LOOKING AT GREEK VASES 130
Sir John Beazley contributed more than any other scholar, past or present, to our understanding of Greek vases, and has exerted a profound influence on the direction vase studies have taken this century. His most important work was done on the differentiation of painters' styles and the attribution of unsigned pieces to individual artists' hands. He compiled a vast corpus of books and articles at the core of which are his Attic Black-Figure Vase-Painters (Oxford 1956) and Attic Red-Figure Vase-Painters (Oxford, revised 1963).
For all their importance, however, few school libraries are likely to keep copies of these two works, and few teachers of Classical Civilisation either at '0' or 'A' level are likely to have used them. Beazley's unillustrated handbooks are, after all, tools of reference, designed for the specialist. The attribution of anonymously painted vases to frequently nameless painters or studios is a complex and often subjective exercise dependent upon a systematic assessment of a wide range of comparative material. John Boardman's Athenian Black Figure Vases (London 1974} and Athenian Red-Figure Vases: The Archaic Period (London 1975) have gone some way towards making the study of painters more readily accessible (although it must be said that Beazley himself did this in his very readable The Development of Attic Black-Figure (London, 1951), but in spite of numerous illustrations neither book represents anything like a popular treatment. The subject precludes it and it is for that reason that I would suggest teachers planning a course at '0' level concentrate on less difficult aspects of their subject than painters per se.
For example the prescribed reading, R. M. Cook's Greek Art will provide an excellent introduction to a more general art historical approach, and the natural progression of styles in Athenian vase-painting from the Geometric to the Classical period, provides an obvious line for any elementary course to take. There are,however, other ways of looking at Greek vases and a systematic approach to these will provide an invaluable foundation for beginners. In these brief notes I have outlined what seem to be the principal alternative viewpoints with reference wherever possible to relevant bibliography. Full bibliographic references are given at the end.
Greek vases are referred to by name according to shape. A useful illustrated index to these would be Richter and Milne, Shapes but this is sadly out of print. However most general studies treat this aspect of vases as fundamental, and a pictorial chart of Greek vase-shapes is easy to come by, e.g. Cook, British Museum, 190-91; Vickers, Vases, opp.p.viii .
It is natural to slip unconsciously into the habit of using these names but it may be worth emphasising that they are archaeological terms often reflecting modern convention, rather than ancient usage. The Greeks themselves have supplied us with a baffling diversity of names for which it is usually not possible to find a corresponding shape (Richter and Milne, Shapes, xiii; Sparkes and Talcott, Agora 3-9; Johnston, Trademarks, 32-6).
Our use of the term 'vase' is itself inappropriate and belies the original purpose of these vessels. In most cases it must be assumed that they were not ornamental, nor were they meant for putting flowers into! Many were storage containers for perfume, olive oil, wine or water; others were for drinking out of.
The paraphernalia of the symposium (Vickers, Symposia) accounted for a number of shapes, e.g. kylix (drinking-cup), oinochoe (wine-jug), krater (mixing-bowl), psykter (wine-cooler), Others had more specialised functions: Panathenaic prize - amphorae were made especially to hold the prize-oil awarded at the Panathenaic games (Beazley, Development, 88ff.). A particularly interesting range of vessels was associated with the marriage ritual: e.g. loutrophoros (bath-fetcher), lebes gamikos (Marriage-bowl).
The list of uses is far from exhausted. Richter and Milne, Shapes is again the best reference here, if you can get it. In addition Sparkes and Talcott, Pots and Pans is a lively picture booklet, which is ideal for putting into the hands of the pupil.
Potting and Painting
The indispensable handbook to the study of the technique of Attic pottery is Noble, Techniques. The author gives a full account of the technical process involved in the production of Athenian painted pottery from start to finish. In addition, although in French, I have no hesitation in recommending T. Hackens (ed.), Bon Usage, an easy to follow picture book - with explanatory captions - of the making and painting of a Greek vase. The text will need translating but there is not a great deal of it.
Potter and Painter
The study of Greek vases from the point of view of the craftsmen who produced them has been hampered by a lack of documentary evidence. The identity of some is revealed in the inscriptions they left on their own productions. Occasionally from these we can deduce a special association between a particular potter and a painter; sometimes as in the case of Exekias they are one and the same. For the most part, however, we know pitifully little about the men whose works we have come to admire. What can be said is surveyed in Beazley's lively essay, Potter and Painter. On the problems of signatures see in addition R. M. Cook, JHS 91 (1971), 137-8; answered by Robertson JHS 1972 (92), 180-3.
This is perhaps the most rewarding and enjoyable of all the approaches listed here. The subject matter of Greek vases may be divided broadly into scenes relating to mythology and scenes of daily life. The practice adopted in the 'A' level syllabus would seem to be most sensible, namely that candidates should concentrate on a topic chosen from a selection offered for their particular year. The range of possible subjects is as extensive as it is exciting: on the mythological side there are, for example, the adventures of Herakles or Theseus, or one might choose a theme from the Trojan cycle. As for subjects drawn from daily life, these might include the symposium, women, music or athletics. The teachers' notes in the British Museum Greek and Roman Daily Life Studies series should prove useful here, and also the JACT monographs. These and other relevant literature are listed below.
Where to see Greek vases
The British Museum has, of course, the largest and finest collection of Greek vases in this country and the Education Service at the Museum frequently offers sessions to teachers and students on the subject. The other major museums with good displays of vases are the Ashmolean, Oxford and the Fitzwilliam, Cambridge. Some other provincial museums have good collections of vases, e.g. The Manchester Museum, Manchester City Art Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Lincoln Museum and Castle Museum, Norwich. In addition a few of the universities have museums housing Greek vases, notably Reading, Newcastle and Durham.
This is by no means intended as a comprehensive reading list, but it mentions publications which have either been referred to above, or 'which may prove particularly useful for teaching the approaches I have outlined.
J. D. Beazley, Potter and Painter in Ancient Athens in Proceedings of the British Academy XXX year? A. Birchall and P. E. Corbett, Greek Gods and Heroes (London 1974).
B. F. Cook, Greek and Roman Art in the British Museum (London 1976).
R. M. Cook, Vase Painting (Open University A 292 B 1979).
G. Etienne and J.Etienne-Germeau, Documents Pedaqogiques - Scenes de la vie quotidienne a Athenes (Ministere de l'Education Nationale et de la Culture Francaise, Boulevard de Berlaimont 26, 1000 Bruxelles). 48 excellent plates illustrating daily life. Notes in French but worth it just for the pictures.
T. Hackens (ed.), Du Bon Usage du Vase Grec, Musee Louvain-la-Neuve [1980), Universite Catholique de Louvain-College Evasme B 1348, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium).
J. Henle, Greek Myths: a vase painter's notebook (London 1973). To be used with caution, see review by B. A. Sparkes, JHS 95 (1975), 295.
I. D. Jenkins, An Athenian Childhood (JACT monograph).
I. D. Jenkins and Sue Bird, Greek and Roman Daily life Studies:
- Athletics and Society
- Spinning and Weaving in Ancient Greece
- Greek Dress
- Greek Music
Illustrated Teachers Notes available free on request from the British Museum Education Service.
A. W. Johnston, Trademarks on Greek Vases (Warminster 1979).
A. Lane, Greek Pottery (London 1948).
J. V. Noble, The Techniques of Painted Attic Pottery (London 1966).
G. M. A. Richter and M. J. Milne, Shape and Names of Athenian Vases (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1935).
B. Sparkes and L. Talcott, The Athenian Agora Vol.XII, Parts 1 and 2. Black and Plain Pottery (Princeton New Jersey 1958).
Pots and Pans of Classical Athens, American School of Classical Studies Excavations of the Athenian Agora, Picture Book No.1 (Princeton, New Jersey 1958).
M. Vickers, Greek Vases (Ashmolean Museum 1978).
Greek Symposia (JACT monograph).
D. Williams, Women on Athenian Vases in Averil Cameron and Amelie Kuhrt (eds.) Images of Woman in Antiquity (Croom Helm).