Wednesday, November 9, 2011

IV. Exceptional Picture Vases

The Eurytios Krater and the Gorgon Dinos
Paris, Louvre E 635, from Caere (modern Cervetri).  Payne, Necrocorinthia,
no. 780 and pl.27, a view similar to this one.  Boardman, Early Greek VP,
p. 199, no. 396, moves around to the right, to show us Herakles and Iole
(Boardman,p. 179, provides the Corinthian alphabet).  Among the indices
that date it are the head of Iole and the floral festoon on the shoulder.
Known from surviving written sources (indeed, these very names of Eurytios's three sons are given in a fragment of Hesiod, a good century earlier), the story, which this krater shows must have been substantially the same at the end of the seventh century BCE, shows Herakles feasted at the house of Eurytios, seeking the hand of Iole (whose name, by the way, as the digamma initial used here hints, is the same as our 'viola' or 'violet', which came to us by way of Latin), is not the sort of thing we have seen much earlier in vase-painting.  Herakles will abduct her and so seal his fate.  The Chigi Olpe, a generation earlier, does have names written for the little Judgment of Paris: 3 letters survive of 'Alexandros', the proper name of Paris, and most of the names of Athena and Aphrodite, but we cannot tell whether the artist had a specific literary story in mind for the main scenes, while the hare hunt is surely generic.  It is different to add a realistic anecdotal touch by showing dogs eating scraps from the table; they also creatively serve as space fillers in the composition.
Now, not to bring in here the suggestion that the artist of the Chigi Olpe may be the name Ekphantos (alas, just a name), what is significant is that we have very little more by the artist of the Chigi Olpe (see the preceding blog post) and nothing more by the artist of the Eurytios Krater, despite generations of efforts to match the little animal frieze on the surface of the krater's rim (Amyx CorVP III, pl.  57, 1a–b) with other little animals of similar quality, such as those by the Heraldic Lions Painter, which do, though, further confirm the relative dating of the great krater—as for an estimate of the absolute date, coming late in EC black figure, it is close to 600 BCE.  The Eurytios krater is a reminder of how little we know of picture-art, especially so early as this.  Its artist is vivid, skilled so that he draws it all with ease, delightful.  He does not seem to be laboring to copy something else, but it does seem likely that he did not spend his life in the potteries.  It is not that painting on wooden, gessoed panels is 'nobler', though engraving and coloring slivers of ivory (since the material cost more) probably was reserved for especially admired artists.  Painting on temple walls (assuming that they did paint directly on walls, as the Etruscans would start doing) was hardly, in my opinion, more prestigious than making these kraters the majority of which were made to be shipped to Etruria: that's where they're found.  Painting on slabs that formed tomb walls, as at Paestum, likewise was funerary art; we only assume that the kraters "must have been" used at banquets for the living before being placed in the tombs where they were found.  If we want to fantasize about Etruscan tombs, we now know just enough to find more to say than D. H. Lawrence's private daydreams in Etruscan Places.
There are a few good places to seek further pictures of the Eurytios Krater; the best is the Louvre's own web site.  Some of the bad sites are dreadfully bad, worse than anything you'd find in 19th-century books.  Some sites are just dumb and generalized with little, excessively processed images.  You can trust the Louvre and the British Museum. My own efforts to photograph the Eurytios Krater through glass, hand-held, are mostly not sharp enough to post, but consider these riders in the lower frieze.
Louvre E635: The Eurytios Krater.  One of the riders from the lower-frieze
horse race (I think of a 'cavalcade' as a parade of walking horses, and these
short-haired riders are, I think, jockeys, not hippeis (which is Greek for
equites in Latin) who raise and own the horses.  For vase painting, what is
most relevant here is that other horses at this date, if shown in motion, have
their hind legs gathered up below their bodies, and the drawing here is both
very skillful and very loose for Early Corinthian.



The Gorgon Dinos poses superficially similar questions, in so far as the main frieze, with the Gorgons on one side and duellers with their charioteers attending them on the other, do also seem to be evidence for painting of other kinds, "free painting" in some sense of the word, and its floral festoon is one of the most elaborate of any period:


It is not only grand and complicated, however, but also shows that it is later than the Eurytios krater.  Its splayed lotuses and the four-way knotted arrangement in the centers are more comparable with Middle Corinthian black-figure of the period of the earlier kylixes that, many of them, have a gorgoneion (gorgon face) in the center of the bowl.  Consider this early publication of the unattributed one in Brussels:

This cup, incidentally, shows the Homeric way of duelling, with one's backers, here riding, behind the heroes, and everyone is named: one of the Ajaxes, backed by the other Ajax, fights Aeneas (with the snake episemion), backed by Hippokles.  Dolon, almost as a space filler, kneels behind him.  The Gorgon dinos duellers are more strongly individualized.

I have always liked the way that their charioteers look back at them, over their shields slung over their shoulders.  Yet the Gorgon Painter's drawing in the figure work here is somewhat timid compared with either the Nettos Painter before him or the artist of the Eurytios krater some sixty miles away in Corinth, and one suspects that he meant to evoke some "free painting".  Remember that, even on the interior walls of temples and civic buildings, large panel paintings on primed wood could be placed in shallow recesses (consider the interior walls of the pinakotheke at the lefthand side of the Propylaea to the Athens Acropolis), so that we needn't think of fresco (or preclude it, of course).
Again, the Louvre's own web page on the Gorgon dinos offers several more images and so does Boardman's Black Figure.  Besides, there are more handheld details in the Picasa Album, as well as four images, nos. 91–94, of an amphora, Louvre E 817, by the Gorgon Painter, which is wholly in the manner of the remaining friezes on the big dinos.  In fact, we have many vases by the painter of the Gorgon Dinos that are in this more ordinary mode, without which it might have been a more demanding task to attribute the big dinos and the other work to the same hand.
That is just what we do NOT have for the artist of the Chigi Olpe (just four exceptional pieces surely attributable), let alone the artist of the Eurytios Painter (one early column krater in splendid isolation).
These observations are important because they afford a parallel to Kleitias and Sophilos in the next generation.


You can begin (if you want to venture on attribution by style alone) with an easy exercise.  Compare these confronted sphinxes (sirens would have birds' legs) flanking a palmette-and-lotus cross with a bird atop it with similar elements in the smaller friezes on the dinos.  And never mind the residues of dot-rosette fillers (he also uses incised ones, anyway) which like his predecessor, the Nettos Painter, he was loath to give up when he wanted something very dainty and unobtrusive.  Remember the old joke: Columbus made three trips to the Americas and died on one of them: which one?  Always date relatively by the latest traits.