Augusto de Brandis was a notable late nineteenth-early twentieth century collector, perhaps best known for his interest in numismatics. He served in the Italian navy and travelled extensively, and at the end of his life in 1924 he bequeathed his entire collection to the Museum at Udine. He spent a significant amount of time in Taranto and at a key moment, in the aftermath of relatively uncontrolled expansion which produced a substantial amount of material but in an unsystematic fashion.
In this catalogue, Rubinich presents, analyses and illustrates about four hundred pieces. The majority are ceramics, then come figurative terracottas, and finally there is a group of forty-four lamps, which range over a wide chronological sweep, and are presented by D.ssa E. Braidotti. These are somewhat less cohesive than the ceramics and terracottas. The core of the work is undoubtedly the Gnathian and vernice nera ceramics, though Corinthian and Attic pottery are also lightly represented.
The circumstances of the collection mean that it is not representative and largely lacks indications of original archaeological context. On the other hand, de Brandis had a pretty good eye, and he is well served by this catalogue. Much of the material has not been edited before, and Rubinich has done an excellent job of providing a context through a careful and valuable introductory essay on the circumstances of the development of Taranto in the nineteenth century and subsequent developments followed by a solid essay on the wider ceramic context (Corinthian, Attic, Gnathian, vernice nera etc.) before the presentation of the individual pieces. These two essays are lucid introductions to the subject and would be a good place for a novice to start.
As for the material itself, de Brandis covered a wide range of material. There can be little doubt, given the circumstances of his collecting and the kind of material that he liked, that we have here an interesting snapshot of Tarentine consumption and production. R. is well aware that some of the pottery is imitating metalwork, but the pottery is sufficient to demonstrate an eclectic and inventive market. There are some striking pieces; an Attic red-figure stamnos with Odysseus as a beggar before Helen; an odd red-figure guttus with a head of a lion standing proud of the depiction of its body, and lekythoi with reticulate decoration.
The terracottas also demonstrate a reflection of a more extensive and grand artistic style, one suspects, with a number of reclining figures. Representations of young unbearded men remind one of wider issues concerning this particular age-band. Animals, standing men and women, erotes, and decorative or votive material are also present — there is an interesting series of oscilla. There is not enough to form a distinctive picture of Tarentine society, of course, but one can surmise a classically Greek culture, keen to preserve an appearance of sophistication but also capable of invention and sustaining some level of artistic and perhaps social independence after the Roman conquest.
There are sixteen pages of colour illustrations; all items have a small but clear black and white image. There is also a recognition that Brandis may have picked up a few fakes; half a dozen pieces have questionable authenticity. This is a useful catalogue, in summary, whose northern Italian provenance should not overshadow its relevance and use to scholars of the south.