You are on page 1of 4


More than just pretty pictures: red-figure

pottery production beyond Athens
Edward Herring∗

STINE SCHIERUP & VICTORIA SABETAI (ed.). The without proper provenance. Moreover, collections
regional production of red-figure pottery: Greece, Magna are skewed towards funerary and, to a lesser extent,
Graecia and Etruria (Gösta Enbom Monograph 4). sanctuary evidence, and away from material used in
358 pages, numerous colour and b&w illustrations. domestic contexts. The importance of iconography
2014. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press; 978-87-7124- and aesthetics means that museums tend to display
393-2 hardback £30. the most varied and beautiful vessels, ignoring much
T.H. CARPENTER, K.M. LYNCH & E.G.D. ROBINSON of the output of ancient workshops.
(ed.). The Italic people of ancient Apulia: new There is one further factor that shaped modern tastes
evidence from pottery for workshops, markets, and and, indirectly, scholarship: the recognition that many
customs. xvi+353 pages, 106 b&w illustrations. 2014. of the vases discovered in the cemeteries of ancient
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 978-1-107- Italy, and Etruria in particular, were of Athenian
04186-8 hardback £75 & $125. origin. Athens dominates our knowledge of Classical
Greece because so many of the surviving literary and
Red-figure pottery historical sources were written in Athens or for an
first achieved promi- Athenian readership. Consequently, Athenian vases,
nence in the modern by virtue of their association with the city-state came
world through anti- to be valued higher than those produced elsewhere.
quarianism and the The technical quality of Athenian vases cannot be
collection of souve- denied and, together with the power of Athens in
nirs on the Grand the fifth century BC, this goes a long way towards
Tour. This funda- explaining the popularity of these wares in antiquity.
mentally shaped the Athenian clays, when properly fired, produce an
scholarship of this intense orange-red, which could be enhanced by a
class of pottery. coat of miltos (red ochre), and a deep, shiny black
Vases were valued that adheres well to the vessel body. The contrast
for their completeness, their iconography— between the red and the black, which gives red-figure
scenes depicting Greek myth and literature being pottery its potency, is often best realised in Athenian
particularly prized—and their aesthetic qualities. work. The prioritising of Athenian vessels over the
Famous private collections were formed, many output of other workshops has meant that the latter
of which subsequently entered the world’s great have been less studied than the former. Moreover, as
museums. Less value was placed upon the vessels as Enlightenment tastes came to favour the restraint of
archaeological objects. The contexts in which they the fifth-century Classical style over what might be
were found, their associations with other objects termed the baroque exuberance of the fourth century,
and their roles in ancient society were given little so many regional productions, which only reached
consideration. The pursuit of intact vases led to a their heyday in the fourth century, came to be seen as
focus on cemeteries, and many discoveries were, and artistically debased, if not vulgar.
indeed continue to be, the result of looting. Thus, The Scheirup and Sebatai volume deals with some of
most museum collections are dominated by vessels the regional productions in Greece, Magna Graecia

College of Arts, Social Sciences, and Celtic Studies, National University of Ireland, Galway, University Road,
Galway, Republic of Ireland (Email:

C Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2015
ANTIQUITY 89 348 (2015): 1500–1502 doi:10.15184/aqy.2015.137

and Central Italy. The Greek productions—from address this material. The need for a thorough re-
Boeotia, Corinth, Euboea, Laconia, Ambracia and appraisal of Sicilian red-figure pottery has long been
Macedon—which are addressed in nine papers, recognised. Although this work is far from complete,
are all comparatively understudied and share other the three papers here make significant strides. They
similarities. They are relatively small productions demonstrate: the diversity of the early phases of
made for consumption in communities close to where Sicilian production, a diversity that did not endure
the vases were produced. Many are quite short- in subsequent phases; the probable impact of military
lived. The range of vase shapes produced is similarly and political history on production; the relationship
restricted. Often they would appear to have been to Athenian and other South Italian styles; and the
produced at centres making other kinds of pottery dating of the cessation of the local industry. Elia’s
and ceramics. For example, in Boeotia, black-figure paper deals with the red-figure pottery from Locri
pottery persisted long after it had been superseded Epizephyrii in Calabria, a production inspired by one
elsewhere; the rare production of bilingual vases in of the early Sicilian variants that did not endure on
the black- and red-figure techniques demonstrates the island. Production of red-figure pottery in Italy
that red-figure vessels were produced in the same seems to have begun in Metapontum, perhaps in
workshops that continued to make local black-figure the work of the Amykos Painter. Schierup begins to
wares. In many places, these red-figure productions unravel the intricacies of the early industry, in terms
seem to emerge either to replace Athenian imports of production, use, morphology and iconography.
that were becoming harder to obtain or to offer a Robinson’s paper, dealing with Apulian material,
locally produced substitute for Athenian wares for inevitably overlaps with the second volume under
those who might not have been able to afford the real review.
thing. These economic concerns cast light upon local What Beazley was to Athenian figure-pottery so
communities and their connectedness to each other Dale Trendall was to the red-figure productions of
and to Athens. The iconography tells us about local Magna Graecia and Sicily. He devoted his career
customs and preferences, thereby helping to create to identifying painters and workshops, extrapolating
a more nuanced picture of Greece in the Classical relationships between them. His fascination with
period. attribution was far greater than his interest in
The work of Sir John Beazley is still fundamental to archaeological context so, at times, provenances were
the study of Athenian and other Greek productions. not recorded in his extensive corpora, even when they
Similarly, his work on Etruscan vase-painting remains were known. This demonstrates how far scholarship
seminal. Etruscan red-figure is, in numerous ways, on red-figure pottery had become distanced from
similar to the output of the Greek regional workshops. standard archaeological research.
It is a comparatively limited production and takes Apulian production was a major industry. Almost
themes from Athens and adapts them, often radically, 14 000 vases were catalogued in the volumes by
for the local market. Athens, however, was not the Trendall and Cambitoglou (1978, 1982, 1983, 1992).
only influence on Etruscan red-figure, as it was Robinson (in Scheirup and Sebatai, p. 219, footnote
also indebted to the Apulian style from south-east 1) estimates that the surviving output could be almost
Italy. Two papers address Etruscan products. That by double that figure, as numerous vases have come to
Harari can be singled out, as it takes a traditional light since Trendall’s death.
scholarly concern, the interpretation of iconography,
Apulian red-figure pottery, which is the subject of the
and provides a fresh interpretive angle. By examining
volume edited by Carpenter, Lynch and Robinson,
the generic figures on the exterior of cups (kylikes)
has a number of distinguishing features. Some of
of the Tondo Class, he posits a fuller interpretation
the large vases show a stunning level of potting
of this group as a whole and of Etruscan attitudes

expertise. Unfortunately, the scale of the vessels, their

towards wine, erotic themes and funerary ritual.
iconography and the extensive use of plastic additions
The South Italian and Sicilian industries are quite are all somewhat anathema to modern tastes, leaving
different. These productions are more comprehensive, their technical prowess underappreciated. Thus, aside
in terms of the range of vases produced, and more from attribution, the study of Apulian red-figure
enduring, in some cases surviving into the period pottery has tended to focus on shapes derived from
after the Athenian industry had ceased production. indigenous South Italian pottery, the portrayal of
Six papers in the Scheirup and Sebatai volume indigenous people (mostly men) and the depiction

C Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2015


of rare myths and scenes from, or influenced by, The study of vase-painting has been severely
ancient Greek drama. All of these are interesting hampered by the history of collecting and the
topics but they address only a minority of vessels. resultant fuelling of the antiquities market by illegal
For example, those showing native men account for excavations. New excavations and fresh approaches
less than two per cent of the total published in to old evidence have transformed the field in
the main corpora. A vast amount of Apulian red- recent years. The sheer number of surviving vessels
figure pottery, especially that produced after c. 340 offers opportunities for statistical analyses that can
BC, consists of serial productions, mostly smaller contextualise even unprovenanced vases within the
vases often depicting female figures, Eros figures, wider output of an industry. The age of attribution
female heads and the like. We see similar phenomena studies has passed. Instead, this work has become
in other contemporary red-figure industries, not foundational to a new generation of scholars asking
just South Italy. Such material does not excite the fresh questions of these datasets. The papers in the
connoisseur and seldom looms large in museums two volumes reviewed here give a sense of how lively
displays. Nevertheless, such vases talk of a changing this scholarship has become and the potential it has
society and of a ceramic industry responsive to to unlock new knowledge about ancient producers,
that change. Among other topics that are now traders and consumers of figure pottery.
becoming the focus of productive research, explored
in the 13 chapters of this book, are: the relationship
with Early Lucanian pottery and the beginnings of References
the Apulian industry; identification of production
centres and Tarentum’s status within the industry; TRENDALL, A.D. & A. CAMBITOGLOU. 1978. The
red-figured vases of Apulia, 1. Early and Middle
the possibilities and limitations of archaeometric Apulian. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
approaches; chronology, the re-attribution of vases
– 1982. The red-figured vases of Apulia, 2. Late Apulian.
and the re-definition of relationships between painters Indexes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
and workshops in the light of finds from reliable – 1983. First supplement to the red-figured vases of Apulia
excavations; the differing roles that Apulian red-figure (BICS Supplement 42). London: Institute of
pottery played in Greek and indigenous contexts; Classical Studies.
customer selection in matters of morphology and – 1992. Second supplement to the red-figured vases of
iconography; and the histories of collecting and Apulia, 1–3 (BICS Supplement 60). London:
scholarship. Institute of Classical Studies.

C Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2015

Copyright of Antiquity is the property of Cambridge University Press and its content may not
be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's
express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for
individual use.