BMCR 2009.09.05

Corpus vasorum antiquorum. Hongrie. Budapest, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Fascicule 2. [18], trans. Ágnes Bencze. (Union Académique Internationale, avec le concours financier de l’UNESCO)

, Corpus vasorum antiquorum. Hongrie. Budapest, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Fascicule 2. [18], trans. Ágnes Bencze. (Union Académique Internationale, avec le concours financier de l'UNESCO). Rome: L'Erma di Bretschneider, 2007. 135; 49 p. of plates. ISBN 978-88-8265-456-6. €200.00.

The CVA format is a pledge of quality in a potentially precarious field of art history; many institutions now shy away from publishing their ancient vases in such an expensive mode, and it is heartening to see the quality continued in this French-language text from the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. There is indeed merit in publishing small and plain pieces like Etrusco-Corinthian aryballoi or Daunian one-handled cups as well as the masterpieces of figural painting, since most collections, as well as many current excavations in the Mediterranean, are more likely to contain these simpler types, and authoritative discussion of them is much appreciated. Only when all major collections are publicized to the same standard will thorough research be possible for a majority of scholars.

This is the second fascicule of vases in the Budapest Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, adding 114 Etruscan and Campanian vases to complete the catalogue presented in the first fascicule, by the same author, in 1981. Fascicule 1 furnished a variety of Etruscan bucchero and painted fabrics, including works by the Micali Painter and other attributed artists. A final volume on Apulian Red Figure and Black Gloss is projected to complete the holdings from Italy. The original CVA format of loose plates and paperback text was used for the first volume; this is a bound hardback, like recent volumes from other institutions.

Scholars in vase painting will know how to approach this work; for historians and others, let me point out a few of the little gems in this segment of the collection, which ranges across many Italic fabrics and includes some unusual and very fine Etruscan or Faliscan Subgeometric painted pieces (Pls. 1-4), a rare Faliscan(?) biconical urn in White-on-Red fabric (Pl. 4.4), Faliscan incised impasto (Pl. 5.1), just three pieces of Caeretan and Vulcian bucchero (Pls. 5-6), Italo- and Etrusco-Corinthian and other Etruscan fabrics (Black Figure, Red Figure, Black Gloss, Pls. 6-15), 2 fine “Chalcidian” amphorae, a class probably made in Rhegion, as explained by S. (Pls. 16-17), Campanian, Lucanian, Sicilian and so-called Gnathian painted and plastic wares (Pls. 18-41), and Apulian and related native painted wares, including Canosa vases (Pls. 42-49). (Some Gnathia ware was produced in Paestum: see p. 51, Pls. 18.7 and 19, and also in Sicily: p. 64, Pl. 25.5). In this selection are 25 attributed painters; vases range from the late 8th century (740-710 BC the early Orientalizing period as now determined by radiocarbon dates and close parallels to Near Eastern finds (see BMCR 2006.08.10), through the 2nd century BC (Etruscan/Volterran black gloss vases).

Most objects are complete or intact and so fine that one can only dream of the tombs whence they have come, but nearly all the unusual vases lack provenance; several entries cite the notorious Swiss art market, and we can rejoice that they have reached the haven of a public art museum.

Some have noteworthy prior addresses: Wittgenstein Collection/Vienna Universal Exposition 1873 (Pl. 6.5-6, aryballos from Cumae; Pl. 18.8, Campanian pyxis; Pls. 34.2,3,8 and 34.10-12, “Gnathian” volute krater and cup; Pls. 41.2, 41.3, and 41.7, South Italian lekythos, olpe, column krater). Emil Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg (1824-1878) was a former Prussian officer, Russian general and diplomat whose residency in Naples led to his collecting vases in Campania, especially from excavations at Cumae.

Other pieces were purchased from the Brindisi Museum (Pl. 31.4,7, fragmentary guttus), or exchanged with the Basel Antikensammlung (Pl. 4.4-5, biconical urn). From the demise of the Castle Ashby collection was rescued an Etruscan red-figured oinochoe that merits its lengthy analysis by S. here (Pl. 13.1-5, 7-9); for the original collection formed (1820-1830) by the second Marques of Northampton, see J. Boardman and M. Robertson, CVA Great Britain 15 (1979); for its initial dispersal, see D. Buitron’s 1982 review, AJA 86: 457-458. This oinochoe, with its quirky boudoir characters, had been omitted from that CVA because of doubts, now resolved, about its authenticity. Other vases were transferred from different Hungarian museums in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. The first art collection formed by the Romanist András Alföldi (1895-1981) was left to the Museum of Fine Arts, following the departure of the Soviets in 1990 (here, Pl. 28.6, a Magenta-class boar’s head vase probably for seasonings); his second collection is in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

Provenances cover central and southern Italy and Sicily: Agrigento (probably a sanctuary deposit, to judge from painted cups and a miniature jug, Pls. 24.1,4 and 25.1-3), Morgantina, Cumae, Tarentum, Ruvo, Foggia-Lucera, Naples(?), Ordona(? -“Orta Nova,” several acquired in 1996), Cerveteri, Tarquinia and Castiglioncello in the territory of Volterra. A 4th-century Apulian/Lucanian reticulated lekythos said to be from Pompeii (Pl. 40.11-12) may indeed be correctly designated, though the information comes from an art dealer. A 3rd-century Apulian, so-called Gnathian, oinochoe (Pl. 34,1) is said to have been found in Egypt and S. makes a good case for believing it.

Those researching a particular type of vase should see (as S. reminds us) T.J. Carpenter and T. Mannack, Summary Guide to CVA, 2nd ed., Oxford 2000, pp. 89-100, for catalogues of Italian fabrics in CVA volumes. The CVA format must be strictly observed, so analysis of each vase is brief, with dimensions, Munsell number, description, date, and close parallels; CVA plates give proper profiles and mug-shots, making it easy to spot parallels for other vases. Several entries include drawings (facsimiles of the sketch lines incised by artists), but only a few have profile drawings of the shape. S. had been taken to task for giving fulsome discussions in the first fascicule, and here, though briefly, he does offer references to workshops, styles, uses of the different shapes, and subject matter. He introduces just a few categories with invaluable background and updated bibliography for the class: gutti and askoi (p. 71), Apulian-Lucanian vases in superposed color (p. 77), Apulian “Gnathia ware” (pp. 85-86), native Apulian/Peucetian (p. 113).

Items of iconographic interest (see concordance pp. 133-135) include an Etruscan, 8th-century painted “Subgeometric” stand with a lion who is mostly mouth attacking a horse. It is only the second piece known by the “Casale del Fosso Painter’ (named for the necropolis at Veii where his work was first identified) – the style is similar to the “Tomb of the Roaring Lions” discovered, also at Veii (cf. “Top Ten Discoveries of 2006,” Archaeology 60.1, 2007: 9). Excavations at Veii in recent decades have established it as a source for some early painted vases, often found in Faliscan Narce, where they were known in greater numbers than at home. S. suggests the vase was by a Euboean master who emigrated to Veii via the open colony of Pithekoussai. Other animal scenes grace a 7th-century Faliscan cup incised with winged, roaring lions (Pl. 5.1-4), and a winged female forms a bucchero strut from a caryatid chalice, (Pl. 6.2-3, from Cerveteri, with numerous mold-siblings known elsewhere).

An oinochoe by the early Etrusco-Corinthian Bearded Sphinx Painter (Pls. 7-8) has wild animals and trademark bearded-sphinx figures, with (wingless) lions of identical type – all wearing skullcaps. The vase has a strainer-mouth, as do some others of this class, leading to a consideration of its possible use: like the Hellenistic South Italian sleeping (or roasted!) half-boar’s head (Pl. 28.6), this feature must be a token of its use in fine cuisine (see p. 25). S. is the world expert on Etrusco-Corinthian vases, who for decades, from behind the Iron Curtain and later too, would generously identify and attribute vases as we all sent him photos and sketches of our discoveries: he notes that the oinochoe falls in the painter’s early career, while he worked at Vulci.

One fragment of a Caeretan pithos (Pl. 10.5) has stamped “metopes” of winged lions: the stamps were trapezoidal, allowing images to fit easily onto the curving rim of the vase. A Caeretan basin-shaped brazier in the same tradition (Pl. 11) has stamped scenes in two rows bordered with a narrow triglyph-metope frieze (stamped separately): a man hunting a hare with two hockey-stick-like lagobola, as dogs drive the prey into a net. See S.’s thorough discussion of shape and imagery, pp. 31-32, with an update to the fine corpus by L. Pieraccini ( Around the Hearth. Caeretan Cylinder-Stamped Braziers, Rome 2003). Used in home and tomb for cooking (small game?), the braziers are evocative of aristocratic Caeretan family life.

A ketos, the reptilian, bearded sea monster, is depicted in a plastic handle from a 4th-century Faliscan vase related to the colorful class of Etruscan ceramica argentata (Pl. 14.4-5). Nike tauroktonos, in a pose foreshadowing Mithraic imagery, appears on a black gloss guttus (Pl. 29.3,6,9, published in LIMC VI, 1992, 895 no. 714). Animals and grotesques abound in southern Italy: fish-plate (Pl. 18.1,6); Sicilian plastic cow with apotropaic lizards painted on her body (Pl. 24.5-8); plastic Italiote vases and mold: ram, bull, goat, boar, pig, human heads (Negro child, Persian boy), masked comic actors (Pls. 26-28); Sicilian Medusa relief (Pl. 25.4,6). Etruscan vases depict athletes (Pl. 12.3,5,6-8), women’s world (Pl. 13.1-5, 7-9), female heads (Pl. 14.1-3), including Genucilia plate (Caeretan, Pl. 13.6,10). A Paestan 4th-century black-figured lekythos displays a winged Eros (Pl. 19.1-3).

Many vases illustrate the 4th-century, red-figured products of South Italy, especially Lucania: a red-figured “Panathenaic” amphora offers slightly odd funerary scenes with an ephebe (Pl. 23); on a nestoris (a native Italic favorite) is Dionysos with a woman and satyr (Pl. 19.7-10, 20-21, draped youths on reverse); on a bell krater women meet Athena who carries a South Italian shield (Pl. 22). The absorption and transformation of Greek symbols and social customs by Italic or Italiote consumers (scenes of ephebes, Dionysiac figures) is apparent in these items probably bought as showpieces for banquets or funerals. Demand for such prestige items increased rapidly (such traits as string-cut bases attest skilled artisans working in a hurry, Pl. 49.7 Canosa vase), yet the “hellenization” of Italic or hybrid populations in southern Italy was not a wholesale phenomenon – images and vase forms were selected with great forethought.

Two inscriptions are a grafitto Etruscan “M” on a shallow bowl from the Castiglioncello necropolis in the territory of Volterra (2nd century BC, Pl. 15.6), and the Messapic name “Platyros” marking a 4th-century mold for a ram’s-head rhyton (Pl. 26.1,3,5). This is the only mold known from Apulian Ruvo, and S. suggests that it was made in Taras/Tarentum, where the tradition of inscribing molds is found; it would thus be evidence for the activity of Italic masters within the famed Tarentine coroplastic industry, exported to a production line in native Ruvo.

A mere perusal of the photographs will not yield all the details in this carefully reasoned text, which notes analytical points: such as the originally “silvered” fabric of some now seemingly plain vases, and such as the oinochoe (Pl. 26.2) in the form of a Persian boy’s head in soft cap — a popular iconographic tradition that began in Athens ca. 400 and was revived in Apulia almost a century later, and has many mold-siblings. In contrast, the Hellenistic exaggerated Negro boy’s head has only one parallel, not mechanically related, and that is not in Italy but in Ioannina (3rd-2nd century, Pl. 28.1). Pl. 28.4, the plastic vase in the form of a comic actor, shows traces of burning, therefore likely came from a funeral pyre. Pl. 29.1,4, a guttus for lamp-filling, is an example of potters drawing the molds for their relief-work (in this case a gorgoneion) from existing metal vessels.

Apart from a few masterpieces, like the 8th-century Casale del Fosso Painter’s stand, the Bearded Sphinx oinochoe, or the Brooklyn-Budapest Painter’s red-figured nestoris, these vases are not spectacular or particularly unusual, but thanks to S.’s modest yet masterly treatment, they furnish a good impression of what most often is found in excavations or in foreign collections formed in Italy, and make this CVA a good starting point for those researching Etruscan or South Italian finds or imagery.