Saturday, November 26, 2011

Homage to the Berlin Painter

The Berlin Painter
When we turn from fine but ordinary trade pottery to the masterpieces of the best Athenian vase painters, whom many scholars and critics already have studied closely, we feel that we need to take them one at a time, even one vase at a time, rather than in a survey.  Of no artist is this truer than of the Berlin Painter.

• The best place to begin is again, Sir John Boardman, Athenian Red Figure Vases: The Archaic Period, World of Art, 1975, reprinted several times with the publisher varying in successive decades and different languages.  The illustrations are from no. 143 to no. 161, and his discussion, pp 94–111 (including the unnumbered pages of images) is excellent.  The additional notes on p. 238 summarize almost all those given by Beazley in ARV2 and Paralipomena.

• The largest selection of pictures is in Perseus (many pages to scroll through):

• Sir John Beazley's articles on the Berlin Painter are listed at the heading for this artist in his Attic Red-Figure Vase-Painters, 2nd ed., Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1962, Ch. 15, pp. 196–214, updated (pp. 341–345) in his Paralipomena, 1971, for Ch. 15.  I do not have the second volume, by Carpenter, of Paralipomena, but for this well studied artist its references can wait.  When Beazley wrote on his best loved artists it was with great care and discernment.  The writing is not flowery or excessive in any other way, but it is worth reading for its own sake and many times over.  Repeatedly, as new vases appeared to be discussed, over three quarters of a century he wrote on the Berlin Painter, and all of it will repay close and thoughtful reading.
* * * * *
In 2002 with my first digital camera I was in Berlin.  I could not photograph the whole vase properly (and I knew that publications existed that do so), but I saw that I could capture some aspects of the name vase, the Berlin Amphora itself, that the books did not reveal: the texture of the clay and glaze-paint, the difference between the brushed lines (either really black or diluted to honey color) and the relief lines, and the effect of light on them.  The photos are far from professional, having been taken to supplement professional ones.  Glass cases and incident light also limited what I could do, but they were taken with available light and so convey something of the reality of the drawing and the pottery.
The main side of the Berlin Amphora (Boardman, no. 144,
Beazley ARV2, no. 1 (Berlin, St.Mus. 2160)
This is elegance of the highest order.  Other artists have not superimposed and contrasted the rustic satyr and the divine young Hermes in this way, with the fawn's scumbled coat (done with diluted glaze-paint) separating them.  The elongation of the bodies also is of a new kind.
The reverse side (B) of the Berlin Amphora.
On the back of the vase (and large vases usually do have a major and a minor side), the satyr looks a little inebriated.  The Berlin Painter as much as any artist at this date (the first decade of the fifth century, as carefully calculated from a great deal of cross-referencing), is just mastering the foreshortened shoulder of a body in profile.
In both photos, though, you can see how glaze-paint was applied more thickly around the contours to set off the figures clearly and how a relief line, using thick glaze-paint, is used for the main outlines and enables showing the strings of the lyre, black on black!  The plectrum in the satyr's left hand is done in that added purplish red.  Notice that, as every writer has observed, these satyrs are not hugely phallic.  Evidently, though Greek art seems never to have been ashamed of sex, urbanity is preferred.
You can study for yourselves and marvel at all the means used by the Berlin Painter to distinguish the overlapping figures on (A) from each other.
Leaving aside the question of whether the very early works that subsequent to the main list were added as juvenilia of the Berlin Painter are, or are not, really his, work like his namepiece are themselves Early.  This is worth noting because he continued to work down to about 460 BCE.
LouvreG192-ARV2 160 :DSCN2192.JPG
Herakles and Iphikles and the snakes
A stamnos (whether or not we use the name exactly as the ancients did) is in effect a wide-mouthed amphora (i.e., a wine vessel) with sturdy horizontal handles for lifting.  This one by the Berlin Painter shows Athena attending the diverse reactions of the infant Herakles and his fraternal twin to the snakes that had crawled into their bed (a couch, though children's mythologies usually say 'cradle').  The drawing is noticeably broader than on the Berlin Amphora, a decade or more earlier, but the reason that Athena looks more Archaic than the other women is that just at this time, when the generic style in Greek art turned more natural and sober, they began to deliberately retain Archaic or somewhat Archaic types for their deities—even while art generically Archaic was still quite alive and Early Classical (or "Severe") art was only developing.  With hindsight, we recall that in Christian art in the course of the 15th century the Virgin Mary continued to wear a European (more Netherlandish in the North) kind of Byzantine clothing, while, in the Gupta period in India, the physical appearance of the historical Buddha also had become fixed.
The Louvre is the greatest place for taking pictures, and this one exhibits particularly well the same technical traits, in the use of thick paint, relief lines, normal brush-drawn lines, and dilute glaze (N.B., Herakles was blond as a baby!).
Louvre G 371  Stamnos  Triptolemos  Evid. ARV2 158  "Late"  The Addenda on p. 1633 add another illus. in Recueil
Dugas, pl. 30, 2.  It is at about this stage that the Achilles  Painter learns from the Berlin Painter.

Yet another stamnos in the Louvre has one of the favorite subjects in Attic red figure of the first half of the 5th century: Demeter and Persephone with their torches, pouring a libation for Triptolemos as he sets out in his winged chariot (its team of snakes to pull it is not shown here).  This is still the Berlin Painter; we have, as you can see in the lists and read in Boardman, hundreds of works of his, enabling endless comparing and cross-referencing.  This is his late work, probably not earlier than c. 470 BC (I'd say, in the 460s).  He does not radically change his habits of rendering drapery and the figure, but we should note that younger artists, his disciples, such as the Providence Painter, Hermonax, and, most important of all, the Achilles Painter are already working at the same time.  As for the Achilles Painter, he will be the teacher of the Phiale Painter who worked in the 430s.
They are a continuum, but another artist, trained in a different workshop, that of Myson from which a whole group of Mannerists issued (Beazley, ARV2, pp. 237–238), was, as Beazley said, a Mannerist "but far above them: an exquisite artist".  No doubt about his training with Myson, but the Pan Painter  obviously admired and emulated the Berlin Painter, and by preference the Early Berlin Painter.  This is interesting because it shows that these artists took themselves and their colleagues seriously, as artists, not merely as competitors.
By the way, you will have noticed that among those mentioned above, only Hermonax and Myson are known by their signing their names.  Can the great Berlin Painter have been illiterate?  Could have been.  Or so refined that he didn't like labels all over the place.  Quite possibly.  The same answers might apply to the Pan Painter (Boardman, nos. 335–349), but not to hacks.  Yes, there were hacks.  So also in the Renaissance, in Cubism, you name it; there always are.  
Also, remember that, by the time the Pan Painter decorated the great bell krater in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (Boardman, no. 335) habitually Archaic art was a thing of the past; the Pan Painter had to re-create it for himself.  Also, even a mannerist isn't always a mannerist: the Busiris pelike in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (Boardman, no. 336), as vigorous, as hilarious, as it is masterly, isn't manneristic at all.  And, if you want to know what Greeks thought of circumcision, just study it: as neat a piece of racial/ethnic profiling as exists anywhere.

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