BMCR 2018.05.04

Tanz in der Antike. Ausstellung im Akademischen Kunstmuseum der Universität Bonn, 14. Mai bis 27. August 2017. Schriften des Akademischen Kunstmuseums Bonn, 5

, , Tanz in der Antike. Ausstellung im Akademischen Kunstmuseum der Universität Bonn, 14. Mai bis 27. August 2017. Schriften des Akademischen Kunstmuseums Bonn, 5. Bonn: Habelt-Verlag, 2017. 100. ISBN 9783774940956. €17,80.

This slight volume accompanied an exhibition at the Akademisches Kunstmuseum Bonn commemorating the 50th anniversary of the ballet studio connected to Bonn University. It has a one-page preface and a very selective bibliography; the remaining 88 pages are a catalogue of the 65 objects that were on display, 22 of which are plaster casts and one a replica in bronze; the remaining 42 items are original objects, mainly vases and vase fragments, either painted or in relief, a limestone relief fragment, a Campana relief fragment, three oil lamps and three terracotta statuettes. The casts reproduce well-known statues and reliefs (the Bonn collection of over 2400 casts is one of the more important in existence), the bronze is of the famous satyr or faun from the Casa del Fauno. The original artefacts brought together for this show, however, are not so well-known. Three of them are even published for the first time: a Cypriot statuette of a dancer, which originally must have been part of a group of women in a circle dance (#12, 6th-4th c. BC); a terracotta statuette of a so-called “mantle dancer” (#60, 4th c. BC).; and an oil lamp decorated with a male dancer holding clapsticks or clappers (#14, 2nd c. AD).1 ( Kressirer and Rumscheid interpret the clappers as two auloi —but it would be strange for an aulos player to stop playing even if breaking into a dance, and even stranger to do so carrying two pairs of auloi.

The 65 objects are arranged in five thematic sections: “dancing gods”, “dance at festivals”, “Dionysiac dancing”, “dance at symposium and komos” and “dance at the heart of beauty, love and death.” An initial section, “invitation to the dance,” (#1-2) deals with a famous sculptural group, that does not portray any dancing, and whose traditional designation as “invitation to the dance” is unsubstantiated.2 There are a few other instances in the book where I would be hesitant to see dance (#8, 18, 48, 57), but since the two authors do not state their criteria for identifying dance iconography, it is of course difficult to find fault with their selection.

Distribution within categories is also problematic. In a few instances one might quibble whether divine or human dancers are portrayed, but that is an insoluble problem. I find more questionable the use of “festival” as some kind of synonym for “the religious sphere”— the instances where any of these images can be linked to a specific festival are very few indeed. The last category must have been designed to accommodate items that could not readily be included in the other four. In fact, this category could easily be eliminated: dancing Erotes and a dancing Psyche could be included with the “dancing gods,” where we find also Charites, nymphs and Muses. What remains in that section could then plausibly be moved to “dance and festivals” (if that label indeed is taken to mean dance in a religious context). Nevertheless, the non-category of beauty, love, and death by its very incongruity alerts us to its contents, and it appears to contain what are by no means the least interesting objects; indeed, what does not obviously fit in raises the most exciting questions (as will be seen below.)

I will select some especially intriguing items, or those that call for some comment. #11 in the catalogue is an archaic (1st half 6th c. BC) Boeotian black-figure alabastron with a chorus of three women holding hands and carrying branches—except that we cannot see the hands, and only the top of the branches shows, because all three women are enveloped in a single piece of cloth. #15 is a fragment of a Campana relief from Turkey with two dancers carrying clapsticks—or are they really auloi this time? (cf. on #14 above). #17-18: add to the references: Jean-Claude Poursat, ‘Les représentations de danse armée dans la céramique attique’, BCH 92 (1968) 550-615. #19-21, fragments of an Attic red-figure krater of the late 4th c. BC, are interesting examples of chorus members dressed as satyrs/silens, with shorts supporting a tail and phallus; these fragments are discussed in Oliver Taplin & Rosie Wyles (eds), The Pronomos Vase and its context, Oxford 2010, 136, 220-21, 261-62; the illustration there (fig. 14.2) shows a fourth fragment. #44: an Etruscan red-figure krater (4th c. BC) shows Dionysus and Ariadne accompanied by a lively thiasos that includes a maenad playing the aulos while sitting in a relaxed position on the back of a bent-over satyr—who still seems to manage a dance step. Pure fantasy? #45 is an Attic red-figure column krater decorated with Dionysus holding a kantharos while two satyrs dance around him, playing the kithara and the aulos; both satyrs are depicted en face. The frontal face is a relative rarity in Greek art, and in the case of satyrs and komasts there is a connection to the dance. #54-55: add to the references: Tyler Jo Smith, Komast dancers in archaic Greek art, Oxford 2010. #54 is a Corinthian aryballos with two pairs of komasts who each have one foot pointing in the wrong direction: Kressirer and Rumscheid seem to suggest this is a pose, not a disability. For a discussion of this curious phenomenon see Smith, op.cit., her index s.v. “lame”, but the last word on this had not yet been said. #59-60: add to the references: Frederick G. Naerebout, ‘The Baker dancer and other Hellenistic statuettes of dancers. Illustrating the use of imagery in the study of ancient Greek dance’, Imago musicae. International yearbook of musical iconography 18/19 (2001/2002) 59-83. # 61: an Attic red-figure hydria (late 4th c. BC) with two mantle-dancers dancing to the pipes of Pan and to krotala, on either side of Aphrodite who is sitting on the lap of a woman (and not the other way round, as the catalogue states), while an Eros is drifting overhead. This is an extremely interesting vase, but to judge from the references it has not been published except in two publications of the Bonn museum. #62 is a relief pyxis from Asia Minor (late 3rd, early 2nd c. BC) decorated with a long line of what the catalogue calls mantle dancers: one would like to study these tiny figures from close-up photographs. #63, a red-figure pelike from Apulia (1st half of the 4th c. BC) shows a curious scene: a large winged Eros leads a woman (who with her tympanon and whirling dress could be mistaken (?) for a maenad) and a young man in a dance. The catalogue suggests that the woman is a personification of music and dance who, together with Eros, accompanies a groom on the way to his wedding. If she indeed is Mousike personified, our interpretation of quite a few other images would have to be reconsidered. I am not convinced—though I have to admit that I have not yet found a better interpretation.

This is not a very helpful publication for those who want to learn about dance in the ancient world. It cannot even serve as a first initiation because it offers no proper introduction. For those with some knowledge of the subject this booklet is valuable because it publishes and illustrates (very well) several images of the dance that are not well known or until now not known at all. Some are really out of the ordinary. Alas, descriptions of each item are not extensive. Although this is a publication aimed at a general public, it could have addressed a more specialized audience at the same time, but at least we get decent inventory numbers, dates, provenances, and the helpful references. A proper corpus of dance iconography has been a desideratum for a long time. This volume is a contribution to filling that void—a small one, but a contribution nevertheless.


1. Cf. Fritz Weege, Der Tanz in der Antike, Halle 1926, 170-1 with ill. 238.

2. Wilhelm Klein, who was the first to recognize and name this group in 1909, saw it as an ancient variant of a Rococo porcelain.