BMCR 2006.01.22

Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek fasc. 1, Denmark fasc. 10

, , , , Corpus vasorum antiquorum. Denmark. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Corpus vasorum antiquorum. Denmark ; fasc. 10. Copenhagen: Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, 2004-. volumes : illustrations (some color), plates ; 33 cm.. ISBN 8774522728. DKK 625.00/€83.22.

When one thinks of the Glyptotek in Copenhagen, one naturally recalls its world-renowned collection of classical sculpture. However, its founder, the brewer Carl Jacobsen, also acquired Greek and Etruscan vases in order to round out the presentation of Mediterranean cultures. This lavish first of two corpora of the Ny Carlsberg vases presents a wide array of shapes and fabrics, including one of the most varied collections of plastic perfume flasks, a special interest of one of the museum’s later directors. In toto there are 20 Attic black-figure vases, 25 Attic red-figure vases, 10 Attic white-ground lekythoi, 1 Campanian kernos, 3 Lucanian red-figure vases, 18 Apulian red-figure vases, 1 Gnathian hydria, 1 “Plakettenvase”, 1 Messapian trozzella, 2 later Apulian thymiateria, 1 Canosan “sphageion” or funnel krater along with 2 statuettes, 1 protome and 1 appliqué, 1 Centuripe lekanis fragment with relief decoration, 3 Etruscan red-painted vases, 8 Etruscan red-figure vases, 1 Faliscan funerary amphora with plastic sea horses, 1 un-silvered cista from the so-called Class of Silvered Vases, 1 Etruscan black-gloss guttus, 1 Hellenistic black-gloss pyxis, 1 Hellenistic white-ground lagynos, 24 East Greek plastic vases, and 1 Corinthian flask in the shape of a squatting komast. The volume includes profile drawings of all vases except the plastic ones, and numerous renderings of preliminary sketches and inscriptions. Multiple views of each vase as well as details are provided in the bank-and-white plates which are of exceptionally high quality.

What distinguishes most of the earlier acquisitions of the Ny Carlsberg is the fact that they have reliable proveniences; some vases are even part of known tomb groups. For example, the impressive black-figure amphora attributed to The Affecter is said to have come from the same tomb in Orvieto as two red-figure vases attributed to the Berlin Painter; given the approximate forty-year difference in date between these two artists one could conclude that the amphora with its nearly identical duels on each side was a valued heirloom. Jacobsen purchased his first eighteen vases at the 1907 auction of the collection of Freiherr Ferdinand von Lesen of Treben, who had excavated some of them in Campania in the late nineteenth century. Etruscan vases were acquired via Jacobsen’s agent in Rome, Wolfgang Helbig, after whom the Etruscan section of the museum is named, and some twenty vases constitute the “Orvieto Find” secured for the museum in 1924. One of the vases from Orvieto, a skyphos attributed to the Splanchnopt Painter, bears an incised retrograde Etruscan inscription cavuthas sexis which can be read as a dedicatory inscription to an Etruscan goddess because the name Cavutha also appears on the Piacenza liver. Therefore it is possible that the vase came originally from the Belvedere sanctuary at Orvieto which was being excavated in 1924. Knowledge of the findspots of many of these vases certainly enhances our understanding of their original context, and so it would have been more useful to the reader if this information were included in the individual entries, rather than solely in the Introduction.

The most handsome of the Copenhagen vases are illustrated in high-quality color illustrations at the beginning of the volume. The first of these is the spectacular Segment Class eye-cup decorated with a unique Medusa filling the interior: she has two kneeling bodies attached to one frontal head and holds a small deer with her three hands. This painter clearly loved duplication, for on the exterior he placed a winged female between each set of eyes and addorsed ship prows under each handle. Vagn Poulsen suggested that different painters were responsible for the interior and the exterior, but I wonder if two artists collaborated on the “Medusa” given the differences in her ears, garments, wings, boots, and anatomical details.

On the next two color plates we find representations of Triptolemos. This Eleusinian god figures on two major red-figure vases, a pelike by the Triptolemos Painter and a kalpis attributed to the Berlin Painter, but he couldn’t be more differently portrayed. On the former he is bearded and seated on a stool, and on the latter he is youthful and rides his magic winged vehicle. On both vases the stalks of grain are prominent and a goddess (Persephone or Demeter) pours a libation into Triptolemos’ proffered phiale. Yet, a third vase (not illustrated in color) shows the Mission of Triptolemos but on a smaller vessel, an oinochoe by the Cleveland Painter. Interestingly all three vases are part of the “Orvieto Find”.

Dating to the early Classical period and also from Orvieto are two handsome stamnoi from the workshop of Polygnotos. The komos with its four named revelers by the Kleophon Painter is well known as is its near replica in the Hermitage which is the name-vase of this artist. Attributed to the Christie Painter,1 the other stamnos is decorated with the formulaic early Classical Amazonomachy in which a mounted Amazon in eastern garb rides to the right while two Greeks on foot attack with spears from the right. These two stamnoi bear an identical trademark on the underside of the base and were found in the same Etruscan tomb.

A more colorful Amazonomachy decorates the next vase produced in color, an Apulian volute krater attributed to the Patera Painter. One of the few mythological scenes by this painter who specialized in funerary vases, this fight is paired with the standard grave scene on the reverse. The last color plate presents a rare image in Etruscan vase painting, namely the bust of a draped woman in three-quarter pose within the tondo of a cup. She is bedecked with leafy wreaths and jewelry and a prominent veil floats behind her head.

These constitute the highlights of the Ny Carlsberg collection, but there are many other vases of considerable interest. Perhaps the most peculiar Attic black-figure cup in the collection is the one labeled with the name of Pistias on both sides. A footed mastos, it is decorated in outline on a whitish ground on front and back, with a bearded frontal head topped by a palmette, probably a mask of Dionysos. While there are many other skyphoi of this particular shape and technique, this is the only one with the inscription which gives its name to the class. Another black-figure vase of importance is the Panathenaic prize amphora with wrestlers acquired in 1980 on the art market. Although its attribution to the Kleophon Painter is contested, the author makes a strong case for it.

I have only two objections to what is otherwise an exemplary CVA. One is the lack of sub-headings in the entries, which would make for easier access to information, and the second is the insistence on chronological ordering such that the black-figure Panathenaic of ca. 430 B.C. is among the red-figure vases of the Classical period rather than with the other Attic vases of similar technique. Otherwise with its color plates, generous illustrations and drawings, excellent paper, and thorough scholarship, this volume sets a new standard for future CVAs.


1. It is surprising that no reference is given in this entry to Susan Matheson, Polygnotos and Vase Painting in Classical Athens (New Haven 1995) pp. 122-128 for the Christie Painter.