Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.03.08 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.03.08

J. Michael Padgett (ed.), The Berlin Painter and his World: Athenian Vase-Painting in the Early Fifth Century B.C.   Princeton:  Princeton University Art Museum, 2017.  Pp. xvii, 430.  ISBN 9780300225938.  $75.00.  

Reviewed by Diana Rodríguez Pérez, Wolfson College, Oxford (

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

An important addition to the scholarship of Athenian vase painting, this volume serves as a catalogue for the exhibition The Berlin Painter and His World. Athenian Vase-Painting in the Early Fifth Century BC, held at the Princeton University Art Museum and the Toledo Museum of Art in 2017. It reassesses the work and legacy of arguably the most accomplished of Athenian vase painters working in Athens at a time of economic growth and cultural flourishing and establishes an authoritative list of vases assigned to his hand.

Chapter 1, “Athens in the Time of the Berlin Painter”, by Jenifer Neils, provides an excellent and highly informative introduction to the volume by setting out the socio-political culture in which the Berlin Painter lived, undoubtedly the most transformative period of the history of Athens. The chapter presents an accurate image of Athens in the first decades of the fifth century, from the political organization, religious and civic life to the heroes and divinities in vogue at the time, all of which impacted the work of the Berlin Painter.

Nathan T. Arrington addresses the thorny subject of connoisseurship and its value and shortcomings in chapter 2. He reviews its origins in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and its emergence during a period when collections were growing at a fast pace and positivism was in vogue. He emphasizes its role in the practice of the field archaeologist, and explores Beazley's use of the method. He also discusses two of the main weaknesses of the approach: the difficulties in determining where one painter’s work begins and ends, and the validity and value of connecting a painterly hand to an ancient body.

In Chapter 3, J. Michael Padgett explores the personality of the Berlin Painter through his extant oeuvre, which comprises some 300 items. No information exists about the social persona of the painter, but his work shows a particular “system of renderings”, a “personal system”, as Beazley himself put it, which is solid and coherent enough to allow the modern scholar to explore and scrutinize his artistic personality. Padgett successfully undertakes this task using a connoisseurial approach paired with a deep understanding and sensitivity to the artist’s style. He discusses the painter’s career and nature of his art with regards to the shapes that he decorated. This is a sensible choice that makes it easier for the reader to check details on the specific shapes. Padgett briefly treats the main chronological periods of the painter’s production and his origin in the Pioneer Group to move quickly to the analysis of his work. His essay successfully brings to life the artistic personality of a master who favoured single spotlighted figures perfectly integrated with the largely black vessels on which they were painted, and used limited ornament, hand in hand with touches of superb delicacy, austerity and unrivalled grace.

John Oakley (Chapter 4) skillfully explores the activity of the Berlin Painter’s workshop, one of the longest lasting of the fifth century (ca.505-424 BC). He briefly reassesses the relationship between the painter and Phintias, who, in previous scholarship, was thought to have been his teacher. But the newly appeared fragmentary calyx-krater now in the Villa Giulia evidences the Berlin Painter’s close ties with Euphronios instead.1 Oakley considers ten painters/groups of painters individually as associates and followers of the “master” in his various development periods (early, middle, and late): the Eucharides, Harrow, and Tithonos Painters (early period), the Group of the Floral Nolans, the Painter of the Yale Lekythos and the Alkimachos Painter (middle period), and his three major students: the Providence Painter, Hermonax, and the Achilles Painter, to finish off with the Phiale and Clio Painters and other minor artists in the circle of the Achilles and Phiale Painters who brought the Berlin Painter’s tradition to an end around 430-425 BC.

In Chapter 5, Jasper Gaunt presents the evidence for identifying the potters with whom the Berlin Painter worked. It is a much-needed study that sheds light on the poietes, the central figure of any Athenian workshop. The author thoroughly explores the connections of the Berlin Painter with the potters and painters of the Pioneer Group and proposes a sustained collaboration between Euphronios as a potter and the Berlin Painter. He argues that Euphronios was the potter of the name-vase in Berlin, the type A amphora in Basel with Athena and Herakles, the volute-krater with Achilles and Memnon, the neck amphora with twisted handles in London, and others (pp. 95–96). The Berlin Painter’s late period is characterized by a mechanical nature of the drawing and a lesser quality and apparent diffusion of the potting, which Gaunt suggestively links with the Athenian massacre at Ennea Hodoi in Thrace in 464 BC where Euphronios, Sosias, Smikros, and Smikythos died.2 It is then when the Berlin Painter starts to collaborate with at least four different potters who would become much more involved with younger painters such as the Achilles Painter.

David Saunders (Chapter 6) looks at the distribution of the Berlin Painter’s vases through a dataset of around 150 items with reported find-spots. He assumes that the painter would have been aware, to some extent, that many of the pots he decorated would be exported. He looks at the material by regions and shapes, trying to identify any substantial tailoring of the iconography to the different geographical areas. He shows that the distribution of the Berlin Painter’s vases is not much different from that of his contemporaries: mainly Etruria, especially Vulci, and also Campania and Magna Graecia. Regarding the iconography, it is usually difficult to find something substantially different that would speak of a targeted production. The types of scenes do not preclude an exclusively Athenian viewing context either: these are easy-to-read images comprehensible both in the home and export markets. In this sense, shape seems to have mattered most and, as the Berlin Painter was decorated a variety of shapes, he enjoyed a good share of the market in the western lands, with middlemen and traders as important factors in the final destination of the pots.

The Berlin Painter focused on the red-figure amphora of Panathenaic shape at the beginning of his career (500-480 BC) and ended up receiving the most prestigious commission from the polis at end of it (ca.475-465 BC): the production of the nearly 1400 prize Panathenaic amphoras. In Chapter 7, Alan Shapiro reviews the corpus of attributed types of amphorae with the purpose of understanding why Beazley thought that the prize vessel was the painter’s favourite shape. He also explores the associations that the red-figure examples might have had to the Greater Panathenaia: their iconography does not immediately reflect the events or spirit of the festival but Shapiro sees a higher correlation of subjects (athletes, musicians —contestants in the mousikoi agones at the games, in his opinion—) with the games in this shape than in any of the painter’s other shapes and therefore a possible connection of athletics, music and eroticism.

Dyfri Williams moves from the Berlin Painter himself to chart the main contemporary workshops to explore the interactions between the individual potters and painters. Although he defines his work as a “preliminary survey” (p.177), he provides a thorough and useful overview of workshops and workgroups of the first half of the fifth century, regretfully limited by the lack of full publication of the finds. His study reveals a fluid and complex picture with some painters and potters remaining in a particular workshop for all of their lives while others trained in one and moved to another. Also significant are his findings about cross-overs by painters from one workshop to decorate vases in another, and of longer visits involving moves between cup- and pot-workshops.

In Chapter 9, J. Robert Guy follows Williams’ efforts in revealing the interconnectedness of the Athenian kerameikos at the time of the Berlin Painter. He focuses on the elusive Painter of Goluchow 37, who displays an amalgam of stylistic traits of various painters, from the Berlin and Eucharides Painters to Myson and the early Pan Painter. His essay is a perfect example of the lengthy, sometimes exhausting and always patient observation process that leads to solid attributions: the three first vases that he attributes to the painter were attributed by him to the “Painter of the Boston Lykos” in the 1980s; he had seen the first of them (now at the Cleveland Museum of Art) for the first time back in 1977. He presents the painter under a new light, skillfully shaping the artist’s stylistic profile while at the same time showing the pervasive influence that the Berlin Painter exerted on his contemporaries.

Two catalogues follow the essays: one accommodating 84 object entries in one or two pages each, and a catalogue raisonné of works by the Berlin Painter edited by Padgett and Guy. This includes works attributed by Beazley to the painter and in his manner (some 290 vases), plus 93 new attributions by other scholars on which the editors agree. Together with the 22 amphorae of the Group of the Floral Nolans, some attributed by Beazley and some newly attributed to the painter by others, the corpus of works by the painter and in his manner nears 400 objects.

This is a superbly illustrated and well-edited volume that presents the latest scholarship on the subject. It is not a mere illustration of the Princeton and Toledo exhibitions but an excellent piece of research for which the editor and contributors must be praised. Despite the concentration on a single painter and his circle, there is no considerable overlap among the various essays, which complement each other nicely. There is much for the specialist here, e.g., thorough essays by experienced scholars in the art of connoisseurship whose detailed studies reveal the complexity of the task of attribution and the patient scrutiny and superb visual memory that it requires, but there is also much for the layman and art lover too. As such, this book is a necessary addition to any university or museum library.

Table of Contents

Jenifer Neils, Athens in the Time of the Berlin Painter, 3–20
Nathan T. Arrington, Connoisseurship, Vases, and Greek Art and Archaeology, 21–40
J. Michael Padgett, The Berlin Painter: As We Know Him, 41–65
John H. Oakley, Associates and Followers of the Berlin Painter, 66–84
Jasper Gaunt, The Berlin Painter and His Potters, 85–106
David Saunders, The Distribution of the Berlin Painter’s Vases, 107–132
H. A. Shapiro, The Berlin Painter’s Panathenaic Amphorae, 133–143
Dyfri Williams, Beyond the Berlin Painter: Toward a Workshop View, 144–188
J. Robert Guy, In the Shadow of the Berlin Painter: A Reconsideration of the Painter of Goluchow 37 and Related Pot- Painters, 189–211
VVAA, Catalogue, 213–372
J. Michael Padgett and J. Robert Guy, Catalogue Raisonné, 373–403


1.   Rome, Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia 145143.
2.   IG I3 928, 731–34, no.1144, Stela A, col. 2, lines 11, 17, 31. Dyfri Williams, “Furtwängler and the Pioneer Painters and Potters”, in V. M. Strocka (ed.) (2005), Meisterwerke. Internationales Symposium anlässlich des 150. Geburtstages von Adolf Furtwängler. Freiburg im Breisgau, 30. Juni-3. Juli 2003, 283.

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