Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Red-Figure Kraters in the Age of Perikles

 The Spina Kraters (finally posted February 17th)

The political career of Perikles (b. 495 BCE) began in 461, but in the history of Greek art we mean the 430s, especially art that looks Parthenonian.  Yet the best place to see vases that look Periklean is in the Ferrara Museum, where the vases from the two great cemeteries of Spina, Etruscan burials far from the Etruscan heartland in Tuscany and even farther from Athens, where the vases were made; it is essential to remember how many of the great vases were made for export to the West.  Max Hirmer's photos of the Spina vases are under copyright, so I have put them in an album, accessible only from this link, for study only, as educational materials.  My color slides can support the points I want to make, but you need the Hirmer photos, too, since mine are with available light (in a palazzo), through glass, and pre-digital.  The notes in the captions are those once provided for my students.

Ferrara, from Spina, Valle Trebba, grave 617.  Calyx Krater by the Peleus Painter (Matheson, PE 1; Boardman 142--only a detail).  A, the Marriage of Peleus and Thetis, attended by the gods (all named in inscriptions); B, ordinary departure of warrior scene.  ca. 430, or a little later.  Compare the shapes of the calyx kraters of Euphronios and of the Niobid Painter; in each generation, the shape becomes a little slenderer

In linked album, see images nos. 34-46 and, for the beautiful fragments, nos. 17-21

Even more than in Archaic and Early Classical vase-painting, the art history of the large vases is different from that of small vase-shapes, such as those for personal use.  They are mostly kraters (that is, punch bowls, for mixing wine (too sweet, like Communion wine, and too strong for civilized drinking) and water; the very word, krater, means a mixing vessel.  Many of the finest ones belong to Beazley's Group of Polygnotos, who had come out of the mid-century Niobid Painter (nos. 7-8 in the linked album).  His younger companions, pre-eminently the Peleus Painter, named for this wonderful Marriage of Peleus and Thetis, do not stem directly from the Niobid Painter as Polygnotos had done, but, of course, some of their work and his are contemporary.  And, in any case, complex works must always be dated, relatively, according to their latest traits.  The Valle Trebba Peleus krater presupposes the completion of the cella frieze of the Parthenon.  Of course, the figures of Apollo and of Hekate (labeled) behind the horses look conservative compared with the group of Thetis, crowned by Eros, standing in the quadriga, and Peleus, crowned by Aphrodite at right, mounting the quadriga.  As a student, I worried over the difference.  Perhaps, however, by just this time, Delphic Apollo was losing his familiar character, with his mantic aspect consulted by heads of state, with his person so phoibos, glorious, even unapproachable, so much the exemplar of self-knowledge and moderation.  And here he is in the citharoedus type, besides.  Farnell surely was right to emphasize the popular, even rustic, character of Hermes.  Besides, in composing this scene, the Peleus Painter may have had in mind for Apollo and Hekate images of his boyhood that he particularly liked.  The active drapery, the turning movements, and the plumper faces of the group at right not only presuppose the most venturesome groups in the Parthenon frieze but we must remember how much we have lost, especially major painting for which Polygnotos of Thasos (an adoptive Athenian) was so famous.  If several vase-painters signed with his name, it may be simply that he was the artist of the age, its Raphael, say.  As indicative of the rapid and profound changes in Greek art (which is to say, in what became Western art) between, approximately, the 560s and the 430s, compare that earlier Marriage of Peleus and Thetis by Kleitias on the François Vase.  Do, please, click on the links, to study the fine detail photos needed for appreciation. 
Noting the beautiful drawing (in the relief line of vase-painting for the contours), see the Peleus Painter's fragments of a volute krater.  The use of diluted glaze-paint to shade the inside of the ear shows the influence of full-color panel painting, encaustic on gessoed wood and water-base paint on walls, of his time.


Ferrara, from Spina, Valle Pega, grave 57.  Volute krater, decorated in two registers, by the Kleophon Painter (pupil of the Peleus Painter) in the late period of the Group of Polygnotos.  This vase is Matheson Kl 1 and Boardman 171.  On the front (A), a procession honoring Apollo; on the back (B) the Return of Hephaistos (see also his pelike in Munich for this subject).  All his work show the same graceful fluency in the lines.   Here you see Apollo in his shrine flanked by tripods and the omphalos at the left; he holds laurel rather than a scepter and his archer's quiver hangs above.  The young sacrificial bulls have curly pates and sweet bovine expressions.

In the linked album, see nos. 10-16

Several scholars have observed that the Kleophon Painter (for some of his other work, see Boardman's Attic Red-Figure: the Classical Period) is above all else working in the mood and manner of the Parthenon frieze.  His style is fluent, skillful, lovely.  His figures are always in proportion.  He draws as well as the Peleus Painter, and Beazley in particular was partial to his work.  The young sacrificial bulls  epitomize the Kleophon Painter.  He always reminds me of the Agorakritan stele of a youth holding one pet bird in his left hand and raising a cage (which held another/) in his right, well above the cat  sitting on top of a stele.  Against the stele leans a small boy (and we have no way of knowing whether he is a little brother, a servant, or the son of the deceased; unless old enough to wear a full beard and have a walking staff to lean on, the deceased is usually shown as ideally young.  The child is mourning over incomprehensible death (Greek religion, of course, did not deal in rewards and punishments, and its idea of death became medieval limbo, but loss is loss).  Some art historians have thought that, after the Parthenon was dedicated, a sculptor like Agorakritos might have been available, to those who could afford him and appreciate his work,  to make very fine grave stelai, this one in particular.  The Kleophon Painter was finely attuned to this style.

The Athens NM stele of a youth mourned by a boy evidently protecting his pet bird(s)--one in hand and another perhaps in the cage that he hold out of reach of the cat sitting on the stele.  Because the style is so evocative of the east frieze of the Parthenon, it has been thought that, once the great job was done, Agorakritos, the pupil of Pheidias usually identified in the style of the east frieze, may have been available for such an exceptionally fine stele as this one, which in any case has a relative dating in the decade after the friezes.  Cats are rare in Greek art.  Also, it is worthwhile to remind ourselves that we don't know whether the child is his servant, a young brother, or even his son, since ideal youthfulness of the deceased is maintained until he is fully bearded, middle-aged.

The religious scene on this krater is also extremely interesting.  In a shrine that looks like earlier Doric, and perhaps even of wood rather than stone, the statue of Apollo is seated, relaxed, in 3/4 view, much as the Achilles Painter's deceased woman is (linked album, image no. 1), his elbow leaning on the back of his throne.  Instead of a scepter, he holds a long staff that sprouts laurel leaves and wears a laurel crown.  As an archer, he has his quiver hung  in front of him.  The Delphi omphalos is in front of him, behind his staff, and behind that is a great tripod.  There is another tripod at right, and we notice that its Doric capital is decorated with hanging leaves (perhaps leaf and dart is intended, and we remember the decorated capitals of the Old Hera Temple ("Basilica") at Paestum.  But a column is implied; this second tripod stands on a column.  If this is Delphi, and we have seen the remains there of the Temple of Apollo, we realize that it is one of fair Greece's saddest relics.  Delphi was a very rich place.  The priest, laurel crowned, guides the sacrifice; beside his acolyte we have an excellent representation of a standing incense burner.  The young woman may be a kanephoros (canephorus), the basket bearer (though the later figures called canephori carry something different-shaped); it is one of those fancy traditional utensils that indeed are called baskets (kanoûn, plural kanna) for carrying grain or other food offerings in a religious ceremony.  All my life I have wondered which came first: the religious or the theatrical use of elaborately patterned, woven or embroidered, or both, overgarments, like that worn by this maiden with loose hair.  This shrine would not be the principal one at Delphi, so, I suppose, the Delphic cult carried out somewhere else.
Ferrara, from Spina, Valle Trebba, grave 128.  Volute krater, Group of Polygnotos (without attribution to one hand or another).  Cult scene of chthonic and orgiastic character--with no labels!  Whether the deities are Sabazios and Kybele (Boardman), or Dionysos-Hades and Artemis-Hekate (Arias), or some aspect of Hades and Persephone is much debated, but the orgiastic and initiatory character of the worship is evident.  Arias' attribution to Polygnotos himself has never been accepted, and now this great vase is attributed to the Curti Painter, in the Group of Polygnotos

In the linked album, nos. 22-29

The volute krater shape becomes increasingly top-heavy, with curiously offset handles.  The figures, for which see the individual photos in the linked album, show that the ceremony is orgiastic and the figures of the seated pair of deities in a shrine (surely wooden here, given its proportions) have attributes that are plainly chthonic (earthly with roots in the underworld) rather than heavenly or Olympian.  The bearded god does not have a cuddly expression and a snake is entwined in his headband.  The goddess has a living lion on her left shoulder, supported on her hand.  Both deities hold scepters; these are rulers of their realms.  Athens had lots of cults of every kind (though these need not be Athenian or even Attic), but not on the Acropolis and often not even within the city walls.
In recent decades we have become used to people saying, "Now we are freer and more expressive; now we can give rein to our most primitive feelings."  The novelist Rose Macaulay in a novel covering four generations of a family (the BBC and PBS should get hold of this one), "Told by an Idiot" (1924, nearly a century ago) gently teased the younger generation for their assumptions about the repression of their grandparents in contrast to the license they enjoyed.  It still is fun to read, but I mention it here because I have read so many hundreds of essays and term papers in which students blithely date things according to the degree of license they exhibit, not only in subject matter but in the action they try to represent.  Now, the Curti Painter, as he is called, on the back of this vase (nos. 25-29 in the Album), freely bends and distorts to give a most believable picture of orgiastically enthusiastic dancing.  'Enthusiastic' means that the gods in question are really into them, or they are into the gods, as some of us have seen at revival meetings, for example.  But I doubt that this krater is very much later than the otther two we have just considered, and it is the shape of the top of the vase more than the dancing figures that makes me lower it a bit relatively.  The drapery sways wildly but the lines to render it do not look so late as, say the Dinos Painter (Boardman, Classical, fig. 177).

Ferrara, from Spina.  Not illustrated in Arias and Hirmer.  It is an excellent example of the use (not new at this date, of course) of elements like relief ribbing borrowed from metalwork.  After all, even the scroll handles of volute kraters had been metallic originally.  Also, here you have in vase-painting a Centauromachy  easily half a century later than the famous one at Olympia, with the drunken centaur party crashers grasping and otherwise attacking the Thessalian women at the wedding of Perithoos, the boon companion of Theseus.  Quite post-Periklean, abandoning gravitas in favor of action, it reminds us more of the frieze from Bassae, now in the British Museum

Finally, just to show a style that really does look later, which you can compare with sculptured friezes, and signed vases such as those by the Meidias Painter,  that really can be dated late in the fifth century, when the Peloponnesian War was going quite badly (yes, everyone should read Thucydides), I show this Centauromachy.

And last, though I have no color photo to use for its kind, let us remember the great kraters that abandon the use of friezes altogether.  Of these, the krater illustrated in the linked album, nos. 17-21:

Ferrara, from Spina (unknown grave number).  Calyx krater.  This is one of the vases attributed by P. E. Arias to the Group of Polygnotos, which is not so attributed by Beazley or by S. B. Matheson in her book, Polygnotos and Vase-Painting in Classical Athens, Wisconsin, 1995.  It is, however, like some of the work properly attributed to that Group in evidently emulating major panel or mural painting of its generation.  Dating in the 430s seems appropriate.


In addition to the books listed in the last posting, on the Brygos Painter, see
• N. Alfieri, P. E. Arias, and Max Hirmer, Spina, Munich, Hirmer Verlag, 1958
• Susan B. Matheson, Polygnotos and Vase Painting in Classical Athens, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1995
• adding, for Boardman, the volume for The Classical Period, World of Art, Thames and Hudson (for the English edition), 1989.