BMCR 2004.11.07

Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, Finland, fascicule 1. Societas Scientiarum Fennica

, , Corpus vasorum antiquorum. Finland.. Corpus vasorum antiquorum. Finland ; fasc. 1. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica, 2003-. volumes : illustrations ; 32 cm. ISBN 9516533256 €30.00.

The Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum was developed in the years following World War I, with the first volumes appearing in 1922. The subsequent 82 years have seen the steady addition of volumes and gradual changes in format. Nevertheless the aim of the Corpus remains the same: to publish all of the painted Greek vases in the world. The founders also recognized that some of the collections would want to include vessels of other fabrics. A quick review of the existing volumes indicates that these basic principles remain the same. The ideal fascicule should provide the researcher with the next best experience to actually examining the vases themselves, and these publications should be useful for all sorts of research projects, including the investigation of new questions that may arise in years to come. Photographs are the essential component here, along with a text alerting the researcher to items not easily discernable from those photographs. In more recent years profile drawings or profiles of details have been considered necessary. The text should be descriptive rather than interpretive, and the bibliography while it need not be complete should give previous publications of the vase with some selected bibliography that leads the reader to further discussion. It is against these criteria that any new fascicule of the CVA should be evaluated.

The present volume is the work of Pietilä-Castrén and a group of her MA students and includes representative Cypriot, Mycenaean, Greek and Italic vases from nine institutional collections and 26 private collections in Finland. Only two of these vases have previously been published. While few will merit extensive attention on their own, as collected they provide material for efforts that try to find all the examples of a particular shape, style or iconography. The authors are particularly to be commended for seeking out the various private collections and gaining access to them.

One should note at the outset that the preparatory work of cleaning and, where possible, restoration that usually proceed the production of a CVA fascicule was not undertaken here. While one may be at the mercy of the individual owner in the case of a private collection, surely the institutions — particularly the Joensuu Art Museum, The Museum of Art and Design (Helsinki), the National Board of Antiquities’ Museum of Culture (Helsinki) and the University of Helsinki — should have been persuaded to undertake this task. Details on a number of vases are obscured, with only a note in the text as to why this is so. Thus the parallels for bf lekythos, University of Helsinki inv B 500 (Pl. 27,2) suggest that it is by the Theseus Painter, but the condition of the vase does not allow a firm attribution.

The work is in a current format, with text and plates bound together. Each entry has a good profile drawing and a limited text, but unfortunately the volume fails in the quality of the photography, and there is little the text or drawings can do to make up for this deficiency. While printed on glossy heavy paper, the photographs are not sharp, and distinguishing basic images, let alone details is hard and in some case impossible. For vases without painted figure decoration, the demands for photography are not as great and consequently the results are better. A comparison with the CVA volumes cited in the entries will show how limited the photographs are.

I note only one volume for comparison, the CVA for Agrigento, where the plates in half tone are clear and incision and relief lines can be seen clearly.1 The photographs are generally large, but in a number of cases additional and sharper photographs of details are called for. I mention a few details as examples only. We are told that the image on Museum of Art and Design B499 (Pl. 33,2) may represent the apobates race, but the figures cannot be seen from the plate. Plate 37,5 shows the body of an askos (Museum of Art and Design B 515) but not the painted top, and there is no photograph of the tondo of National Board of Antiquities plate (Pl. 38.1). The line drawing (fig. 75) is totally inadequate.

A clear case in point is the treatment of Museum of Art and Design B 517 (Pl. 87, 1), a native Apulian thymaterion. Here we are given a large indistinct photograph and a very good line drawing. The photograph is next to useless and the drawing is what any researcher must depend upon. A quick comparison with other CVA photographs of similar vases reveals how much is lost in this case. Even the antiquated small photograph in CVA Italia 4 (Lecce 1) Pl. IV D f b, tav. 3 from 1928 is better, and CVA USA 22 (Philadelphia, University Museum 1), pl. 54, 3-4, by J. Green,2 surely sets the standard that should be followed.

The preface by Pietilä-Castrén is perfunctory, with little attention given to the nature of the collections and the possible proveniences of the pieces. Although reference to her earlier publication does fill in some gaps, the documentation is still not as extensive as needed.3 She is also responsible for the solid, straightforward and minimal text on the six Cypriot vases and the single examples of the Mycenaean stirrup jar, Hellenistic lagynos, Hellenistic relief bowl, Genucillia plate, and Etruscan Red Figure plate and the 35 Italiot black painted vases.

Heini Parko has written the entries for the 28 Corinthian and six Attic Geometric vases, one Italo-Geometric and 16 Italo-Corinthian vases. The text is competent but filled with references that are unhelpful. For example on the aryballos, University of Helsinki inv. 50 (Pl. 9.1), do we really need a reference to Amyx, Corinthian Vase Painters p. 670 to confirm that eagles are a common motif? The text for the Rydman aryballos (Pl. 68,3) seems to suggest an attribution but in the end none is made. There are a number of line drawings which help in distinguishing the subject of the vases but they are not a reliable guide to the style of the painters.

The 29 Black Figure pieces, most of them lekythoi, are treated by Tina Tuukkamen. Again, line drawings help the reader decipher the poor plates but are not a guide to style. Tuukkamen has given attributions for 17 of these vases, most of which belong to the Haimon Group of lekythoi. More puzzling are the cases where attribution is hinted at in the comments but are not given in the attribution at the end of the entry. While I would not want to suggest attributions without seeing the vases, one must wonder why after citing parallels the attribution is not offered. The lekythos in the Kivijävi Collection may be part of the Group of Vatican G52 (see Paralipomena 202). On the other hand, the Rydman lekythos (Pl. 34.1) wisely is not attributed, although if the photographs were clearer, the similarities noted might provide stimulus to examine the relationships between the Gela Painter and the Haimon Group. Tuukkamen has also written the entries for the 17 Attic Black Glaze and the four Boeotian vases.

Rig Berg is responsible for 16 Attic Red Figure vases (12 lekythoi), four White Ground lekythoi, 9 South Italian Red Figure, three Faliscan, three Pseudo Red Figure, 13 Gnathian, eight Native Apulian, 11 South Italian Red figure, three Faliscan, three Pseudo Red Figure, 13 Gnathian vases and nine Native Apulian” vases. For the Attic Red Figure, the text is clear and straightforward, with seven attributions all made with due caution. Plate 40 had particularly bad photographs, and on Plate 41 the A and B sides are reversed. The White Ground vases, because of their fragile nature and because they tend to preserve a more painterly style, are usually given extra care, but here the presentation again is less than adequate. Of the South Italian Red Figure, eight are attributed. For the Suolahti krater (Pl. 72, 2 a-c) photographs a and b need to be reversed

The 18 Impasto and 39 Bucchero vases are well served by Anne-Marie Pennonen and Nina Ylikarjula. The small bucchero kyathos in the Tommila collection (Pl. 65, 1) is of the Attic shape. The spur on top of the handle is probably not a pomegranate as stated in the text.4

In defiance of standard practice, comparanda are noted only by publication reference without museum number. Finally it should be noted that there is no index of the collections. Those wishing this index in QuatroPro format may request one at the email address given above.

In short, while welcome for the material it does provide this fascicule sets a dangerously low standard. Although a number of people in various foreign institutions, including the Union Académique Internationale, the parent institution for the CVA, are thanked in the preface, there does not seem to have been any external oversight such as is carried out in the United States and other countries with extensive collections and publications. While these committees have been known to aggravate and frustrate CVA authors and on occasion even prevent the publication of fascicules, they are also responsible for the very high standard that prevails in the Corpus. In the future fascicules from countries with smaller collections might well seek to be brought under the wing of one of the established CVA national committees.


1. Anna Calderone, CVA, Italia, LXI, Agrigento, Museo Archaeologico Nazionale, fasc. 1, Roma, 1985.

2. J. R. Green, CVA USA XXII, Philadelphia, University Museum, fasc. 1, Philadelphia, 1986, pl. 54, 3-4.

3. L. Pietilä-Castrén, Classical Reflections and Collecting in Finland, Rivista di archeologia 24 (2000) 129-137.

4. M.M. Eisman, Attic Kyathos Painters, (diss. 1971) University Microfilms, p. 2 and 9. For Attic examples see Eisman, “Attic kyathos Production” Archaeology 28 (1978) 76-83.