BMCR 2003.11.34

Approaches to the Study of Attic Vases. Beazley and Pottier. Translated by Liz Nash. Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology

, Approaches to the study of Attic vases : Beazley and Pottier. Oxford monographs on classical archaeology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. xii, 167 pages, 11 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm.. ISBN 0198152728 EUR 60.00.

The reviewer apologizes to authors for the lateness of this review [compounded by editorial negligence – Edd.].

The life and work of Sir John D. Beazley, and particularly his contributions to the study of Attic vases, are well documented and generally well known among scholars of ancient art, but those of his near contemporary, Edmund Pottier, founder of the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum ( CVA) are less well known, particularly among the English readership. In Approaches to the Study of Attic Vases, Philippe Rouet (hereafter “R.”) considers the work of these two scholars in relation to each other in a manner that is neither biographical nor encyclopaedic but draws the reader into European intellectual traditions from the 18th through 20th centuries. This engaging and useful volume (one of the smaller members of the Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology series) is, however, priced somewhat beyond the budget of individual readers to whom it might otherwise appeal. It contains little illustrative material: the 21 “plates” are in fact spread across 11 glossy pages at the end of the volume; the only image that warrants its own page (but takes up less than half of it) is an archival image depicting Edmond Pottier among his prestigious classmates in the 1874 graduation class from the École Normale in Paris.

This is not a compendium of contemporary approaches to the study of Attic vases, or even an historical survey of all approaches, but rather a focused history of the competing approaches of Pottier and Sir John D. Beazley in the beginning of the twentieth century. This is, of course, an important history because that era witnessed the combination of connoisseurship and classical archaeology in the study of Attic vases. This scholarly field remains entrenched in both pursuits, and still crosses the sometimes divergent worlds of museums and universities (the bridge remains shaky, certainly in the United States), which were occupied by Pottier and Beazley, respectively. Although R. is a now working in France, this book is in harmony with the current pursuits of the Beazley Archive at Oxford (where he studied), namely, the study of scholarship and connoisseurship.1 Thus R. is perfectly qualified in the role he assumes as advocate and liaison between the two traditions represented by Pottier and Beazley.

Rouet’s approach is a comparison of the two men, Pottier and Beazley, in terms of the contributions they made to their field, as well as the radically different intellectual traditions from which they emerged. As R. explains, Pottier came from the world of historians obsessed with documentation and Beazley from a world preoccupied with masters and attribution. R. also covers the contributions of those whose work significantly influenced one or both: Paul Hartwig, Adolf Furtwängler, Wilhelm Klein, and of course Giovanni Morelli (a.k.a. Ivan Lermolieff), as well as Bernard Berenson. There is even an investigation of Baron d’Hancarville’s publication of Hamilton’s vase collection, which drew generations of connoisseurs and scholars (including Beazley) away from the craft of pottery and towards an appreciation of its two-dimensional pictures, whether drawn faithfully or not. This brings us eventually to the contribution of photography, and R.’s naïve acceptance of the idea (heralded particularly by Pottier) that photography faithfully reproduced the real appearance of a vase (p. 51). We are fortunate that Pottier and his contemporaries used photography for documentary purposes and introduced it in archaeological circles, yet it is now clear that artists can and do nuance images through photography just as through drawing and painting, so one cannot “believe” the evidence of all photographs.2 Throughout the volume R. attempts to put his comparison in the context of the issues encountered by contemporary students of Attic vases, and humanities scholars in general, yet none of the seven chapters explicitly brings us to contemporary approaches. At the same time, through this work, R. reveals himself to be remarkably well versed in theoretical approaches in general (that is, across the humanities and social sciences), as well as in scholarship focusing on the history of art and classical studies. The useful introduction is longer than any chapter but absolutely necessary for an overall appreciation of the book or of any of its individual chapters (which enlarge on themes brought up in the introduction). The short epilogue (3 pp.) is less necessary, yet interesting. Rather than providing a summary or even a repeat of conclusions (which might have been appreciated) it becomes a (positive) critique of Carlo Ginzburg’s ‘clue paradigm’.3

The seven chapters that serve as the heart of the book delve into: (1) “The beginnings of research into Greek pottery” (subtitled “The study of Attic vases before Beazley”); (2) “Two works by Pottier” (subtitled “The Louvre’s Catalogue of Ancient Vases and his contribution to ‘Daremberg and Saglio'”,4 although it also includes a mini-biography of Pottier himself); (3) “A brief glance at art history” (not as far ranging as it first sounds; the subtitle “The notion of individual style in the work of Morelli and Berenson” reveals its focus); (4) “Beazley’s background” (subtitled “A study of a young man whose education was not neglected”: yes, a mini-bio of Beazley, covering familiar territory); (5) “The workshop and the circle, the painter and his school” (subtitled “a history of the art of Attic vase-painters”); (6) “The reaction to Beazley in France” (subtitled “Pottier’s criticisms of the attribution of vases”: finally R. brings the two scholars together in his discussion); (6) “Pottier and the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum” (subtitled, less helpfully, “A general inventory of ancient clay vases”). This smorgasborg, jumping as it does from Pottier to Beazley and back to Pottier, is organized in a sort of chronological order. While a chronological approach suits Rouet’s historiographic goals, it does not result in the clearest explication of his ideas, let alone his conclusions.

All chapters are introduced with quotations, many of which come from literary sources. The quotations often substitute for explanatory introductory paragraphs and sometimes become burdensome, as in ch. 6, where a paragraph from Proust is quickly followed by a quotation from the world of scholarship, that brings the reader ” in medias res” (p. 109), as R. puts it, and therefore unaware of the goals of the chapter. These and other quotations are translated into English, yet others remain inexplicably in their original languages. R. presumes that his readers possess not only language skills but a good knowledge of much else, as on p. 53, where he notes that the production of Daremberg-Saglio was framed by momentous points in the history of France, yet fails to tell us what they were! These language and knowledge barriers as well as the spotlight on a narrow scholarly field drastically reduce the potential readership, which seems at odds with R.’s own aims, given his expansive style and far flung interests. Other details give conflicting indications of what audience R. or his publisher envisioned. For example scholarly precision is cast aside in the unspecific cross references (that lack page numbers), but R. demands intense scholarly attention with his tendency to turn the reader’s attention abruptly from one point to the next (for example, with the excursus on Furtwängler’s analysis of the ear of the Athena Lemnia, p. 38). Chapter divisions with subtitles are perhaps are meant to provide transition but rather interrupt the flow of R.’s discussion. Occasional longwindedness may result from the transformation of pregnant French prose into verbose English.

These editorial concerns aside, the volume is handsome and well produced, with a traditional and tidy appearance. The footnotes are numerous yet pithy, and, quite refreshingly, serve more as a launching point for further research than a justification of the author’s own assertions. The extensive bibliography (20 pp.) provides a useful reading list for any student of Attic vases, the history of connoisseurship, or the history of the study of Classical art in general, although many of the works included could prove difficult, if not impossible to find.5

For the English readership, to whom Beazley is well known, this volume’s greatest contribution is the contextualization of the life and work of Pottier, and of the origins of the CVA. Although the CVA has changed much in recent years and has abandoned Pottier’s beloved numbering system, as well as separable plates (both of which were instituted for the sake of cross referencing) it seems that the contemporary CVA is drawing ever closer to Pottier’s original aims in two important ways. First, the coverage has become gradually more expansive, with more and more prehistoric material included (although not Near Eastern material, as Pottier had initially hoped). Second, the incipient efforts to digitise the CVA (another Beazley Archive project) should indeed improve its accessibility and usability beyond Pottier’s dreams.


1. See for example, publications in the Beazley Archive’s series on Studies in the History of Collections such as D.C. Kurtz, The Reception of Classical Art in Britain (Oxford University Press: Oxford 2000).

2. Note the tendency of 20th c. photographers to employ lighting that hides relief lines and dipinti on Greek vases.

3. C. Ginzburg, “Clues: Roots of an Evidential Paradigm,” in id., Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method (trans. J. and A.C. Tedeschi) (Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore 1989) 92-125.

4. E. Pottier, Vases antiques du Louvre (Hachette: Paris 1897-1928) and C. Daremberg, E. Saglio, and E. Pottier, Dictionnaire des antiquités grecques et romaines (Hachette: Paris 1877-1919).

5. E.g. Louise Berge’s 1975 Oxford DPhil thesis on ‘Beazley’s Myson’, whose only copy in a scholarly library (the Bodleian at Oxford) is withheld from view without express written consent of the author.