Archaeology and Art.
Moral integrity may seem a peculiar virtue to identify in an
archaic Athenian vase-painter especially in one about whose life we know
next to nothing. But if his attributed output truly reflects the mind
and soul of Exekias, then it is hard to resist saluting what appears to
be a consistency of decent and dignifying purpose on the artist's
part. That is clear enough from his vases. It is equally vivid on a
series of funerary plaques he painted around 540 B.C. for the decoration
of an Athenian family grave. Though these have been in Berlin since 1875
(minus a few extra fragments), only now have they been given the
thorough publication they deserve. Heide Mommsen's (**) Exekias:
die Grabtafeln(1) is just the first volume of her commitment to publish
all the works of Exekias; in quantity the terracotta plaques are not
many, but there is no question that they deserved this volume to
themselves. The subject is sober (the stages of a prothesis), the
execution both spare and fastidious as usual with Exekias: the scatter
of names (and nicknames) for the divers figures, however, adds a sense
of direct and appropriate familiarity. Those who cannot countenance a
vase-painter above a servile station will find disturbing evidence here
of social climbing. As Mommsen concludes, Exekias has here supplied a
threnody of images every bit as poised and poignant as a poet's
commissioned lament. The investment of humble terracotta surfaces with
signifiers of eschatology is further explored by Herbert Hoffmann in his
(B)(**)Sotades, Symbols of Immortality on Greek Vases.(2) But though he
started his academic career in Germany in very much the same sort of
scholarly mould as Heide Mommsen, Hoffmann's approach is now much
diverged. As he relates in his confessional preface to this book, he
began writing about the Attic red-figure painter Sotades in the 1970s in
a conventionally aesthetic way -- attribution, stylistic refinements,
and so on. Then came a dramatic conversion. It was all very well playing
what some call the `society game' of Greek vase connoisseurship:
but what do the objects themselves mean? Hoffmann came to Britain and
threw himself enthusiastically into the study of social anthropology
with Edmund Leach and others, graduating to J.-P. Vernant's group
in Paris. In 1977 he published a monograph on the theme of sacrifice on
Athenian askoi, using systems theory analysis -- extraordinary at the
time. Twenty years on his methodology has virtually become orthodox, or
at least widespread, in Greek vase studies. Years ago, an hour-long
visit from the converted Hoffmann completely cured me of practising
attributionism with Etruscan painted vases; or rather, he convinced me
that meaning was more important than authorship in ancient art. Though I
wish he had made his mind up whether to talk of `Sotades' or `the
Sotades Painter' in this book, the various essays collected here
demonstrate the range and utility of Hoffmann's humane search for
connections between images and society in ancient Greece. Of course it
helps greatly as a foundation, to have established (on traditional
attributionist grounds) a corpus of vases coherent in terms of their
production; the exploration of significance built upon that is
invariably interesting (even when one may not agree with it), and the
footnotes in particular display the sort of relativistic learning common
enough in anthropology -- but which rarely enlightens classical
pedantry. To say that Hoffmann's approach is widespread does not
mean that everyone adheres to it. One vase-painting specialist who
unrepentantly refuses to engage with the symbolism or significance of
ancient images is R. M. Cook, who with Pierre Dupont has produced a
handbook of (**)East Greek Pottery.(3) It is true that the formulaic
nature of much of the decoration in East Greek styles such as `Wild
Goat' and `Fikellura' might defy the application of more than
the most elementary iconographic analysis. But this is not true for
other groups of East Greek material, such as the black-figured
sarcophagi associated with Clazomenai, or the so-called `Caeretan
hydriai'. As a key to recognizing different fabrics (Dupont's
contribution is to classify by morphology and clay analysis the
undecorated trade amphorae of East Greek manufacture), this book will be
found useful by the small number of students who need to know a piece of
Lydian Middle Wild Goat when it turns up in excavation. To those more
generally interested in archaic Greek art, Cook's menu of nothing
but commentary on style and minor shifts of repertoire must seem jaded,
hardly short of sterility. If this is all so much meaningless ornament,
to be sorted merely as `fine', `clumsy', and so on, then why
study it? No one wants a return to invoking some mystical `Ionian'
genius: but given that the period of most prolific ceramic output from
East Greece was the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., some attempt to
understand the cultural context of these vases would have been
pertinent. The Western Greeks get their attention in Peter Danner's
(**)Westgriechische Akrotere.(4) Again there might be the temptation to
describe akroteria as `ornamental' or even `secondary
ornament' in the scheme of temple design but Danner accords
religious importance to such pieces, even if he does not explore it
thoroughly here. The task this book sets itself is to present a
catalogue of colonial akroterial fragments according to figures and
patterns. Danner's previous work on akroteria of the mother-states
is thereby complemented. It was wise not to have grouped production
according to locality, for we know that sculptors engaged in this sort
of commission did not care whether they worked in Paestum one month,
Syracuse the next. Those who have visited the temple complexes at
Paestum and Agrigento may not be surprised to learn that Danner's
catalogue is relatively small: for the Western Greeks favoured or
tolerated unadorned temple architecture in a way that a mainland Greek
might have taken as parsimonious. In themselves the surviving akroteria
are not much cause for excitement. But the catalogue may be most keenly
utilized by followers of Etruscan and Italic art -- furnishing as it
does essential South Italian comparanda for the more ambitious
akroterial programmes displayed on Etrusco-Italic temples from the early
sixth century B.C. onwards. Greek sculpture gets the treatment we have
come to expect from Brunilde Ridgway in her (B)(**)Fourth-Century Styles
in Greek Sculpture.(5) The chronological progression of her studies is
irregular the last volume was entitled Hellenistic Sculpture I, implying
that a second monograph on Hellenistic sculpture is forthcoming: but
this is not it, dealing instead with the overtures to the Hellenistic
period as conventionally inaugurated (i.e., from the death of Alexander
in 323 B.C.). Though readers will need to know a fair amount about the
sculpture of the period to follow the text, they will find Ridgway
methodical, comprehensive, painstaking, and fair and as always alert to
the possibilities of stylistic gamesmanship on the part of later
sculptors in recreating bygone features (and thus setting traps for
modern scholars). In a particular useful `case study', Ridgway
sanely argues against the over-attribution of works to Lysippos or even
the `Lysippan' manner. On the question of identifying `great
masters' at all she is diplomatically cautious. Granted that she is
addressing `styles' in Greek sculpture, however, I would still
lodge the obvious complaint (from me) that too little interest is shown
in the subject-matter of the sculptures discussed. The question of
whether Praxiteles himself made the Hermes with baby Dionysos at Olympia
is of limited resolution. Might we not be offered some speculation as to
why it was made -- for the Choes and Anthesteria festival, perhaps? Now
to matters mainly Roman. The `marblemania' of the 6th Duke of
Devonshire and his predecessors is celebrated in the definitive new
guide to the Chatsworth sculpture collection, (**)Die antiken Skulpturen
in Chatsworth.(6) The travels of `the Bachelor Duke' can be mapped
according to the provenance of pieces -- from Terracina, Cumae, Paestum,
Agrigento, and so on; his admiration for and friendship with the
neoclassical sculptor Canova perhaps made it inevitable that Roman
imitations of Greek classical style were favoured acquisitions, though a
few earlier pieces came into the collection. Imperial portraits are a
notable strength of the assemblage; but perhaps even more notable is its
relatively intact state as a part of British aristocratic history.
Amongst the Chatsworth busts is a rare head of Domitian: rare because
not many of that emperor's images survived his damnatio memoriae.
But was Domitian as bad as he was (so to speak) painted? This is one of
the questions raised in Robin Darwall-Smith's engagingly written
(B)(**)Emperors and Architecture: a Study of Flavian Rome.(7)
Domitian's philhellenism certainly emerges alongside his vigorous
megalomania, with a tempering effect though he inherited the Colosseum
from Vespasian and Titus, Domitian himself was more enthusiastic to see
Greek-style athletics than bestial spectacula. After the excess of
scholarly attention paid to Augustus it is a relief to see Flavian
patronage seriously studied. Though on the whole the book is for
specialist readers, its summary of the design and functions of the
Colosseum is just one of several sections that is accessibly expounded.
No less maligned in historiography than Domitian is Herod the Great,
Judaea's king from 44 to 4 B.C. It is no redemption of mass
infanticide to document the beauty and ambitions of Herodian
architecture in the Middle East and elsewhere (including Greece). But D.
W. Roller's (B)(**)The Building Program of Herod the Great(8) is a
positive evaluation of Herod's rule as judged by the monumental
evidence. As a book it deserved a more handsome and more abundantly
illustrated format small half-tones do not convey the grandiose scale of
Herod's schemes. Shrewd fiscal policy, combined with delicate
shifts of allegiance to the varying power-brokers in Rome, made the
basis of Herod's endowment; he added the largesse of committing his
own personal fortune to certain works (such as the Temple at Jerusalem).
Caesarea is one site where recent excavation perm a substantial
reassessment of Herod's Romanizing effect. The poise of the
Jerusalem Temple, acknowledged as exceptional by Jews and Gentiles
alike, we are left to imagine: it seems to have matched the best
architecture of Augustan Rome. But from our own century there is proof
that the love of classical values in architecture is quite compatible
with insensate political savagery. In summary, (**)Roman Portraits:
Artistic and Literary(9) publishes the proceedings of a conference held
in 1989: despite the time-lag, the various contributions are mostly
distinguished and useful; and the parallels drawn between plastic,
pictorial, numismatic, and literary craftsmanship are valuable. J.T.
Smith's (B)(**)Roman Villas: a Study in Social Structure(10) is a
dense and rather dull compendium of Roman provincial villa plans,
disappointingly short of the expectations raised by its subtitle. There
is no awareness of the articulation of social status in Roman domestic
space as explored by Wallace-Hadrill and others; to study the floor
plans and nothing but the floor plans in the end seems a myopic project.
Paul Bidwell's (B)(*)Book of Roman Forts in Britain(11) is a
workable survey of the accommodation logistics of the Roman army in
Britain, effectively incorporating the Vindolanda material into a
province-wide picture. But I fear I cannot find much in Jennifer
Laing's (B)(*)Art and Society in Roman Britain(12) to commend it as
a fresh overview. The standard of the illustrations is erratic; the text
seems as a wraith of Martin Henig's The Art of Roman Britain
(1.) Exekias I: die Grabtafeln. Kerameus Band 11. By Heide Mommsen.
Philipp von Zabern, Mainz, 1997. Pp. xii + 78, with 4 colour and 40
black-and-white illustrations. DM. 148.
(2.) Sotades. Symbols of Immortality on Greek Vases. By Herbert
Hoffmann. Oxford U.P., 1997. Pp. xvii + 205, with 108 illustrations.
70.00 [pounds sterling].
(3.) East Greek Pottery. Routledge Readings in Classical
Archaeology. By R. M. Cook and Pierre Dupont. Routledge, London and New
York, 1997. Pp. xxix + 226, with illustrations. 50.00 [pounds sterling].
(4.) Westgriechische Akrotere. Salzburger Studien zur Archaologie.
By Peter Danner. Philipp von Zabern, Mainz, 1997. Pp. 163, with 40
(5.) Fourth-Century Styles in Greek Sculpture. By Brunilde Sismondo
Ridgway. Duckworth, London, 1997. Pp. xviii + 400, with 86 plates and 22
illustrations. 45.00 [pounds sterling].
(6.) Die antiken Skulpturen in Chatsworth. Monuments Artis Romanae
XXVI. By Dietrich Boschung, Henner von Hesberg, and Andreas Linfert.
Philipp von Zabern, Mainz, 1997. Pp. 149, with frontispiece, 2 colour
and 122 black-and-white illustrations, and 15 figures. DM. 198.
(7.) Emperors and Architecture: a Study of Flavian Rome. Coll.
Latomus Vol. 231. By Robin Haydon Darwall-Smith. Latomus, Brussels,
1996. Pp. 337, with 69 plates and 1 map. Paper BFr. 2,200.
(8.) The Building Program of Herod the Great. By Duane W. Roller.
University of California Press, 1998. Pp. xvii + 351, with 48
photographs, 1 drawing, 15 maps, and 14 tables. 37.50 [pounds sterling].
(9.) Roman Portraits. Artistic and Literary. Edited by Jan Bouzek
and Iva Ondrejova. Philipp von Zabern, Mainz, 1997. Pp. 130, with 36
(10.) Roman Villas, a Study in Social Structure. By J. T. Smith.
Routledge, London and New York, 1997. Pp. xxxiii + 378, with 76 figures.
60.00 [pounds sterling].
(11.) Book of Roman Forts in Britain. English Heritage. By Paul
Bidwell. Batsford/English Heritage, London, 1997. Pp. 128, with 12
colour plates and 80 illustrations. Paper 15.99 [pounds sterling].
(12.) Art and Society in Roman Britain. By Jennifer Laing. Sutton,
Stroud, 1997. Pp. ix + 188, with illustrations, 19.99 [pounds sterling].
((*) denotes that a book is specially recommended for school
libraries; (**) that it is suitable for advanced students only; (B)that
a bibliography is included.)