BMCR 2005.08.30

Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, Deutschland, Band 76, Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Skulpturensammlung, Band 1

, Corpus vasorum antiquorum. Deutschland.. Munich: Akademie-Verlag, 1938-. volumes 1- : plates ; 34 cm. ISBN 9783406517181 €88.00.

This review of the CVA of the South Italian red figured and over-painted pottery in Dresden has taken longer to complete than expected and for this I must apologize, especially to Rolf Hurschmann. My excuse, if any is ever valid, is that I have been working, together with Alexander Cambitoglou, on two long overdue CVAs of the South Italian pottery in the Nicholson Museum in Sydney — long overdue given that both Trendall (1939-1954) and Cambitoglou (1962-2000), co-authors of the seminal The Red-Figured Vases of Apulia, have been Honorary Curators of the Museum.1 This review was to be my treat to myself on completion of our first volume. Nothing, I felt, could better prepare me for reviewing a CVA than writing one. Lesson 1: CVAs take a lot longer than expected. Lesson 2: so do reviews.

Advances in technology aside, the CVA format has remained relatively unchanged since Edmond Pottier conceived of the project in 1919.2 CVAs are formulaic, as to a degree are their reviews, and so I shall begin with the basic details before moving on to discussion of several points of interest.

In this, the first Dresden CVA, Hurschmann catalogues the entire collection of South Italian pottery in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Skulpturensammlung. Eighty-one objects are described over seventy-four pages, with seven text drawings, fifty-four plates, and nineteen pages of profile drawings of fifty-two of the pots. The photographs are by H.-P. Klut and E. Estel and the drawings by J. Schilbach.

An Introduction (7-8) and a short article On the Outline Preliminary Drawings on the Dresden Vases (9-10), both by Hurschmann, are followed by a History of the Dresden Vase Collection (11-14) by Kordelia Knoll, co-Director of the Skulpturensammlung. Following bibliographic details (15-16) and the main text (17-90) are six pages of Tables — I: Concordance of Inventory Numbers with Plates and Figures, II: Painters and Workshops, III: Subject Matter including Mythological Names, IV: Inscriptions and Dipinti, V: Technical Details, VI: Provenance — Find-spots, VII: Provenance — Previous Collections and Acquisition Details, VIII: Mass — Height, Weight and Volume.

Of the eighty-one pots, seventy-six are red figured, of which forty-nine are Apulian, twenty-two Campanian, and five Lucanian. There is no Paestan or Sicilian pottery. The remaining five objects (pl. 54.1-11) are catalogued as ‘Varia’. They include an Apulian over-painted ‘net-lekythos’, an Apulian over-painted lekanis and askos, a Xenon Group nestoris, and an Apulian plastic askos in the shape of a leaping dolphin. No Gnathia pottery is catalogued.

Not one of the eighty-one pots has a secure archaeological context.3 This fact, while hardly surprising, is still shocking. Indeed, the same situation is to be found in Sydney.

Forty-two of the seventy-six red figured pots have already been attributed to various painters and workshops by Trendall and Cambitoglou, as well as one by Söldner (Dr. 375, pl. 52). Hurschmann here attributes a further thirty, leaving just two now unattributed, an Apulian lebes gamikos (ZV 2871, pl. 8) and an Apulian alabastron (ZV 2870, pl. 32.1-4). The imagery of a third pot, an Apulian oinochoe (ZV 1365, pl. 26.5-7), is said to be a 19th century pastiche. More on these three pots later.

Leafing through a CVA, rather than a book on Greek or Italian art in which the imagery has been selectively chosen, reminds us that much of the imagery of this pottery was repetitive in the extreme, at times mind-numbingly so (remembering, of course, that it is the very fact of this repetitiveness that indicates the potential for iconological significance). As one might expect, therefore, the Dresden collection has its fair share of female heads, naked young men, and ‘draped youths’. It is the ‘stock’ nature of these latter that attributionists have found so useful in identifying painters, and indeed led Trendall to confess that ‘when I die, they will find, engraved on my heart, “two draped youths”‘.4

Apart from the one pot with a recognisable mythological scene, a Lucanian bell krater (Dr. 352, pl. 49) with a Rape of Kephalos, there are several other pots of iconographic interest. They include the Apulian pelike with representations of a ‘xylophone’ and a iunx-wheel (Dr. 526, pl. 4), the Apulian volute krater with Dionysos and a woman reclining inside an elaborate arbour of grape vine (Dr. 521, pls. 9-11), the Apulian volute krater with Aphrodite, Athena, Iris and Pan seated below Eros embracing a swan (Dr. 519, pls. 15-17), and the Apulian oinochoe with Pegasus (ZV 2328, pl. 26.1). There are several native Italian warriors — on the Apulian column krater (Dr. 518, pl. 18), on two Campanian amphorae (Dr. 320, pl. 36.1 and Dr. 513, pl. 40.1), on the Campanian hydria (Dr. 509, pl. 42.1) and on the Campanian lekythos (Dr. 515, pl. 46) — as well as the dead warrior in a naiskos holding his cuirass on the Apulian volute krater (Dr. 520, pls. 12-14). There is a seated Oriental king(?) on the Lucanian bell krater (Dr. 374, pl. 51), and a royal figure, possibly Tereus, in a palace doorway in a scene of distress on the Campanian amphora fragment (ZV 2891, pl. 38).

Hurschmann pays special attention to the outline preliminary sketches, which are found on all fabrics of the Dresden pottery (9-10 and Table V). As he says, it is only recently that work has been done on this surely important facet of pottery decoration. He has found evidence for such sketches on twenty-seven of the seventy-six red figured pots and admits that the quantity is surprising (we have, for example, found only thirteen sketches on ninety-one Apulian pots in Sydney). Most of these sketches are simply the outline of the finished image; a few however can be quite dramatic and demonstrate a change of intention on the part of the painter. On a Campanian amphora of the Owl-Pillar Group (Dr. 320) for example, a warrior and a woman stand either side of a louterion (pl. 36.1). From the preliminary sketch however (fig. 6), we see that the woman was originally to be shown standing behind a large square altar with both arms extended towards the warrior.

The photography is superb. Every detail and angle that one could possibly want is provided. With the eventual appearance of these images on the CVA website such quality is crucial. Equally good are the profile drawings, most of which are to actual size. It is to Hurschmann’s credit that he has been able to include so many (52 of 81).

The Tables are, as one would expect, comprehensive and of interest in relation to the way collections come together. Table VI: Herkunft — Fundorte, for example, lists the alleged provenance, not to be confused with archaeological context, of fifteen pots. All came into the collection in the 19th century apart from a Campanian fragment said to be from Paestum that was acquired in 1921. The provenances include such generalizations as ‘Italy’ (1), and such oddities as ‘Egypt’ for a Campanian lekythos (ZV 2600.G.42, pl. 45.9-12). Two pots are ‘said to be’ from Apulia and two from Basilicata, which brings to mind Otto Jahn’s plea in the middle of the 19th century for fellow archaeologists to stop inventing provenances on the basis of style alone, where ‘from Apulia’ equated with ‘free style’, and ‘from Basilicata’ with ‘a rather crude style’.5 Sites mentioned include Cumae (5), Nola (1), Paestum (1), Ruvo (1), as well as the dolphin askos, which is ‘said to be from Rutigliano’.

The Dresden collection has a fascinating history dating back to the 1720s (11-14). In 1733, Raymond Leplat catalogued the entire collection of Antiquities in Dresden for the Elector of Saxony, later King of Poland, August the Strong.6 Eight pots are described, three of them are South Italian (Dr. 374, pl. 51; Dr 375, pl. 52; Dr. 518, pl. 18). Leplat’s illustration of this last, an Apulian column krater attributed to the Barletta Painter, appears here as fig. 2. In 1890, after over 100 years on display in the Japanische Palais, the collection of sculpture and pottery was moved to the newly renovated Albertinum, and at the same time given the name Skulpturensammlung by its curator, Georg Treu. On the night of 13th February 1945 the Albertinum was badly damaged in an air raid. No vases were lost. From the cellars of the Museum, the vases were removed in 44 cases to the Saxony countryside, and at the end of the war the entire collection was sent to Moscow, not to return to Dresden until 1958.

There are several ways to approach a collection of ancient figured pottery, from the aesthetics of its art history to the contextuality of its archaeology. Increasingly, the modern history of an object is being seen as a way to engage with modern audiences, and through this modern history back to its original context. The Dresden collection has some fine tales to tell, even that of its seemingly complex inventory system involving the prefixes AB, Dr., H4, and ZV.

To return to the three unattributed pots mentioned above. There is no doubt that the lebes gamikos (ZV 2871, pl. 8) and alabastron (ZV 2870, pl. 32.1-4) have iconographic inconsistencies that do indeed make them difficult to attribute. The double ‘obverse’ of the lebes gamikos is unusual, as is the shape of the alabastron held by Eros, the lack of exterior detailing on the tympanon given that so-much added colour remains, and the unusual chest musculature and nipples of the naked man of each side. The most unusual feature however is the plant growing from the ground between the figures of each side, a daisy-like hybrid of the standard laurel sprig and rosette. As far as I am aware, this plant is otherwise unknown on such pottery. On the alabastron the ‘hooked’ arms of its palmette are unusual as is the row of dots below the dotted egg pattern. Coincidentally, both pots were acquired from the same private collection in 1920.

The third unattributed pot, an Apulian oinochoe (ZV 1365, pl. 26.5-7), is a different matter. Acquired in 1894, its imagery, as Hurschmann acknowledges (42), is a sophisticated pastiche — a 19th century compilation of images ‘borrowed’ from different sources. It shows a woman seated on a chair smelling a flower with a swan standing on her lap, its wings spread. The two motifs — ‘seated woman on chair’ and ‘swan with wings spread’, are exact mirror images taken from two separate pots illustrated by Wilhelm Tischbein for the third volume of his ‘Collection of engravings from ancient vases … now in the Possession of Sir Wm. Hamilton’ published in 1795. The seated woman and her chair are from the tondo of an Attic cup now in Los Angeles attributed to the Marlay Painter (Tischbein III, pl. 57), and the swan from a lost Campanian calyx krater attributed to the Painter of B.M. F 229 (Tischbein III, pl. 22).7

There are those, I am sure, who will query the oinochoe’s inclusion. The pot itself may be original; its imagery is not. We have faced a similar problem in Sydney with three rhyta that were bought as genuine in the 1860s and have subsequently been published as such.8 We have decided to include them in our CVA at the end of the text for the sake of exposing the fact that their imagery is modern and their construction an amalgam of ancient and modern. It would perhaps have been more appropriate to have similarly placed this oinochoe at the end of the text, following the Varia, where it could be readily identified as fake. Appearing where it does, in the main body of the text, and despite the disclaimer with the illustration, there is the very real danger that it may be mistaken as genuine, especially by those users of this CVA who do not necessarily read German.

The oinochoe aside, there are only a few minor quibbles. The first is the lack of chapter numbers for references to RVAp. The chapters (1-30) enable the scholar to place the pot in its proposed place within the sequence without reference to the many volumes of RVAp. There are now so many painters, groups and sub-groups that I defy 98% of readers to know the name of every one at sight, especially as many of the names that appear in RVAp are here Germanicised. A subsequent Table of Pots by RVAp Chapter Number (and of LCS too) would be useful for an overview of the chronology of the collection and for each pot’s probable place of production. A Table of Concordance with LIMC would also perhaps have been useful.

A second quibble is the lack of Munsell Chart colours and numbers for the cataloguing of clay colours. It would be helpful, I am sure, if CVA compilers would agree on a standard format for this crucial basic information. It has not been possible to check all references; however I notice that pl. 7.1-3, with the necessary bibliographic details for the phenomenon, is missing from ‘Freistelle’ in Table V: Technische Besonderheiten.

Due to the deprivations Saxony suffered during the Napoleonic Wars, Dresden, unlike Berlin, Munich, Würzburg and Karlsruhe, was unable to take advantage of the major finds being made in South Italy and Etruria in the early years of the 19th century. While the collection of South Italian pottery in Dresden is not therefore large, it is representative. As such, it is very similar to the collection here in Sydney, which in turn has made it such a pleasure to review. The Dresden CVA is typical of the thorough scholarship that one has come to expect of the German CVAs of recent years and of the production quality associated with C. H. Beck. It is a model of professionalism, in its photography, in its attention to detail, in its cautious innovation. I can pay it no greater compliment than by saying that it is the model that Alexander Cambitoglou and I aspire to in the production of the Sydney CVAs.


1. A. D. Trendall & A. Cambitoglou, The Red-Figured Vases of Apulia (Oxford and London 1978-1992).

2. P. Rouet, Approaches to the Study of Attic Vases: Beazley and Pottier (Oxford 2001), 124-37.

3. According to Elia, nearly 95% of all South Italian pottery has no secure archaeological context, R. J. Elia, ‘Analysis of the Looting, Selling, and Collecting of Apulian Red-Figure Vases: a Quantitative Approach’, in N. Brodie (et al.), Trade in Illicit Antiquities: The Destruction of the World’s Archaeological Heritage (2001), 147.

4. D. Williams, ‘Dale Trendall: The Eye of an Eagle’, BICS 41, 1996, 16.

5. Rouet, 47.

6. R. Leplat, Receuil des marbres antiques qui se trouvent dans la galerie du Roy du Pologne à Dresden (1733).

7. ARV2, 1279, 48 and LCS 546, no. 845 respectively.

8. Sydney, Nicholson Museum NM 98.60, 98.70 and 98.71.