are. The Side-Themes on the François Krater.” Lezzi-Hafter suggests the vase may or may not have served as a wedding gift or a symposium vessel, but eventually it was consigned to an Etruscan grave. She summarizes the various interpretations of its pictures and remarks that Kleitias was proud of his ability to write, but probably had to rely on a learned friend or on what he had heard at public recitals. She focuses on the subjects on the back of each handle, which serve as bridges between obverse and reverse. The same themes appear on each: Artemis (Potnia Theron); Ajax lifting the body of Achilles (pls. 2 and 4, 8 and 9). Artemis turns her head toward the mythological representation to her right: the Calydonian Boar; Theseus arriving on Crete. Ajax and Achilles foretell the end of the story of Peleus and Thetis. Where the handles join the top side of the rim, there is a running Gorgon on each to remind the viewer of the dangers of overimbibing. Lezzi-Hafter reads the images on each handle as defining spheres of passage from one status to another such as from life to death.

This book is an important contribution to the study of the François Vase. The first five papers add new and interesting material to the history, shape and technical aspects of the vessel. The remaining six focus on the tantalizing question: did Kleitias have in mind a unified program that related to the time in which he lived? Given the abundance of scenes and all the inscriptions on this vase, some occurring for the first time, it is difficult to resist the temptation to believe he did, but it is also important to remember that one must be cautious and refrain from applying modern iconographical methods to a time so far removed from our own. The authors have kept this in mind and at the same time given the reader much to think about.


1.  On p. 54 and on p. 2 of vol. 2, Cristofani’s first name is erroneously given as Mario.
2.  P. 59, add to note 21. On ancient repairs: S. Rotroff, “Mended in Antiquity: Repairs to Ceramics at the Athenian Agora,” in M. Lawall and J. Lund (eds.) Pottery in the Archaeological Record: Greece and Beyond [Acts of the International Colloquium held at the Danish and Canadian Institutes in Athens, June 20-22, 2008], Aarhus, 2011, 117-134.
3.  This can hardly be the case. Dionysos, the god of wine, would surely not bring a clay vessel filled with oil (or any liquid) to the wedding; furthermore the amphora does not have a lid and would spill its contents. I also doubt any ancient viewer who looked at this vessel would be reminded of a Panathenaic prize amphora; the two have nothing in common. See, M.B. Moore, “Kleitias, Dionysos and Cheiron,” BABesch. 86 (2011), pp. 1-13, esp. 4-6 for reasons why this amphora should be the golden one the god gave to Peleus and Thetis.

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