BMCR 2008.04.22

The Art of Antiquity: Piet de Jong and the Athenian Agora

, , , The art of antiquity : Piet de Jong and the Athenian Agora. Athens: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2007. xxii, 334 pages : illustrations (some color), maps (some color) ; 28 cm. ISBN 087661960X. $75.00 (pb).

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This beautifully illustrated volume celebrates the contribution of Piet de Jong (1887-1967) to the interpretation of fieldwork by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). Papadopoulos rightly claims that de Jong is “one of the great archaeological illustrators of the 20th century” (p. xix). There are 18 chapters, each with a selection of de Jong’s plans, reconstructions and illustrations.

De Jong trained at the Leeds Institute of Science, Art and Literature, and started work for a Leeds based architects in 1913.1 He served in the Army Cyclist Corps during the First World War, and after the cessation of hostilities worked as an architect on reconstruction projects in Macedonia. In 1920 de Jong was introduced to Alan J.B. Wace, the director of the British School at Athens (βσἀ, who was in need of a architect for the Mycenae excavations; a reconstruction of Grave Circle A is presented here (fig. 11).2 He then came under the patronage of Sir Arthur Evans and in 1924 assisted Evans, Duncan Mackenzie and Manolis Akoumianakis (Manolaki) in their search for Minoan routes in the Mesara plain.3

It would have been at Mycenae, working alongside Carl Blegen (fig. 35), that de Jong is likely to have come to the notice of ASCSA; indeed he made many of the illustrations for the final report of Zygouries. He assisted Hetty Goldman at Halae and Eutresis, as well as Bert Hodge Hill and T. Leslie Shear at Corinth (p. 9). However during the 1920s and 1930s he worked on British projects with Evans at Knossos, Arthur M. Woodward at Sparta, and Humfry G.G. Payne at Perachora. T. Leslie Shear (fig. 29) invited de Jong to join the ASCSA excavations in the Athenian Agora in 1932 (the main subject of this volume) much to annoyance of British archaeologist Winifred Lamb (“It is dreadful the way the Americans have snapped up de Jong!” p. 20) who had been hoping to use him for her excavations at Thermi. In post-Second World War Greece de Jong served as Knossos Curator, during which time he prepared watercolours for the Heraklion Museum (figs. 1, 12, 19A, B). From 1952 (the handing over of Villa Ariadne) he was more involved with ASCSA, working with John L. Caskey, Oscar Broneer and Blegen, on projects such as Athens, Corinth (figs. 17-18), Pylos (fig. 2α 23-27) and Kea (fig. 20).

De Jong was a trained architect, and in the tradition of the architectural students attached to the BSA, worked on extensions to the BSA Hostel and Library. He also had a vision for a new museum in the Agora (fig. 43); the design was abandoned in favour of the more sympathetic use of a reconstructed Stoa of Attalos (fig. 40B). (Visitors to the Agora have at least been saved from having vehicular access!)

Anne Hooton (Ch. 2: ” Le style c’est l’homme : Piet de Jong as Artist”) discusses de Jong’s technique and makes the point, “He was a camera of sorts, but with the robust and idiosyncratic hand of an artist” (p. 35). She comments on his watercolour techniques and brushwork. For example, the shape and form are captured by his painting of a ribbed black-glossed phiale from the Agora (fig. 60). The details of the horses’ manes from a krater attributed to Exekias are equally striking (fig. 57). It would have been interesting to compare de Jong’s techniques for pottery with those of Gilliéron employed by the BSA before the First World War.4

John McK. Camp II (Ch: 3: “Topography and Architecture”) demonstrates how the complexities of the agora were presented in a series of “snapshot” plans of the area through time (figs. 64-68). The superimposed layers (and burials) at the north end of the Stoa of Attlaos are delineated in a striking way (fig. 69). De Jong also captured the colouring of the architecture: for example, the ceiling coffers from the Temple of Ares (fig. 73) or the Ionic capitals (fig. 74A-B).

The next block of chapters deals with de Jong’s drawings in chronological order from “Neolithic though Middle Helladic Pottery” (Ch. 4, by Water Gauss) to “Late Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Frescoes from Ayios Spyridon” (Ch. 17, by Camilla Mackay). The illustrations are accompanied by a commentary on the 140 entries, each with relevant bibliography.

One of the issues faced by publishers or illustrators of material culture is how to show a design on a curved surface. Arthur Hamilton Smith of the British Museum invented the cyclograph for photographing white-ground lekythoi; he won a Gold Medal at the Berlin Photographic Exhibition of 1896. De Jong faced the same issue and overcome it with great skill: the griffins attacking the deer on the ivory pyxis from the Late Bronze Age tomb (fig. 91c), the “Siamese Twins” on a Late Geometric IIa jug (fig. 118α or the painted scenes on white-ground lekythoi (fig. 184B-E).

The value of archaeological illustration over photography is seen on a seventh-century BCE cup carrying the inscription, “I am the poterion of Tharios” (figs. 122-123). The names (including Hipparchos son of Charmos, and Themistokles) inscribed on ostraka are easily legible in the drawings (fig. 148C). Kathleen M. Lynch (ch. 8: “Athenian Black-Figured and Black-Gloss Pottery”) notes in a discussion of a kalos inscription from the base of a lekane that de Jong’s drawing carries more detail (“likely to be more accurate”, p. 202 no. 92) than can now be seen on the worn fragment. The punched inscription on the bronze shield take from the Spartans at Pylos is clear on the drawing (fig. 188; Carol C. Mattusch, ch. 10: “Bronzes and Bronze Sculpture”). The painted inscription on a third-century CE mug is readable even if not easy to interpret (fig. 217; John K. Papadopoulos with E. Marianne Stern, ch. 14: “Roman Pottery, Lamps, and Glass”).

An exception is the graffito from an early fifth-century BCE lekane (fig. 149). This was used in a publication by T. Leslie Shear who interpreted it as a dactylic hexameter reading, “Euphronios who painted the vase (or scratched the inscription) says Sosias be damned”.5 Shear asserted that the name Euphronios had been “deliberately deleted”, but added, “the remaining traces of letters seem to me to warrant the suggested reading”. He drew attention to the Munich amphora, evidence as he perceived it for “the rivalry between Euthymides and Euphronios”. His conclusion was that this inscribed lekane demonstrated “the rivalries existing among the ceramic masters in Athens”. De Jong’s drawing shows the personal name Euphronios, though he “carefully distinguished between real letters and those he reconstructed”. As Mabel Lang has noted, however, “both paint and surface are preserved” with the implication that the personal name can never have been there.6 The entry is a reminder of A.E. Raubitschek’s reconstruction of kerameus for the kore base dedicated by a Euphronios on the Athenian Acropolis.7

John K. Papadoupoulos (Ch. 6: “The Athenian Agora from the End of the Bronze Age through the Protoattic Period”) draws attention to de Jong’s skill in reconstructing a Protoattic vessel on a stand from a handful of fragments, each clearly marked on the drawing (fig. 134); “arguably one of the finest—if not most fanciful—restorations of any fragmentary vessel anywhere” (p. 144, no. 56). The same is true for his reconstruction of the ivory statuette of Apollo Lykeios that “captures the artistic quality of the statuette and at the same time graphically documents the many fragments from which it was so painstakingly reconstructed” (228-39, fig. 191-192, no. 107; Carol Lawton, ch. 11: “Ivory and Terracotta Sculpture”).

De Jong was a talented draughtsman. The difficulty of his task is neatly shown by three separate drawings, in watercolour and pencil, of a gold signet ring from the Late Bronze Age burial (fig. 81A-C; Jessica Langenbucher, Ch. 5: “The Mycenaean Era in the Athenian Agora”). The skill with which he showed mosaics, such as the one from the Metroon (fig. 223; Barbara Tsakirgis, Ch. 15: “Roman Mosaics”), could be compared with the late nineteenth-century drawings of mosaics from Melos by the British architect Charles R.R. Clark (1869-1933).8 Among the more unusual pieces to appear in this selection are the black-figured fragments from the archaic child’s potty (fig. 141A-E) originally thought by Homer Thompson to be wine-cooler!

The volume concludes with John K. Papadopoulos’ comments on “The Art of Labeling: Piet de Jong’s Signatures and Labels” (ch. 18). He identifies some seven basic types of signature (fig. 237A-B). The epilogue (by John K. Papadopoulos) includes three watercolours from the Blegen Collection: the South Slope of the Acropolis dated 1927 (fig. 239), the interior colonnade of the Parthenon dated 1923 or 1928 (fig. 240) and a seashore dated 1928 (fig. 241).

This volume is a treasure-trove of beautiful drawings. It is more than a record of the finds from the ASCSA excavations from the 1930s; it is a way of seeing and observing the objects. One of the best tributes to de Jong (for work at Pylos) came from Carl Blegen, who had known him from the early 1920s: his “constructive imagination recreated and brought to vivid perception the lingering aura of the royal Mycenaean rulers who dwelt in this palace”.9 Over the decades these drawings have brought the Athenian Agora to vivid life—and will continue to do so through this collection.

Table of Contents

Ch. 1: The Art of Antiquity: Piet de Jong and the Athenian Agora (John Papadopoulos)

Ch. 2: Le style c’est l’homme : Piet de Jong as Artist (Anne Hooton)

Ch. 3: Topography and Architecture (John Camp)

Ch. 4: Neolithic through Middle Helladic Pottery (Walter Gauss)

Ch. 5: The Mycenaean Era in the Athenian Agora (Jessica Langenbucher)

Ch. 6: The Athenian Agora from the End of the Bronze Age through the Protoattic Period (John Papadopoulos)

Ch. 7: Archaic and Classical Odds and Ends (John Papadopoulos, with Susanne Ebbinghaus and James Sickinger)

Ch. 8: Athenian Black-Figured and Black-Glazed Pottery (Kathleen Lynch)

Ch. 9: Attic Red-Figured and White-Ground Pottery (Kathleen Lynch)

Ch. 10: Bronzes and Bronze Sculpture (Carol Mattusch)

Ch. 11: Ivory and Terracotta Sculpture (Carol Lawton)

Ch. 12: Hellenistic Pottery (Susan Rotroff)

Ch. 13: Terracotta and Faience Figurines (Susan Rotroff and Margaret Rothman)

Ch. 14: Roman Pottery, Lamps, and Glass (John Papadopoulos and Marianne Stern)

Ch. 15: Roman Mosaics (Barbara Tsakirgis)

Ch. 16: The Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Pottery (Camilla MacKay)

Ch. 17: Late Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Frescoes from Ayios Spyridon (Camilla MacKay)

Ch. 18: The Art of Labeling: Piet de Jong’s Signatures and Various Labels on Watercolors (John Papadopoulos).


1. A detailed biography is provided in Rachel Hood, Faces of Archaeology in Greece: Caricatures by Piet de Jong (Oxford: Leopard’s Head Press, 1998). Sinclair Hood wrote a short appreciation of de Jong in The Times (London) April 27, 1967.

2. For the early seasons at Mycenae see D.W.J. Gill, “Winifred Lamb (1894-1963),” in Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists, edited by G. Cohen and M. S. Joukowsky (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004), 430-32; id., “Winifred Lamb: her first year as a student at the British School at Athens,” in Archaeology and Women: Ancient and Modern Issues, edited by S. Hamilton, R. D. Whitehouse, and K. I. Wright (Walnut Creek (CA): Left Coast Press, 2007), 55-75.

3. Sir Arthur Evans, “Discoveries in Crete”, The Times (London) October 16, 1924.

4. E.g. G.C. Richards, “Selected vase-fragments from the Acropolis of Athens, Part I,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 13 (1892/3) 281-92; id., “Selected vase-fragments from the Acropolis of Athens, Part II,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 14 (1894) 186-97; id., “Selected vase-fragments from the Acropolis of Athens, Part III,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 14 (1894) 381-87.

5. T. Leslie Shear, “The campaign of 1935,” Hesperia 5 (1936) 1-42 (36, fig. 36).

6. Mabel Lang, Graffiti and Dipinti (Athenian Agora, vol. 21; Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1976), 13, no. C 18, pl. 5.

7. A.E. Raubitschek, Dedications from the Athenian Akropolis: a Catalogue of the Inscriptions of the Sixth and Fifth Centuries B. C. (Cambridge, Mass.: Archaeological Institute of America, 1949), no. 225. For a discussion of the restoration of this inscription: Michael Vickers and David W. J. Gill, Artful Crafts: Ancient Greek Silverware and Pottery (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 94.

8. R.C. Bosanquet, “Excavations of the British School at Melos. The Hall of the Mystae,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 18 (1898) 60-80.

9. Quoted in Hood, Faces of Archaeology, 267.