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.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Vase Painting. III. Early Archaic Glory in the 7th c. BCE

(a) An Introduction to Proto-Attic work
I shall present the Attic vases first.  They are just as good, and at least as exciting, as the Protocorinthian of the same period, but the latter is already professional and export ware, and it was in closer touch with the sources, direct and indirect (Crete, in some cases), in east Mediterranean luxury art—at any rate, more obviously affected by familiarity with it.  Different Greek sites have yielded different styles from different sources; Olympia is especially interesting, with some imports evidently from Van (yes, where they just had an earthquake), where the Kingdom of Urartu reigned at this time, or else through North Syrian trading centers on the coast, but for the time being Athens seems rather independent, though at Aegina the excavators found painted ceramic wares from both Corinth and Athens.

The Louvre's amphora by the Analatos Painter, usually dated c. 680.
This is Early Protoattic.  Together with the name-piece, the hydria from Analatos, in the Athens NAM, and the krater in Munich, which seems a little more advanced, it is illustrated in Boardman, Early Greek VP, pp. 98-99, and a lid in the British Museum, p. 100, also seems to be his.
Though, indeed, it cannot be much later than that krater in Argos, it is well over any line you want to draw between Late Geometric and Early Orientalizing.  Personally, since different potteries pick up, and make up, their styles from extremely varied East Mediterranean sources, I would not speak of 'the Orientalizaing style', because the important thing to see and grasp is that we are dealing here with a bewildering variety of manners and styles, with motifs and ideas being picked up almost faster than they can be assimilated, let alone shared with all the other Greeks: I would think of 'styles', just as we have 'techniques' (silhouette, outline, incised details, added color or none), yet all are caught up in orientalizing, just as all the Greeks begin to regard major sanctuaries and certainly the main lines of their mythology and epic as well as the still evolving alphabet for their closely related dialects as belonging to them all.
I was just thinking: it is as exciting as being in on the rapidly developing wonders of the internet in the last half century!
The Analatos Painter is a little wild.  What look like cactus come from palmettes, but secondhand.  His horses have proportions similar to those of the Argos krater that we saw last time, but along with outline for his wonderful bugeyed faces and the blousing of his women's peploi and the feathering of his sphinxes' wings, he uses incision wherever that suits his purpose best—not Argive white lines, not carefully reserved lines as on Rhodian.  He keeps as much leftover Geometric junk as he needs but adds rosettes, double-outlined as if from metalwork, and guilloches.  Notice, too, that his sphinxes are obviously not inspired directly by Egyptian ones; next time you go to the Louvre, study all the Egyptianizing stuff there, from the 15th down through the 6th century BCE (that's why I said, simply, eastern Mediterranean).  Look at the Analatos Painter.  Imagine yourself doing his drawing.  Thus you will know him forever.
By the way, those pierced handles on that tall neck are the mark of these grave amphoras; this one is 80 cm. tall, almost a yard.

For Middle Proto-Attic, we may use the great Eleusis Amphora (in the Eleusis Museum), which was made as a grave marker but, when damaged, reused as a baby's (or toddler's) sarcophagus—and thus was preserved without further damage.

The Eleusis Amphora with the Blinding of Polyphemos on the neck and the story,
in full, of Perseus and the Gorgons on the body.  A view of the whole vase in
front view is given by Boardman on p. 105.  It is 1.42m. (56 inches) tall.
The Polyphemos Vase (with Perseus and the Gorgons on the Body)
In the first half or so of the 20th century, this was called the Black-and-White style.  The added white paint is not so permanent; it is not glaze-paint.  The treatment of the guilloches, with one strand white and the other incised, and the 'rays' at the base (slenderer now than at the beginning of the 7th century) alternately black and white, justify that nickname, but the gorgon sisters have a glorious mixture of white paint and plain outline, too.  You can compare the animal combat, the usual carnivore and herbivore, on the shoulder with the animals on the Munich amphora (Boardman, p. 99) and see that they are a generation later: almost fully incised.
If you want to see something being drawn for the first time, this will serve even better than a picture of a gorgon based on a story read aloud by a gifted child in an elementary school.  Actually, I had the privilege of publishing an earlier, yet more canonical, gorgon face found at Corinth—almost surely slightly earlier, from its archaeological context, but these surviving sisters of Medousa, pursuing Perseus, are independent imaginings: scaly-reptilian, snake-haired, toothy.  These are childlike in the best sense of the word.
In the two side views of the amphora, we see, directly to the left of her sisters, the dead Medousa lying in what must be a field of asphodel.  Under the other handle we see a vulture coming to clean the bones.  Never mind questions of botany for the asphodel or ornithology for the vulture!  You also can see in the pictures (scanned from long-suffering Agfachrome slides) the carefully cut-out clay handles, alluding to grave amphoras of metal, I suppose, though no one ever has found a piece of one such, and (proof that it was intended to stand in front of a wall or a bush) the perfunctory decoration of the back of the vase. 
Perseus and the Gorgons and the Blinding of Polyphemos are two of the favorite subjects of Early Archaic vase-painting.

Berlin, St. Museen, no. A9 from Aegina.  Middle Proto-Attic Neck Amphora (one
handle missing) attributed to the Ram Jug Painter.  For the Ram Jug, see Boardman, p. 104, no. 206.

The Ram Jug Painter also worked in the middle decades of the 7th century, but he used fewer filling patterns in the field and was a sweeter tempered artist in his style.  Sir John Beazley, in the first chapter of his delightful The Development of Attic Black-Figure, pp. 9-11 in the Revised Edition of 1986 (and pp. 10-11 in the original of 1951, verbatim I think), regarding this also as the Ram Jug Painter's masterpiece, in one of his greatest essays (and these were lectures) shows how intimately this vase corresponds to our written sources of the story, when Peleus brings his son, the infant Achilles, here clad in an infant's chiton, to that tutor of heroes the wise centaur Cheiron, who holds out his arms to receive him.  Cheiron has been hunting and, as the poets say, return with a fox, a boar, and a wolf (as they seem to me) tied to a pine branch.  The poets say pine.  As for that thing on the neck of the amphroa, it is a palm, surely, drawn by a man who has never seen one growing!
Alas, the vase is very fragmentary and so, like many another masterpiece, it is not in the textbooks, not even Boardman's, so (please observe academic fair use) here is a link to the plate from the 1951 edition of Beazley.

Finally, two more, for which I do not have exact references at hand (I'll add them in the captions or comments in the Picasa Album  if I find them).
The first, also in Berlin and from Aegina, is very like the Ram Jug Painter, and the second, at right, is for you to study to see why one would date it a couple of decades, perhaps, later; it is from the Athenian Agora and is in the Stoa of Attalos Museum there.
Berlin, St. Museen.  In front of the man's head is one of the flat legs of a geometric
type of tripod, I think.  Though he lacks the tip of his nose, his alert expression and his neatly
elaborate voluteed ear are delightful to me.  Athens, Stoa of Attalos Museum.  Confronted sphinxes  (see the feathered wings?) flanking a delicately drawn double palmette.


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.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Vase Painting. I. Athens First: no accident

It is my purpose here only to discuss what may escape notice in most books and most courses in colleges and universities.  Thanks above all others to Sir John Boardman we have easy access in several languages to affordable books of the highest quality.  I must assume that others will gratefully acquire these books and, of course, any others that appeal to them, though the presence of full-color illustrations and exciting suggestions in other books only make Boardman's books more necessary.  From these one can go on to magisterial tomes and specialized monographs and articles.  Acquiring real knowledge of the world Greek vase-painting opens up is sufficient to enrich and engage a lifetime.
Athens, Kerameikos Museum.  Two proto-geometric amphoras with belly handles, datable not far from 1,000 BCE.

Tradition told the truth: Athens was not taken by the Dorians.  Oh, there is archaeological proof that they knew them, but (just to cite two things) continuity of burials and pottery-making techniques and the Attic dialect attest to that claim.  Burial in the area that became the Agora was uninterrupted, and the  great cemetery by the Dipylon (one of the later gates in the city wall) and the later, Classical cemetery of the Kerameikos provides, with graves partly overlying one another, the framework of history in the centuries still (strictly speaking) pre-historical, though Athens had strong traditions, too.
After a generation that was impoverished, when the pots were poorly made but continuous in fabric and many elements of form from the end of Mycenaean, we now see well prepared clay, deliberately designed and proportioned pots, purposeful change—very evident pride in what they were doing.  They not only get a passing grade in Basic Design, they have invented it, as the West ever since has understood it.  These amphoras are still less than a meter tall, but in an age that did not yet use drafted stone or carve limestone or marble or use bronze for things larger than the long pins that were worn in the shoulders of a peplos, they held the ashes and bone fragments of the deceased.  For the moment, ceramics engaged the most esteemed craftsmen.  I omitted armor, because we know of very little datable this early, and votive vessels for the same reason; even the plain ones that I know of are later.  There was no money as such, and it would be a century  before they had adapted the alphabet that we know from Aramaean monuments.  The Late Mycenaean foundation settlements on the west coast of Asia Minor did, of course, trade with other Greeks, but during recovery from the collapse of the 12th century, trade seems to have been a luxury for all.  Here, though, we see Athens, at least, emerging from hand-to-mouth survival.  Athens had had, of course, a Mycenaean palace on the Acropolis and kings and therefore (besides that boast about the Dorians) something to be proud of, and good land, too.  This mere paragraph should tempt the reader to get a good history, if he hasn't done so before.

The pair of amphoras we begin with not only have structural clarity, but (plain as they may seem) characteristic innovations.  Where sub-Mycenaean decorators drew freehand messy half-circles, these have managed to invent a compass that lets them draw perfectly even complete circles; it may even be a comb compass.  Then someone discovers that if you paint the ground around the half-circles on the shoulder with glaze-paint (which occasionally, even on large pots, they manage to fire evenly and black), you have in effect light half-circles where you'd drawn them dark.  And, though very soon, they will sometimes put plus-designs in the center of concentric circles, they quite evidently do not mean wheels, especially not at first, and certainly nothing like banal symbols, stars or suns.  They are done per se.  Everything points the way to all of Greek art, where technique and pleasure in form underlie all else.
Athens, Kerameikos Museum.  Two Middle Geometric neck-handled amphoras
By the 9th century, as we calculate, the ornament that is the mark of fully Geometric decoration, the hatched maeander, is often joined for a generation or so by the expansion of the dark grounds to make the vases predominantly black, and the circles often, but not always, disappear.  Also the necks are taller and straighter, the bodies taller and more ovoid.  The strap handle to the neck, also, used this way,becomes commoner.
A 1959 snapshot to emphasize the size of the Great Dipylon Amphora
(and its less well preserved twin)

By the middle of the 8th century, Geometric decoration had reached its classic stage; there is nothing more to do in this direction, and those double belly handles (abstracted bull's heads, which go back to Mycenaean pottery) will soon disappear.  The funerary scenes in the handle zones also, in this artist's work, reach perfection: go any further with anecdotal subject matter and it will be at odds with the bands of non-representational patterns.
The prothesis in the handle zone of the Great Dipylon Amphora.
Prothesis is the word for the laying out of the corpse.  Already we see the women differentiated by their long skirts and a bereaved child at the head of the bier.  As Ernst Gombrich would emphasize in Art and Illusion, this is conceptual representation, to show what is happening, not how it looks.  The checker pattern over the corpse was indeed over the corpse, but it is not shown as a covering.  The zigzags in rows and the asterisks serve to prevent the figures' standing out too emphatically, to keep them in the surface design that embraces the whole pot.  They are not signifiers.  The greatest mistake, one easily corrected, is to suppose that the artist could not have drawn differently.  Introductory books commonly call the figures childish.  The corrective is either (a) to try to copy these figures or (b) to ask a child to draw a figure like these.  Suddenly you notice that The Dipylon Painter (and we give all the major painters these easily remembered names, just as good-sized moons of major planets get names) has managed without any detail at all to make us believe that these figures are mourners singing dirges at a wake.  And no two are actually alike.
The other Great Dipylon Amphora, a bit later, and showing the next stage
of the funeral, the ekphora, transporting the corpse to the cemetery
The figures are slightly livelier, some of them may have dots in circles for eyes in their heads, and the birds have feathered wings.  It's just a little looser.  The severe classic discipline of Geometric, as of many other stylistic movements, was too hard to maintain.  What with writing and Olympic games and even the first colonies, the Athenian world was becoming more exciting—and probably richer.
Sometimes, too (already in the 9th century with the granary and the granulated gold dangle earrings from the tomb of a wealthy woman in the Agora, illustrated in Boardman) we have found tomb groups of vases that are hard to look at otherwise than whimsically:
Berlin, St. Museen, Tomb group of fancy vases.  Beautifully fired black glaze-paint
(but also waxed to shine).  The hanging vases are in the shape of a basket and an ostrich egg.
Basic book:
John Boardman, Early Greek Vase Painting.  World of Art, 1998.  It is richly provided not only with annotated illustrations and excellent, essential chapters, but with charts, maps, notes, and bibliographies in the back.  There are translations, if needed, in half a dozen other languages.

In the next post I'll look at some less familiar pieces.
I've decided that pots are not exactly opera nobilia.  They aren't studied the same way, and they're all originals, and they are much more varied.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

To give some time to the other blog...

The Corinthian Chimaera Painter's Louvre lion plate
To give some time to the other blog, Opera Nobilia
Even without changing my mind, I don't want to leave the most recent posting here in Teegee: Essays an uncommonly negative review.  I know about the history of the Guthrie theater, and I can't imagine why they did what I reviewed.  To my astonishment, people keep reading it.  Well, sometimes it is necessary to say what one really thinks.  I would add only that I have no objection to making "A Comedy of Errors" (itself reworked from Plautus's "Menaechmi") into "The Boys from Syracuse", let alone taking "West Side Story" from "Romeo and Juliet", just to name two familiar examples, or even to Peter Sellars' putting Mozart into Manhattan and the Bronx.  The question is, whether it works, and, if it doesn't, why not, what is wrong?

I have been worrying over what I want to say about Economics and what I get from reading Theoretical Physics.  I keep reading and trying not to misunderstand (for, you know, I have practically no math).
I have a sense of the necessity of understanding both, at least as well as I can.  It matters, just as much as the arts matter.  But I need to think a week or so more before trying either subject.

But I promised to write something about Greek vase-painting, for Opera Nobilia, the subject that I do know something about, and I need time to find images that are not copyright and yet are not too poor to post publicly.  I have hundreds of images, but they are scattered in four computers and their external drives, and after I have found some which are usable, I have to decide what they might illustrate.  Since I took them myself, they are not just a lot of Examples.  And, so far as an introduction to the subject is concerned, I can list half a dozen basic books.

At the head of this posting, I share a plate that was in my MA thesis, which I shall not discuss now, fifty-five years later.  This Louvre plate re-oxidized in firing; that is why the glaze-paint that would be black is in this case red.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Arts in Minneapolis

Broadcast of HMS Pinafore from the Guthrie Theater
Even in the catalogue of Gilbert and Sullivan, there are few works as resilient as "Pinafore".  Sir Malcolm Sargent's is nice, certainly, but a school orchestra or even two pianos will serve, and I have heard it done by everything from Middle School children to Little Theater Groups to summer Opera, leaving apart the old D'Oyly Carte albums.  It can survive even singers who can't sing.

It cannot quite survive 'musical arrangements' that sound like bad imitations from "Trouble in Tahiti"or "Guys and Dolls".  It cannot stand, in addition, stage business, relentlessly, that make it look like "Saps at Sea" set in Lake Wobegon on "A Prairie Home Companion".  You could get arrested in Texas or Wyoming for some of its sexual stunts (not that minstrel shows mixed with burleykew on the road didn't do the like).  They just plain trashed it, as hard as they could, and quite obviously thought they were being new and bold.  Not.
They did keep most of W. S. Gilbert's most well known lines, but they cannot be said to have kept anything of Sir Arthur Sullivan.
I must make one exception: Peter Thomson as Sir Joseph Porter.  Graceful even when asked to do dumb things, musical in everything he sang.  Excellent, and quite horribly out of place.  After ten minutes, I had wondered what would happen when we got to "When I Was a Lad".  No problem.  If only Buttercup hadn't been so bad.

The cast besides kept falling into and out of the grossest imitations of Cockney that I ever heard; only Peter Thomson used Standard English.  How would it be if you did Oscar Wilde in the Ozarks?

The performance was far too broad to compare with "The Three Penny Opera".  Laurel and Hardy (as suggested above) was the closest I could think of, but the latter had far more art in their act.  Crudity demands great art.  The worst of this Guthrie thing was that they thought they were so awfully cute, and the orchestral arrangements the most so, the worst of all.  Oh, Jerome Kern, where are you now that we need you.
Maybe Cajun Louisiana isn't so bad, after all.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Other attempts in pocket photography

This is with the assertion that I do know that a professional or semi-professional DSLR with a carefully chosen lens and a tripod, and maybe even a ring flash (for the microscopic, especially) is the toolkit proper to the shots I've been playing with, I want to see what an advanced pocket camera can do.  It is my belief that most people don't even try to see what they CAN do (and that is not to vie with a kit that costs more than ten times as much).
In this post I venture to deal with very high-contrast basically dark circumstances and then with the very tiny, but without special lens or ring flash, let alone a highly manipulable tripod, yet avoiding (on the dark one) destroying the atmosphere of a dark room as really experienced.
The light I was staring at
During household rearrangement
It takes some thinking to update and rearrange, when the house has limited provision (even after re-wiring) for power supply, all of one's video and audio and IT that needs to work together.  Just take my word for it.  And don't ask what the mundane reality of this stuff is, though I'll vouch for the dark-stained pine planking of the floor.  The temporary placements are not exactly House Beautiful.
Taking a break from reading on a Kindle, for a coffee break, as the sun came in and out of scudding clouds, I was as usual loving my old house, just as it is.  And light I always love.  Could the pocket camera possibly accept photographing the darkness without losing every hint of detail where one window with its blinds tipped downwards shone on the polyurethane (of some kind) alternative to wax.
Logically, the only hope was to place the 4-spot reading in the largely light middle of the picture (this is not a post-cropped image), set shutter-delay, and hold my breath.  It worked.  I had hardly any work to do in Photoshop Levels.  The mistake would be to have the camera take the exposure (and focus) from the dark areas, thinking that you needed to get some detail there; you would lose the atmosphere that I was sitting in, and you would burn out the highlights while devotedly detailing the dusting rags.
In the Picasa album you can find two more, one of more of the room, one of only a detail.
Bugs and bits of leaves and...?
What I'd never taken a second look at
Though I've owned much larger and more expensive cameras, I'd never before had one (except for the Nikon D80 with its 1987 AF f. 2.8 macro lens, which I can't hold steady hand-held and which has mirror jerk and at a distance of inches has little depth of field) that I could take close-ups with, of objects like this chance accumulation that is on the siding of my front porch.  I had to be taught by the blog Naturally even to look at things of this kind (though neither am I prone to brushing them away).
On most computer screens the above subject, without zooming, is slightly larger than the real thing is.
And yet the pocket camera, not because it is affordable, not because it is tiny, but because the technology is so much farther advanced,  took it on first attempt.  All I had to do was use the Tulip and the Delay and hold my breath; actually it "took" at 1/25 sec.  I did crop it.  We didn't need any more white siding.  For scale, though, the visible width of my cypress siding is four inches (allow for slight foreshortening here).  It looks as if I have some small flies and spiders here, but which creature chopped up the leaves?
Please feel free to provide answers in the Comments, either here or in the Picasa album or by e-mail.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Criteria that aren't Judgments

What if all the others are just as good?
I don't know how to justify the need to know why I feel it is wrong for me to just take a lot of images of some objects that take my fancy, though the objects aren't much in their own right.  Of course, no one by accident takes a lemon outdoors; I needed something like pebbly rind in a bright color, and rounded, in case I wanted to set off, for example, this hunk of gray quartz or a red autumn leaf.  And the reference photo was taken not only to mark where the series began but its materials (medium sizes, not to exceed possible depth of field).  Yet this is no attempt to emulate one gradually rotting green pepper in an aluminum washbowl, over the course of several days!  At the other extreme, however, photographing or drawing or painting just therapeutically is never, I suspect, either really therapeutic or in the slightest degree like art.  My grandfather and my father taught me to use cameras, which I loved, and I have lots of friends and former colleagues who either are photographers or, like my grandfather, take their cameras seriously, rather in the way that people approach good cooking or good gardening.  It has to be done as well as possible to rank among the higher pleasures.  Anyway, it is depressing to think, "Well, I have nothing to do, so I'll just take some pictures".
I was feeling a little dissatisfied with just clustering  things close together, partly because it always works to some extent and partly because I got it from lots of Cézanne drawings.  That's no reason not to play with it once again, but could I also fulfill the classic instructional challenge to make the same or similar things relate in some necessary-seeming way but well apart from one another?  Can one re-actualize with today's tiny cameras assignments one was given to execute in conté crayon or cut paper nearly a century ago?  By re-actualize I mean, without using in post-processing tools to make new advertising art that looks like work done in old, manual techniques.  It must entail that old requirement of seeing as the camera sees—which itself is different today from it was with my grandfather's Rolleiflex and a roll of 80 ISO Kodak film.  And it's not as if Canon/ Nikon color behaves aesthetically like pigments and dies, either.
If I were a great photographer, my using the shadow of a cubical piece of quartz to relate it to the tip of the red leaf and the lemon, and the leaf's black shadow of its distinctive shape to emphasize the lemon, would be too obvious, but yesterday afternoon I wasn't sure that the camera would make the contrast strong enough and sharp enough.  So, when it opened in Photoshop, and I saw that it did, I wrote in the Title/Caption, "It worked!" Images 30–46 (Day 4), punctuated by another cat picture at the end show the afternoon's efforts.
Supposing I had a big DSLR with its best zoom lens, one from ~25mm to ~400mm, not only would it cost a couple of thousand dollars but, at my age, it is too hard to handle, and a tripod for it would preclude taking pictures like these.  The little camera can be managed with one hand.  My one better lens is a 'micro' (close-up, for coins) which, closer than a meter or two has very little depth of field at speeds that permit hand held exposure.  See the ones I tried with it.  I don't think that perfect focus from my nose all the way to Erewhon is necessary, or even always desirable, though the micro lens does get the wonder of crystalline structure better than the small one can.  What is worse, the SLR has a mirror that has the kick of a rifle, and that, too, has to be managed.  For some, the Fine Arts alternative is essential, for others the Optics alternative.  Neither is better, except for each visual mentality that makes images with cameras.  So I'll close with another one.  You may like another.  I rather like them all in one way or another.