BMCR 2008.08.24

Corinthian and Attic Vases in the Detroit Institute of Arts: Geometric, Black-figure, and Red-figure. Monumenta Graeca et Romana, 12

Brian C. Madigan, Corinthian and Attic vases in the Detroit Institute of Arts : geometric, black-figure, and red-figure. Monumenta Graeca et Romana, v. 12. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2008. 1 online resource (xiv, 80 pages, 70 unnumbered pages of plates) : illustrations.. ISBN 9789047423782 $170.00.

This slender volume presents all of the Greek vases in the Detroit Institute of Arts, a small but important collection that includes material ranging from eighth-century Geometric to mid-fourth century Attic red figure. Many pieces are published here for the first time and there is a good variety of shapes, painters, and subjects. The book begins with a list of illustrations, then a preface charting the history of the acquisitions, specifically a large donation from Gotha presented in the 1920s and a smaller group from the Hearst collection that arrived in the 1960s. The rest are individual purchases or gifts. Acknowledgements appear in a small separate section. This is followed by a very short list of Abbreviations (p. xvii), but there is a full bibliography (List of Works Cited) on pp. 67-69. The text concludes with a list of archaeological provenances, a “Concordance of Former Collections, Galleries, and Donors,” a concordance of Beazley Numbers, “Attributions to Painters, Groups, Classes and Styles,” then a general index of subjects.

The author describes in short phrases each vase with regard to details of shape, ornament, dimensions and condition, but he is stingy with his descriptions of the compositions and the figures that inhabit them. For these, Madigan uses similar short phrases instead of full sentences and each entry reads like a grocery list. Figural compositions require full descriptions written in clear expository prose in which one sentence leads to the next so the reader may easily visualize the representation. This is standard practice. A further criticism is that for the most part, the comparanda, when cited, are just a list of a few vases, sometimes with a qualifier that the reader should consult the citation for “subject” and/or “painter”, but seldom is there more detail and this cheats the reader, especially one who is a newcomer to the subject of Greek vase painting (see a few examples cited below). One should be told why it is important to consult this meager bibliography. Madigan took a short cut here which is maddening and irresponsible.

The catalogue begins with a splendid example of a Corinthian geometric conical lekythos-oinochoe from the late eighth century (cat. no. 1, fig. 1). It is unusual for the long necks and delicate trefoil mouths of these vessels to survive; all that is missing of this one is its lid—lids get separated from their vases very easily. The rest of the Corinthian material consists of an amphoriskos, a skyphos, alabastra and aryballoi and a very good Middle Corinthian column-krater, the name vase of the Detroit Painter (cat. no. 3, figs. 3-4). One side depicts a symposium (the reviewer follows Amyx, not Madigan, that this should be designated as the obverse), the other a file of horsemen.

The rest of the text presents the Attic material beginning with three handsome Geometric pyxides (cat. nos. 20-22, fig. 23) The first black-figured vase is a fourth-century prize Panathenaic amphora attributed by Beazley to the Asteios Group (cat. no. 23, figs. 24-25); on the obverse, it depicts Athena to left between the customary two columns, here surmounted by human figures instead of the cocks used earlier, and the runners on the reverse, indicate this was the event for which the vase was awarded as a prize. There is a good discussion of the figures on the columns. After this come one-piece amphorae and neck-amphorae. One was attributed by Beazley to the Swing Painter (cat. no. 24, figs. 26-27), another to the manner of the Lysippides Painter by Moon and Berge (cat. no. 25, figs. 28-29). One of the neck-amphorae (cat. no. 26, figs. 30-32) was erroneously attributed to a painter of Group E (the attribution rejected by Bothmer, but there is no hint of when he did this). It depicts figures on both the shoulder and the body, a scheme of decoration best known in the third quarter of the sixth century. The drawing is a little rough and ready, but the vase is an important example of the type and one wishes Madigan had made more of an attempt to attribute it.

A list of his comparanda will illustrate the criticism cited above: “London Market, Christie’s XXXX12989 [this is meaningless]: group. Heidelberg, Ruprecht-Karls-Universitat, S 186: group. London, B 160: ABV 134, 15: group. Vatican, Museo Gregoriano Etrusco Vaticano, 353: ABV 138, 2; Addenda 37: group and subject. Munich, 1381: ABV 142, 5: subject.” None of this is very useful without more stylistic and iconographic information. For the record, I was unable to find Heidelberg S 186 in Beazley (reference to the CVA, Heidelberg 1, p. 57 would have told the reader that the attribution to Group E was made by German Hafner), Vatican 353 is Near Group E, not Group E proper, and Munich 1381 is by the Towry Whyte Painter (after this, I gave up checking citations). This vase also has several graffiti on Side A, but it is impossible to see them in the photograph, so the reader has no idea of the size of each. Furthermore, there is no indication of scale wherever a graffito or dipinto is included, or who drew it, except for the one by Alan Johnston that was copied from his book (see p. 30). The author should have drawn all of them at full scale. The shield device on Side B is two balls, not “pellets” (see also cat. no. 29, p. 22 where the mistake is repeated).

For cat. no. 27, fig. 33, the musical instrument carried by the figure on Side A is a barbiton, not a lyre (Madigan correctly identified this instrument on p. 51, cat. no. 65). On p. 21 (cat. no. 28), Madigan cites the dipinto on the underside of the foot: “#175 SSW 12293”. This certainly is not ancient and should have been designated as modern together with an explanation of what it means (Hearst Collection?). Madigan gives no compelling reason to accept the attribution of cat. no. 29, figs. 39-41 to a painter from the Leagros Group: “Christie’s Nov. 1981, no. 302: attributed to ‘the Leagros Group (?)’ by D. C. Kurtz (photo: Beazley Archive, Oxford): painter. Edinburgh 1887.211: ABV 271,84: subject of A. Christie’s Nov. 1981, no. 302: subject of B.” Why is the Christie’s catalogue cited twice? Cat. no. 32, figs. 48-50: the lid does not belong, as Madigan rightly suggests; it is the lid of a neck-amphora, but not this one because the outer diameter of the lid does not equal the outer diameter of the mouth as it should to insure an uninterrupted contour. In the scene on the obverse, Hermes’ boots are not winged. What Madigan calls a wing is the tongue, although he correctly identifies this part of the god’s sandal on p. 26 (cat. no. 33). The subject on Side A of this krater (fig. 51) is a wedding (the woman in the chariot makes the bridal gesture by holding out her veil), but there is no proof it is Zeus and Hera, merely that the presence of Apollo indicates it is mythological. The sequence of the two hydriai should be reversed: the shoulder hydria, cat. no. 35, the earlier shape, should precede cat. no. 34, the kalpis, a later variant that does not appear before the invention of red figure about 530 B.C. Cat. no. 35 (fig. 54) depicts Herakles and Eurystheus in the panel with the figure of Dionysos present, but looking back, away from the central scene. It is a very nice vase attributed by Beazley to a painter from the Leagros Group. Madigan’s attempt to explain the presence of Dionysos in this scene (which is indeed unusual) is forced: he thinks that the pithos (a vessel used for storing wine) in which Eurystheus hides is a visual link with a previous adventure of Herakles, the one with the centaur Pholos and his tribe of wild centaurs where the pithos full of wine they drink from in abundance causes them to attack Herakles. Dionysos has nothing to do with this adventure.

An important vase in this section is the red-bodied chous with Athena and the Giant (cat. no. 36, figs. 56-57). This is a rare system of decoration. Add: Andrew J. Clark, “Three Red-bodied Vases” in Essays in Honor of Dietrich von Bothmer, Amsterdam, 2002, pp. 73-81, esp. p. 73, note 3 for remarks on these oinochoai, and Clark’s dissertation, “Attic black-figured ‘Olpai’ and ‘Oinochoai’,” NYU, 1992, pp. 186-223. For the subject, a reference to LIMC IV, 1988, pp. 222-226, cat. nos. 205-267 would have been useful. There is a good group of late black-figured lekythoi that are often dismissed by scholars for their painters’ lack of skillful drawing, but which are important for the unusual subjects sometimes painted on them; excavated examples are often useful for dating their archaeological contexts. These should have been arranged by attribution to painter and not by the accession number, which makes no sense. For the Gela Painter and his manner (cat. no. 37), the important article by Jaap Hemelrijk, “The Gela Painter in the Allard Pierson Museum,” BABesch 49, 1974, pp. 117-58, should have been cited (it is in the addenda but only in pertinent entries, not as a full reference, thus easily overlooked; it is still the basic study of this painter). The Bedlam Painter should be the Beldam Painter (there is quite a difference between the two!): p. xiii and cat. nos. 41, 45, 46, 49, 50, and 60. The black-figured section concludes with some cups including a very nice band cup (cat. no. 57, fig. 82).

The final section presents the Attic red-figured and white-ground material and there are some fine vases among these entries. Particularly interesting is the stamnos (cat. no. 61, figs. 86-87), attributed by Beazley to the Tyszkiewicz Painter, which depicts the Judgment of Paris, the subject divided between front and back, an unusual representation, as Madigan makes clear. The second stamnos (cat. no. 62, figs. 88-89), attributed by Beazley to the Villa Giulia Painter, depicts the Lenaia, a Dionysiac cult celebrated by women. Madigan’s discussion of the subject is informative.

Next come the kraters. The column-krater (no. 63, fig. 90-91), attributed by Beazley to the Leningrad Painter, represents on its obverse Helios driving his team of winged horses. I agree with Madigan that Helios does not wear a cuirass and thus the scene is not an allusion to the sun god’s presence in the Gigantomachy, as advocated by some previous writers. This is the time in the fifth century when gods sometimes appear singly and one should not make too much of it when one of them is depicted alone. Cat. no. 64, figs. 92-93 is a colorful mid-fourth century calyx-krater attributed to the Toya Painter but without compelling justification. Beazley attributed a handsome stamnos to the Christie Painter (cat. no. 65, figs. 94-95) which shows a procession of youths and a woman, one of the youths holding a barbiton (here correctly described). In his discussion of the barbiton, Madigan should have cited John Boardman, “Booners,” Greek Vases in the J. Paul Getty Museum 3, Malibu, 1986, pp. 47-70, esp. 62-70, for the instrument and Anakreon with whom the barbiton is often identified, as Madigan mentions (p. 51). Cat. no. 66, fig. 97, a kalpis attributed by Beazley to the Pig Painter, a colleague of the Leningrad Painter, depicts a fountain scene with women filling or having filled their hydriai and two men present. Madigan is correct not to read too much into the ideas of various scholars who think that the presence of a man in these scenes usually indicates harassment of the women—sometimes it does, sometimes it does not and, in this case, the reviewer does not think one can be sure what the painter may have had in mind. Madigan cites the Pig Painter’s column-krater in Cleveland in the comparanda (ARV 2, 563, 9), but omitted the addenda reference, p. 260 which gives subsequent publications, especially the CVA (pls. 25-26 which are important illustrations and readily available). For cat. no. 67, fig. 98 one misses any bibliography for the subject of Zeus and Ganymede—LIMC IV, 1988, pp. 156-57, cat nos. 7-55 would have sufficed.

There are quite a few lekythoi of varying quality. Best is the one attributed to the Nikon Painter that depicts Zeus pursuing Aigina (cat. no. 71, fig. 102). Add to the bibliography LIMC I, 1981, pp. 367-371. There are three white-ground lekythoi, only one of them (cat. no. 80, fig. 110, right) well enough preserved to observe the figures in the photographs. The one attributed by Madigan to the Sabouroff Painter (cat. no. 81, figs. 111-112) must have once been a very handsome vase, but today the figures are not very clear. For the painter, see the monograph by Giorgos Kavvadias, Ho zographos tou Sabouroff, Athens, 2000. The catalogue concludes with a cup by the Triptolemos Painter (cat. no. 84, fig. 115) that shows a youth making an offering at an altar. It is accompanied on p. 65 by an anemic-looking profile drawing (no scale given) that looks like it was drawn free hand for it consists of just a single thin line; there is no indication of the thickness of the wall which is the whole point of a profile drawing.

My final criticisms are not aimed at Madigan.The first is the poor quality of nearly all the photographs with the exceptions of figures 1 and 82, which are crisp with good resolution. For the most part, the rest are washed out and there is glare from the lights used by the photographer. Given the availability of good digital photography today, this is inexcusable. Also, the backgrounds range from light (e.g. fig. 1) to dark, e.g. figs. 6 and 110 and everything in between). This suggests that new photography was not done for the book, but Madigan had to make do with what was at hand: “the vases are illustrated, so far as possible, with the professional photographs of the museum. Only where such photographs or details do not exist have I resorted to my own photographs.” (p. xiv). It would have been a very good idea to include some photographs in color, e.g., figs. 1, 54, 102 or 115. The second criticism in this section concerns the cost of the book: $170.00. This is an outrageous price for such a thin volume.

To sum up, this is an important collection of Greek vases and one hopes that users of the book will be able to overlook the serious flaws in its text and illustrations and recognize the value and quality of these vases. They truly deserve it.