Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.01.24 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.01.24

Guy Hedreen, The Image of the Artist in Archaic and Classical Greece: Art, Poetry, and Subjectivity.   New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2016.  Pp. xv, 362.  ISBN 9781107118256.  $120.00.  


Reviewed by Nadia J. Koch, Universität Salzburg (nadiajustine.koch@sbg.ac.at)

Preview

In the later 20th century, scholars seemed to have lost interest in the life and work of ancient artists, although Apelles, Phidias and others had been among the main concerns of classical studies since the Renaissance. Some recent publications, for example the revised version of Overbeck’s well-known collection of testimonia1 or Marcello Barbanera’s investigation of the Daidalos topos, 2 indicate a change. Their antithetical approaches define a framework for future studies on the artist, since scholars will have to establish themselves between the methods of Altertumswissenschaft and modern iconology.

Guy Hedreen’s book clearly follows the second alternative, since it deals with the interrelations between two complex concepts of the artist, as a historical and sociological subject on the one hand, and as the performed image of the artist's self on the other. Although readers expecting a handbook on the Greek artist in general will be disappointed, the book offers all patient friends of representation theory surprising and worthwhile insights and an innovative approach to a famous master of τέχνη: Euphronios, perhaps the most innovative vase painter and workshop owner in Athens around 500 BC. Hedreen’s aim is to demonstrate how socio-historical and self-representational concepts merge in the oeuvre of this artisan.

Since the 19th century, Euphronios has been recognized as a master of drawing rather than as a painter of pots. Wilhelm Klein’s early monograph treats Euphronios’ oeuvre, carefully redrawn as rolled-out images for publication, as if it had originated from a Renaissance sketchbook.3 The catalogue of Euphronios’s oeuvre has been considerably enlarged and corrected in the second half of the 20th century by the followers of Beazley.4 But instead of bringing old debates to a satisfactory conclusion, scholars started to raise new questions. What about the vase paintings signed by Smikros that show affinity to the work of Euphronios in technique and subject? Was Smikros an envious imitator, as some assumed, or a faithful pupil? Were other Euphronian details, though badly executed, perhaps painted by the master’s followers? The limits of the ability of archaeological method to detect an individual hand is one of the main concerns of this new wave of scholarship.

Hedreen’s hermeneutic alternative to distinguishing the hands of vase painters owes much to the modern understanding of the archaic poet and his role in society. He transfers the literary concept of the persona, successfully established for distinguishing the historical individual poet from the self-image performed in his poetry, to the late archaic vase painter. This structural parallel is plausible, given the important role both poetry and vases played in the social ritual of the symposium as we envision it in the aristocratic society of late archaic Athens. As Lissarague put it, a krater manufactured in a superior late archaic workshop serves “as a focus for space and embodies all the values of the mean, meson.”5 Therefore any krater by Euphronios defines the centre of a multimodal reference system of images and songs, while the other types of vases play significant roles as secondary elements of this network.

Hedreen discusses this complex subject in seven chapters, alternating between an archaeological and a philological approach enriched by modern aesthetic theory. In the first chapter he presents a case study of vase research: the much debated painter Smikros, whose red-figure style has troubled archaeological scholars by reason of its affinity to the style of Euphronios. After a close observation of the epigraphical evidence, Hedreen ultimately suggests unmasking Smikros as an alter ego of Euphronios himself: “Perhaps Smikros was, historically speaking, neither a symposiast nor an artist at all? Perhaps he is nothing more than a fiction?” (p. 33, see also chapter 7). This hypothesis provides a foundation for the book’s interpretative structure, and it raises many serious questions concerning the archaeological method of creating individual artisans solely on the basis of style. What follows are three extensive chapters on early Greek elegy and epos with rich philological references, especially to the Odyssey and to the poetry of Archilochos and Hipponax. The aim is to show how these archaic poets introduced a narrating persona, an invented self, and how this model would serve for leading artisans like Euphronios. Hedreen introduces what he calls the “cultural concept of the ‘Odysseus’-like artist or poet” (p. 9), a marginalized personality using self-fictionalization as a weapon against social segregation.

For those curious to solve the riddles of Smikros’s identity set forth in chapter 1, the discussions concerning the persona of the early Greek poet are a bit lengthy, because these issues can easily be pursued elsewhere (see the references p. 300 f.). As it is, the reader has to follow the author’s close reading of the philological debate since Hermann Fränkel, until a solution is finally offered in chapter 7 (p. 243). The exhaustive treatment of early Greek poetry (chapters 2-4) is due to Hedreen’s effort to detect the motif of the “Odysseus-like artist” in Homer and beyond before he searches for its impact on Attic vase paintings of the second half of the 6th century.

Offering an important link between the realms of literature and art, chapter 3 deals with the iambic poet Hipponax from Ephesos, known in the sources for his invective against the artists of his age (541/540 B. C., Marmor Parium 42). This is an interesting case study providing deeper insight into the rivalry between the poets, sculptors, and painters in archaic society. According to Pliny, Boupalos and Athenis, sons of the Chian sculptor Archermos, made a malicious portrait of Hipponax (Plinius, Naturalis historia 36. 11-12; Suda s. v. Hipponax), but were driven to suicide by his blasphemous response. Hedreen convincingly argues, as do most scholars, that the episode is a legend and the portrait fictitious (p. 108-109). I wouldn’t go as far as Hedreen though in denying the historicity of Boupalos and Athenis as well, calling the sons of the epigraphically testified Achermos “poetic inventions” (p. 115). This assumption would contradict the philological evidence:6 Pausanias mentions a Tyche and Charites by Boupalos in Smyrna and a second Charites group displayed in the private rooms of Attalos in Pergamon (Pausanias, Periegesis Hellados 4. 30. 6 and 9. 35. 6). Pliny notes that the sons of Achermos made marble statues for Delos, Iasos and Chios, and he even transmits their Delos artists’ signature (Naturalis historia 36. 12-13). Hedreen however regards all attributions as either false or as referring to archaistic artists (p. 110-115). But would such a general distrust of six attributions made by Pliny, Pausanias and their sources not erode the method of ancient art history, i.e. to balance archaeological, epigraphical and philological evidence deliberately?

Hedreen’s investigations of Hipponax show how a poet introduces sculptors into his iambic poems as rivals of a modelled persona, intending to express the reality of poetical contests as a fatal paragone between the arts (p. 115). This new view of the late archaic poet’s self-image becomes important in chapters 6 and 7, when Hedreen draws parallels to the self-image of the vase painter.

In Chapter 4, Hedreen introduces Hephaistos, the lame but inventive god, and his epic counterpart Odysseus as role models for socially marginalized poets and artists like Hipponax and Euphronios. How vase painters express this concept is demonstrated in chapter 5 by a close viewing of the François vase. Hedreen interprets the compositions of the krater that separate Dionysos and Hephaistos from the realm of the Olympian gods as a narrative of the social segregation of τεχνῖται. The frontally depicted figure of Dionysos carrying an amphora (fig. 26) directs the viewer to take notice of the object displaying the representation, encouraging him to identify himself with the manufacturers of the krater (p. 184).

The last third of the book (chapters 6 and 7) concentrates on reuniting the study’s interdisciplinary levels of argumentation and reconsidering their value for the hermeneutics of vase paintings and their inscriptions. Adapting the representation theories of Nelson Goodman and Ernst H. Gombrich to his iconographical analysis, Hedreen shows convincingly how many problems arise when we try to interpret visual representations on the basis of their resemblance to real objects alone, especially when it comes to mythological figures.7 He finally concludes that the image of a Pegasus should be investigated as a creative contribution to the set of established designing conventions (p. 229, 237).

Hedreen’s historical review of frontal representations attracting the viewer’s gaze shows that subjects like frontally composed figures or faces as well as the eyes of eye cups are effective means for the artist’s self-performance (p. 204-232). The detailed foundry scene on the exterior of the Foundry Painter’s name-vase (fig. 43-44) is found to express a complex sociological message. It confirms the artisan’s relationship with the realm of Hephaistos, who is shown presenting the armour he made for Achilles to Thetis the interior of the cup. By representing one of the foundry workers frontally, the vase painter represents his own social class as inferior to the elegantly rendered clients; nevertheless the frontally designed artisan invites the viewer to link the heroic statues he produces to his patron Hephaistos and to appreciate him as a medium of the smith-god’s τέχνη (p. 223-232).

The final chapter dealing with Euphronios’s inventive capacity leads back to the questions raised at the beginning of the book. Hedreen adds new arguments confirming the proposed fictionality of the vase painters Smikros and Epilykos. Relying on signatures and kalos-inscriptions, Hedreen unravels a “complex web of ceramic invention” (p. 274) of artisans and painted protagonists. The accurate reconstruction of a competitive network of pictorial and epigraphical cross-references is one of the most illuminating results of the book. Thus Hedreen shows for the first time how the ancient concept of invention or εὕρεσις, known as the process of selecting from a pool of traditionally used forms, was implemented in a leading potter’s workshop around 500 B. C.

According to this process of εὕρεσις I would like to suggest an alternative interpretation of one of Hedreen’s most interesting observations. Investigating Euphronios’ style of invention, he discusses a symposiast holding a cup with the strange detail of two left hands. He argues that this peculiarity is a direct invitation to the viewer to see himself mirrored in the representation (p. 209- 212, pl. V). But the solution may be simpler. As classical sophists and philosophers report, the occupation of a panel painter was to represent figures by relying on σχήματα, or the artisan’s figural repertoire, for the body and its details (Aristotle, Poetics 1340a32-34).8 In the potter’s workshop, the decoration was first sketched on the vases, before they were decorated with σχήματα.9 The economic efficiency of the process gave rise to conventional combinations of macro- and micro-elements, such as standing figures with certain left and right hand types, that could easily be confused.

Since the inventive task of the painter is therefore to design for the intended customer’s interest and aesthetic background, Hedreen’s argument consequently culminates in the multilevel concept of persuasion (280-293). Investigating the courtship scenes on a cup signed by Peithinos (pl. XXV, fig. 61-62) he once more argues that this name is fictitious: Using the identity of ‘the Persuader’ the vase painter joins the debate stimulated by images of Peitho, the personification of erotic persuasion. Hedreen draws parallels to Gorgias’ rhetorical doctrine of the persuasive power of the logos and the image as well. This concept is also a key to the interpretation of frontal figures which are, as Hedreen has shown in chapter 6, definitely an effective means of pictorial persuasion.10

The new evidence of Hedreen’s investigation is primarily to be found in the field of reception analysis. Thus he is asking what pictorial concept of the artist’s self was actually conceived by the ancient viewer. Some general remarks on the sociological aspects of the vase painter’s self-awareness in the Late Archaic period would have been helpful, since there is some archaeological and epigraphical evidence for a growing appreciation of successful workshop-owners in society.11 The still-debated question of how the artisan’s social position changed around and after 500 BC and how it differed from the status of panel- and wall-painters could have been taken into account in the analysis of the vase painter’s artistic self.12

What happens when Hedreen uses a hermeneutic model drawn from literary persona theory to interpret archaeological and epigraphical remains? In this case, I would submit, the exercise is worth the risk, since he broadens his focus towards a search for a general solution to the problem of representation in ancient figurative arts. Applying modern theories of pictorial representation to archaic vases Hedreen advises ancient art historians to turn from interpreting the relation between representation and object to “the beholder’s share” (Ernst H. Gombrich) in creating an image.

The book provides 65 figures and 25 colour plates illustrating the argument effectively. Unfortunately, the black and white figures lack contrast, and the colour plates show blurring reflections and appear far too reddish, a real pity in an innovative, interdisciplinary approach that relies on close viewing of the images. Nevertheless, Guy Hedreen’s study will open an overdue debate on the methods of ascribing vases and assign their producers a remarkable role as self-conscious inventors of a visual language of their own.


Notes:


1.   Sascha Kansteiner, et al. (edd.), Der Neue Overbeck. Die antiken Schriftquellen zu den bildenden Künsten der Griechen, Berlin, 2014.
2.   Marcello Barbanera, The Envy of Daedalus. Essay on the Artist as Murderer, Morphomata Lectures Cologne 4, Munich, 2013.
3.   Wilhelm Klein, Euphronios. Eine Studie zur Geschichte der griechischen Malerei, 2nd ed. Vienna, 1886.
4.   Irma Wehgartner (ed.), Euphronios und seine Zeit. Kolloquium in Berlin 19./20. April 1991 anlässlich der Ausstellung Euphronios, der Maler, Berlin, 1992.
5.   Francois Lissarague, The Aesthetics of the Greek Banquet. Images of Wine and Ritual, Princeton, 1990, 44.
6.   Kansteiner et al., supra n.1, vol. 1, 114-119 No. 196-200 (Archermos); 120-128 No. 201-209 (Boupalos and Athenis).
7.   Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art. An Approach to a Theory of Symbols, 2nd ed. Indianapolis, 1976. Goodman’s first chapter relies on Ernst H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion. A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation, New York, 1960. Hedreen particularly refers to Ernst H. Gombrich, “Aims and Limits of Iconology.” In Studies in the Art of the Renaissance, London, 1972, 1-25 (p. 229).
8.   Nadia J. Koch, Techne und Erfindung in der klassischen Malerei, Munich, 2000, 59 f.
9.   Martin Boss, “Preliminary Sketches on Attic Red-Figured Vases of the Early Fifth Century B. C.” In William D. E. Coulson, et al. (edd.), Athenian Potters and Painters, Oxford, 1997, 345-351.
10.   For a general account of pictorial persuasion in antiquity and beyond see Wolfgang Brassat (ed.), Handbuch Rhetorik der Bildenden Künste, Handbücher Rhetorik 2, Berlin, 2016.
11.   Ingeborg Scheibler, “Griechische Künstlervotive der archaischen Zeit.” In Münchner Jahrbuch der Bildenden Kunst 30 (1979) 7-29.
12.   Filippo Coarelli (ed.), Artisti e artigiani in Grecia, Rome, 1980; Jeremy Tanner, “Culture, Social Structure and the Status of Visual Artists in Classical Greece.” In Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 45 (1999) 136-175.

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