Sunday, October 30, 2011

III. Early Archaic Glory (cont'd)

III (b) Protocorinthian
Under its early tyrants, and while Athens had not yet made any such ventures, Corinth's potteries became truly professional but, on the whole, not yet careless of quality.  It was in Corinth, on vases where it became customary, that casual use of incised details became truly (unless you count the filling ornaments in the field) black-figure: black silhouettes, with incised details, heightened with added colors, red almost always (sometimes called 'purple', simply because it often turned rather mauve in the earth or was fired not quite red—the redder the clay, the truer the added red (and the clay in Protocorinthian did more often show its iron content), white often, and yellow as well.  A few vases, like the Chigi Olpe, are practically in color on a black-figure base.  Attic vase painting didn't become nearly so much like full-fledged black figure until close to the end of the seventh century.
Louvre.  A "powder pyxis" (or, rather, a cylindrical pyxis) and three Protocorinthian aryballoi
Not all vases were customarily proto-black figure.  The powder pyxis, as we call it without assuming what it might have contained, and other straight sided little boxes but with regular lids, usually were decorated with conventional motifs.  As the Louvre's line-up shown here demonstrates, the little pointed perfume bottles, about two inches high,  might have plain silhouette (here with some red bands) or, without being necessarily later (details of the shapes are evidence for relative dating, as always based on the larger and more elaborate vases in tomb groups, those at Syracuse for example).  It might have been more difficult to date these if they were not in context, beginning even with the Cumae Group, posted above because still datable in the eighth century (that's OUR eighth century, let us never forget, though books and labels often talk as if the ancients had known how many years before the Christian era they were living in: luckily for us, they early began dating in Olympiads, which traditionally—and possibly really—were founded in 776 BCE).  As it is, despite efforts almost "Shakespearean" (with reference to the current movie) to prove the consensus wrong, we have a really intricate and well woven and well knotted relative chronology, tied to the few historical dates that we have.  Boardman's book is well informed and maturely considered, so you really can, thanks to dated trading posts and colonies with their cemeteries, date rather confidently.
The kotylai of the Hound Painter (Middle Protocorinthian)
The largest number of published Middle Protocorinthian is from Aegina and is still under copyright, I'm afraid, so I shall use scanned slides that I took through glass with Daylight Agfachrome film 30 years ago in the British Museum.  Actually, for teaching, these vitrines showing the true relative sizes of the vases, all of them small compared with the monumental Attic grave markers, remain best for teaching.  These posts are not for their photography (though the strip above here shows what advantages even a little, early two-megapixel digital camera has).
British Museum.  The Hound Painter's kotyle, H. 7 1/2 "; compare the size
of the ring-shaped aryballos (a novelty shape, of potter's virtuosity,
 and note the guilloche, and at left a little cylindrical pyxis.
Though continuity from the Cumae oinochoai is evident in that bud on a loop, and there is still a sub-geometric filler above the hound's back, the pinwheel rosette in front of him and the stacked rays at the base of the kotyle are of this new generation.  The hound has fully incised (even with double lines) muscles in his legs and toes; his lovely head is as expressive as it is elegant; he has (mostly worn away) added yellow ochre in the upper division of his neck (for no reason but decoration); every relationship of the curves of his contours has been most carefully considered.  [the pinkish color is due to age of the slide and cannot be fully corrected in post-processing]
British Museum.  Beside the vases shown above (and here the color is slightly
better) are one of the earliest alabastra (the shape as well as the name going
back to Egypt) and the very great, very tiny masterpiece called The Macmillan Aryballos,
which is Late Protocorinthian, about 635 BCE (see below), dwarfed by the kotyle
behind it.
On his other very similar surviving kotyle, almost a twin to this one, the Hound Painter again put a water bird under one of the handles, as here.  We think this work dates from just about the middle of the century.  As for the names of all these vase-shapes, the best way to learn them first is, as here, as they are mentioned with reference to real specimens.  By the way, when we say that a lion on an early Greek coin still looks like a seventh-century one, we mean that it resembles those like the one on the Macmillan Aryballos.
The favorite Protocorinthian aryballoi, shown in developmental order,
in the Staatliche Museen in Berlin.  No. 9 is almnost as early as the Cumae ones,
and no. 13 is even more elaborate, and even slightly smaller than London's
Macmillan Aryballos, by the same artist.
I have added a detail of one of the female heads on either side of the lion's head;
it is in the Album, near the end.
They may be made of plain clay (though well levigated and set to age a bit, probably, to impart as much elasticity as possible by allowing organic elements to rot), but their extreme virtuosity, even in nos. 9 to 12 (you who have taken a course in ceramics will gasp at them, and when seen broken the walls are only a millimeter thick), make it certain I think that these were made and sold as luxury items, just as perfumes were sold in Tiffany flasks a century ago.  Most other potteries didn't even try to compete with them, not even in Rhodes and Ionia.  But Corinthian clay, possibly because of the amount of lime in it, partly because also the glaze-paint had to be made from clay beds with more iron or less lime (or both), so that the glaze-paint had a different coefficient of expansion in firing and did not become one with the clay body, did not survive so well as the black glaze-paint on Attic and some other orange clays.  That difficulty did not deter the vase-painters of the wonderful aryballoi with lions' heads from painting and incising and coloring (by mixing their earth-color pigments) the molded animals and human heads, the elaborate battle scenes, the hare hunts in black-figure with added colors—however little remains, only traces, on the Berlin aryballos, no. 13.  It is this work that I think may have been executed with cactus thorns very finely sharpened and painted with a few hairs in the brush.
The Chigi Olpe in the Museum of the Villa Giulia in
Rome.  Like the two aryballoi, it dates from (in our calendar)
the third quarter of the 7th century.  You can see most of
the figure work more clearly in Boardman's pp. 94 and 95, but
I took these (clandestinely and with the best figure work away from
the light) to show what the vase actually looks like.
In this picture, under the handle root, you can see the clear remains, with names inscribed, too, of the Judgment of Paris.  There is a fine sphinx, too, that helps date those by other painters on little vases.  Then, in the major frieze, to the right of the Judgment is the wonderful cavalcade, and you can make out above the rider visible here the famous earliest certain representation of the Greek phalanx in action.
Move around to the left of the handle root, and, on the shoulder
you see the other phalanx group, with their episemata  (lion head,
gorgon face, eagle, etc.) showing on their shields; the wonderful
flute-player is on Boardman's p. 95, and so is the lion hunt.
Although the Chigi Olpe is 26 cm. or about 11 inches tall, its figures are only a couple of inches tall,  and the hare hunt below the main frieze as tiny as one of the aryballoi, though the figures on the latter are no taller than a half inch.  Besides, there is black polychromy: black with incised drawing alone, heightened with touches of color.  And all of this alive and varied and extremely elegant.  There can be no doubt that this artist, whether you call him "Chigi Painter" or "Macmillan Painter", was a major artist.  Clay may be cheap, but Greek art is not the kind that wallows in gold and gems, and it must be said for fired clay that it survives better than almost anything else, both because it is relatively indestructible (though, alas, breakable) and because barbarians head for the gold.  So we don't know what this artist spent most of his life doing, though ivory work was already becoming widespread and painting on prepared panels, too.  We have only vague references, of traditional memories, but the Levant and even Egypt were beginning to teach Greeks the ancient techniques.
The Chigi Olpe was one of the first things magnificently published in color lithograph drawings made with the help of a camera obscura or camera lucida.  Though these are large folios of plates and rather rare, with the digital camera it was possible to photograph some details from them without touching the plates, and they are still nearly as good as detail photographs, hard to get, from the vase itself and all in copyright:
From Antike Denkmäler.  The boy leading the horses in the cavalcade is
very hard to find in any other publication, and they were diligent in recording
the white dot decoration and the colors.
The hare hunt with the small hunter in ambush behind some rushes (?) also is too small to come out well in the usual photographs.
A detail of the hare hunt below the main frieze on the Chigi Olpe
You can study the Lion Hunt in Boardman, on p. 95.  However he got it, this artist has mastered the Assyrian type of lion which we know from the palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, which, by the way, is hardly earlier than the Chigi Olpe.  Increasingly now, Greek artists will know and prefer the Assyrian lion with its long nose and rich mane.
It is a fact that the serious study of Protocorinthian is rather young, and most of the images that I used in teaching are still in copyright, or probably so.  In any case, art historically, with the help of the brightly lit galleries in the great museums and the well chosen array provided by Sir John Boardman in Early Greek Vase Painting, using these remarks as an introduction to his text (the least generalized of all his books in the World of Art series) you can form a good idea of all the regional potteries and of all the kinds of wares produced at Athens and Corinth.  It does no good to throw too much at once at those of you who previously have studied only the mythology on the sixth- and fifth-century vases.

P.S. I thought we should have in this post an example of a more "regular" Late Protocorinthian vase, so I found the image of the British Museum's aryballos, a little larger than the foregoing ones, by the artist aptly nicknamed the "Head-in-Air Painter" (the animals have such an Attitude!):
The Head-in-Air Painter.  Fine but "regular" Late Protocorinthian.
There is a grayscale image in the Album showing two more
views of it.