Sunday, October 23, 2011

Vase Painting. II. Beyond Most Handbooks

The general introduction holds for this posting as well.
Athens, NAM.  Lidded Geometric oinochoe from the Tapestry Workshop

Faced with writing a single chapter on all of Greek art, many authors (online as well as hard copy) use the big grave markers (amphoras for females, kraters with masculine subjects for males, it is thought) as typical developmental examples.  In fact, in successive generations, some of the small vases have no hatched maeanders while it is only the grave markers that have funerary scenes.  Instead of a plain knob for lifting the lid, in the very generation of the great Dipylon amhoras, it was fashionable either to refer to the vase-shape itself or to use a bird or, on large lids, horses in lieu of a knob.  But so far as painting the vase is concerned, the love of one workshop for beautifully executed patterns is just as purely Geometric as the prostheses.  Also, it is purely Attic.  When other regions have elaborate patterns they don't have this kind of discipline, this concern for the whole vase.
Corinth did have equal design discipline:
Corinth Museum.  The pale clay is typical of the fabric, and in this period'
the very neat and reasoned placement of simple motifs is remarkable.
Though it would be the first city to export both to its colonies and elsewhere, Corinthian geometric, however fine, is not abundant, nor, at home, does it cater to funerary use in the same way as at Athens.  Fine Corinthian burials are in stone sarcophagi or box-like pits.  Still, a krater like this one could be used not only as a punchbowl but as an ash urn in which smaller offerings would be included; it's about a half meter in diameter at the base of the handles.
Argos Museum.  Geometric krater, of similar capacity to the Corinthian one.
But in mid-8th century it is dark and likelier to have hatched maeanders than a Corinthian one.
A man could hike or ride a donkey or a horse from Athens to Corinth, or from Corinth to Argos, in a day or so.  Therefore, the consistent tradition of the potteries in each place is worth considering.  I do not recall seeing so much imitation of metallic moldings and attachment (as at the base of the handles) in any early Corinthian work.
Argos Museum.  End of Geometric and, chronologically, possibly as late as
Attic and Corinthian work datable ca. 680 BCE.  (see p. 72 in Boardman's book)
This big krater (H. 47cm), with fragmented maeanders and oddments of Late Geometric II motifs, has horses somewhat comparable with those of the Attic Analatos Painter (who will head the next post), and on this side, the principal one, internal details are drawn in white lines.  The man's pelvis and thighs, like his face, with beard and hair separated from it, also are comparable with earliest Protoattic (which is short for Proto-Black-Figure).  The different terms are not necessarily a problem.  The difference is technical: in this Argive work, incised lines are not used for the internal details.  And don't worry about that T shape under the horse's belly, which may be nothing more than yet another element of maeander-like fillers, unless one of the more imaginative explanations should be shown to be right.
E. Gabrici at Cumae.
Especially since it was published promptly and fully, and our sources place the foundation of Cumae fairly securely in the middle of the 8th century, Gabrici's finds from the early cemetery may be placed before 700 BCE, and they are already Early Protocorinthian.  That is, not only are they decorated with plant forms and rosettes (instead of broken bits of the DNA, so to speak, of Late Geometric), but all of the larger and some of the smaller vases (see Boardman, p. 81 as well as the plates from Gabrici, below) have details drawn with a sharp point through the glaze-paint in the leather hard (still damp) clay.  That point could be sharpened metal or bone or, on tiny perfume bottles, a cactus needle mounted in bone.  Humfry Payne was doubtless right, that it was inspired by near eastern metal work, perhaps also by engraved detail in ivory.  For more than a century, we have found it convenient to define 'black figure' technique to include the use of incision for details.  Cumae (my first ever Link to Facebook!) is near Naples, and all the pottery found by Gabrici is there.

It was because the Greek colony was founded from Chalcis in Euboea
that Gabrici labeled the plates "Chalcidian".
Now,  as Boardman has said (and not only in this book), Greek artists took ideas, but they didn't copy outright.  Sometimes we cannot say whether from Al Mina or some other trading post on the coast that is now Lebanon, or perhaps from one where now the border of Syria and Turkey meet at the sea, but it is quite proper to call this art Orientalizing.  This usage is unrelated to the invidious use of words like Oriental and Orientalism that evoke notions of odalisques and harems.  The peninsular Greeks now were trading (and their remains have been found) and they were delighted by what they found; they borrowed like eager magpies.  It is also significant that they made these little perfume bottles and trans-shipped them to the western colonies, full, I should think.  Note that I said Near Eastern—not Middle.
But the pitcher, the oinochoe, just over a foot tall, is a Greek shape, and it still has sub-Geometric patterns on the neck.  And its artist has created glorious buds in four directions on the body, not copied but most certainly orientalizing, and their details are incised with a sharp point.  Free plant forms, yet disciplined to make design sense on the body of the oinochoe.
True, all of this is Early Archaic, but some Early Archaic is not inebriated with Near Eastern art.  It is a fashion, yes, but one that permanently altered the severity of the earliest post-Mycenaean art.  The Egyptian component is still to come, but it won't affect vase-painting very much.  Orientalizing brought the alphabet, some fancy metalwork (doubtless too some fancy weaving), and all those palmettes and lotuses everywhere.
It is at this point that Protocorinthian, produced for export as well as regional use, became more sophisticated than Protoattic:
Corinth Museum.  One of the very first trefoil-mouthed Broad-bottomed Oinochoai.
You notice first of all those big rays (as we call them; they derive from sepals at the base of near eastern vases) are like those on the tall oinochoe from Cumae, above.  But they co-exist with a new shape, a non-tipping pitcher, which otherwise is decorated mostly with those thin lines that Corinth likes so much: you can use the slow-spinning wheel to apply them perfectly, and they are as "smart" as any other pin stripes in the history of design.  The running hare on the shoulder is as local as the nutria (coypu) that Cajun kids hunt in Louisiana swamps.  But the division of his legs, his cheek and eye, are rendered with incised lines.  And the flat-bottomed shape, with slightly swelling walls, with its broad strap handle is wholly original and couldn't be nicer, in my opinion.
Basic book:
As for the first post, above, Boardman's Early Greek Vase Painting.
I cannot resist adding, in case anyone can find it in an older library, Arthur E. Lane, Greek Pottery, Faber and Faber, 1947.  My own copy is falling apart, since, until the Boardman book became available, it was what one studied from, my students after me.  It is not worth buying a collectable copy, unless you are trying to get every single book on ceramics, but if you can find a tattered one, don't despise it, buy it.