BMCR 2001.12.08

Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, United States of America, Fascicule 35, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Fascicule 2

, , , , , Corpus vasorum antiquorum. [United States of America]. The Cleveland Museum of Art.. Corpus vasorum antiquorum. United States of America ; fasc. 15, <35>. Cleveland: Princeton University Press, 1971-2000. volumes 1-2 plates 34 cm.. ISBN 0691035407 $100.

In 1971 the Cleveland Museum of Art published a CVA on the classical vases in its collection that were acquired from its founding in 1916 through 1970. The museum’s collection, however, has not remained static and a number of vases have been added. This is the second fascicule from the Cleveland Museum of Art, in which Jennifer Neils and Gisela Walberg bring us up to date on the museum’s collection. The CVA falls into two distinct sections: the Cypriot and Mycenaean material appears first followed by the classical vases. I begin with the classical vases, which constitute the larger portion of the work.

J. Neils publishes 35 vases that have been acquired since 1971. The vases are grouped according to geographic region and chronologically within each region from the 7th through the 3rd century B.C. Corinthian, East Greek, Boeotian, Attic Black and Red Figure, Etruscan, South Italian and Black Glaze wares are represented; Attic and South Italian wares are predominant. The information is given in a well-organized format divided into several areas: shape, plate numbers, accession information and numbers, description of shape and ornament, dimensions and condition report, attribution and date, technical features, bibliography, and comparanda. Sections for subject and the vase’s exhibition history are included whenever appropriate. The text is supplemented with drawings of vase profiles and reproductions of graffiti and inscriptions.

The Cleveland museum has acquired some remarkable pieces, vases that have been the subject of intense scholarly research and comment for years. Some are exquisite works of craftsmanship that many readers will recognize as textbook classics in the study of Greek vase painting. Among them, there is a black-figure dinos from the Circle of the Antimenes Painter (pp. 27 – 29, pls. 63 – 65). It is one of a small number of dinoi that have the amusing and culturally significant conceit of ships painted on the interior rim, resulting in a row of vessels sailing on the “wine dark sea.” It is also exceptional for its complex mythological scene on the top of the rim. Neils gives a succinct description of this complex piece and numerous references.

Also noteworthy are a lovely East Greek heron aryballos and an amusing monkey aryballos, both of which are attributed to the “Robertson’s Group” (pp. 23 – 24, pl. 59). Duck- and swan-shaped aryballoi exist, but the heron vase is a rare and high quality piece; no other example is now published. The monkey, although relatively more common, is nonetheless remarkable for its charm. The illustrations for the piece thoughtfully include the “trademark” painting on the base that is a frequent practice for vases from this group. Neils points to relevant articles, including recent (1986) evidence indicating the probable origin of “Robertson’s Group” at Miletos.

Finally, I will mention a red-figured lekythos that carries a scene of Athena slaying the giant Enkelados (pp. 33 – 35, pls. 70 – 71) whose early attribution to Douris has been questioned. Neils gives us the more recent attribution to the Painter of the Lykos Kalos (the body) and to the Berlin Painter (the shoulder).

Neils provides descriptions that are concise and useful, commenting on many aspects of the vase that are not easily detected in the photographs such as vase color (given with Munsell numbers) or evidence for ancient repair. Under bibliography, she is generous with her information and, as some of this material has received scholarly attention for decades, the bibliography for many pieces is extensive. It is under the category “comparanda,” however, that she gives us knowledgeable and interesting comments on multiple aspects of each piece. She gives references whenever the style, decorative scheme, shape, iconography, inscriptions, graffiti or attributions have led to scholarly publications. She has produced a well-done reference work within the restrictive format of the CVA; both scholars and students will find her contributions informative and helpful in their research.

G. Walberg handles the Cypriot and Mycenaean material. There are 19 Cypriot and 3 Mycenaean vases; 21 of these vases were from the Cesnola Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and were acquired in 1916, but not included in the earlier CVA. These wares, although cited in the catalogue of the inaugural exhibition, were neither illustrated nor adequately described. The full publication of this material now is welcome and of interest to scholars.

Luigi Palma di Cesnola was born in Italy.1 After military service in the Crimea, he came to the United States and set up a military school for officers in New York. In 1862 he volunteered for a New York Calvary regiment and fought in the American Civil War. Colonel Cesnola was wounded, captured and detained in Libby Prison until 1864. The heroic circumstances of his life, no doubt, contributed to his appointment as the United States Consul to Cyprus.

He arrived in Cyprus on December 25, 1865 and not long after his arrival participated enthusiastically in the antiquarian pursuits of the time. In his eleven years as Consul he amassed a large collection of antiquities, largely Cypriot; he removed approximately 35,000 objects from the island. Objects from his collection were sold and dispersed throughout a number of museums in Europe, but a large portion was acquired by the newly-founded Metropolitan Museum of Art to which he would later return as director.

The collection was further broken up by the Metropolitan Museum when it sold objects to varied museums and private collections in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.2 Further publication of the Cesnola Collection, therefore, adds to our understanding of the scope of his vast enterprise and fills in the extensive gap on the current location of objects. Unfortunately, Cesnola did not participate in the developing discipline of archaeology and his notes do not give secure information about the provenience of the objects that he collected.3 All that can be said is that the vases came from somewhere on Cyprus.

The Cleveland Museum collection of Cypriot vases published here contains a representative sample of quintessential Cypriot ceramic production. It consists largely of prehistoric wares representing some of the predominant shapes and fabrics of Cypriot Bronze Age pottery. These include amphoras, jugs and bowls in red polished, white painted, black slip and base ring wares covering the period from ca. 2000 to 1200 B.C. There are also several vases from the historic period: bichrome, white painted and black on red wares from the Geometric and Archaic periods, ca. 850 to 475 B.C. There are two Mycenaean pieces from the Cesnola Collection, a miniature stirrup jar and a flask from Late Helladic III. A handsome Late Helladic III piriform jar acquired in 1978 rounds out the material presented by Walberg.

Walberg gives us the most essential information on the 22 Cypriot and Mycenaean vases in the same categories (plate, accession number, provenience, shape and ornament, dimensions and condition, attribution and date, technical features, bibliography, comparanda). Descriptions, dimensions and condition reports are brief and to the point; the technical information gives a description of the color and the Munsell numbers for the clay, slip and paint. The vases are well illustrated in the photographic plates, but there are no profiles or drawings for this material.

Unfortunately this section of the CVA is flawed; its problems serve to demonstrate what can go wrong with a CVA and, in comparison, to confirm the competence of Neils’ work. I see three problems: first, the reader could use more scholarly information and references. It is unfortunate that Walberg has not taken this opportunity to refer the reader to an interesting body of recent work on Cypriot vases.4 She gives the readers little information to guide them, citing only four works and referring most often to the volumes of the Swedish Cyprus Expedition ( SCE). For example, under attribution one finds a vase listed as “Red Polished II Ware, Type VII D g 4” (an amphora, accession #1916.1988, p. 13, pl. 49, 1 – 2). The series of Roman numerals, letters and numbers that Walberg uses is from an elaborate typology refined by Professor James R. Stewart and she uses this typology consistently to classify the Bronze Age pottery. She does not, however, give a reference to help the reader understand the “type” of vase, most often citing only plate or figure numbers of an SCE volume under comparanda. Since she has chosen to use this typology, “uninitiated” readers need some references that would help them through the labyrinth of types. Specifically, references would have been immensely welcome to appropriate page numbers within the multiple volumes of The Swedish Cyprus Expedition series and to the two-volume work of Prof. Stewart, published after his premature death in 1962.5 This could have been handled with a brief introductory paragraph that alerted the reader to the typology that was being used and gave references to the appropriate material.

Second, a word about technique would have been welcome. The Cypriot material covers a broad period of time and, perhaps more importantly, contains vases that are handmade as well as wheelmade. Given the fact that wheelmade wares predominate in the CVA series and that production by pottery wheel is taken for granted, some attention or notice should have been given to this basic difference in production technique. Yet, there is no opening paragraph to alert the reader to the handmade wares, nor is there any notice given under “Technique.”

Third, the portion of the CVA handled by Walberg needs more careful editing; there are errors among the entries for attribution and comparanda. For example, the first entry is for an Early Cypriot III – Middle Cypriot I amphora in a red polished fabric (p. 13, accession #1916.1988, pl. 49, 1 – 2). For comparison to this piece the reader is referred to The Swedish Cyprus Expedition, volume 4: IA, figure 175.5. The problem is that there is no figure 175. Volume 4: IA ends with figure CLVI (156) in the series with Roman numerals or with figure 105. Again, the second entry is for a red polished ware jug and the reader is referred for comparison to the same volume of the SCE, figure 40.1. Finding this comparison is difficult because Walberg has translated the Roman numerals and some volumes have two sets of figures, both Roman and Arabic. Should one look up figure 40 or figure XL? I checked both and neither was correct. We are supposed to find a vase with similar decoration; we find instead a diagrammatic section of the phases of habitation at Sotira (fig. 40) and six views of excavations at Kalavassos (fig. XL). Problems like these occur more often than they should. The reader is advised to use caution.

One final comment before closing. Many years have now passed since the Council of the AIA, in 1970, adopted the “Resolution on the Plundering of Sites” (Archaeology 24 [1971] 165). In 1983 the United States became a party to the 1970 UNESCO Conventions designed to protect cultural property by passing the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (Public Law 97-446).6 The current AIA Code of Ethics defines undocumented antiquities as “those which are not documented as belonging to a public or private collection before December 30, 1970.”7 Most of the pieces published here are adequately documented regarding their provenience, but others do raise concern. For example, what is one to understand about the provenience of a Faliscan kylix that was acquired in 1989? It is simply listed as “Ex Coll. Numismatic Fine Arts, Los Angeles” and it is without any record of publication prior to 1990 (pp. 46-47, pls. 87-88). This information is particularly important in a reference work. One hopes that in the future a CVA will include the full documentation for the provenience of an object, clearly establishing its history in accordance with the UNESCO conventions.


1. John L. Myres, Handbook of the Cesnola Collection of Antiquities From Cyprus, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1914) pp. xiii-xxi. V. Karageorghis, J. R. Mertens, M. E. Rose, Ancient Art From Cyprus, The Cesnola Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 2000) pp. 3-8.

2. V. Karageorghis, p. 8. For example, Stanford University in 1896: Paola Villa, Early and Middle Bronze Age Pottery of the Cesnola Collection in the Stanford University Museum, Corpus of Cypriot Antiquities I, SIMA Vol. XX,1 (1969). John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in 1928: Norma Kershaw, ed., Ancient Art From Cyprus, The Ringling Collection, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota (Florida), April 14 through May 23, 1983. A complete record of the destination of objects from the collection, however, does not exist.

3. John L. Myres, p. xv: “it was a pity—but no fault of Cesnola—that the United States Consul in Cyprus was not an archaeological genius.”

4. For example, on red polished wares see: David Frankel and Jennifer M. Webb, Marki Alonia, An Early and Middle Bronze Age Town in Cyprus, Excavations 1990-1994 SIMA Vol. CXXIII:1 (Jansered 1996) pp. 110-148; the work includes extensive bibliography.

5. James R. Stewart, Corpus of Cypriot Artefacts of the Early Bronze Age, SIMA Vol. III:1 (1988) and Vol. III:2 (1992).

6. See the website for the U. S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, International Cultural Property Protection at:

7. See the website