Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Eroticism on "the Grecian Vases from Stamnos"

Yes, the Stamnos is interesting!
The title of this Post is from p. 95 of The Age of Insight: the Quest to understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present, by Eric R. Kandel.  NY, Random House, 2012.
When atomic scientists are lecturing on the results of their work at the Gizeh pyramids, or when neuroscientists are writing about ancient art, the humanities types should pay close attention.  At the end of this little essay, I'll say why.
Very early stamnos.  Oltos. BM E437 from Cervetri.  ARV2, p.54, 5.  Signed by Pamphaios as potter.  The Painter is Oltos, and the subject is Herakles wrestling Acheloos.  The stamnos is a vessel that can be covered but not sealed.  Its horizontal handles are for lifting it, and its broad foot is for stability.  In other words, it is a type of krater (assuming that you mixed some water with the wine, if, that is, you take the name very strictly), rather than an amphora.  We aren't sure that the ancients would have used the word stamnos for it.
First let me say something about Stamnos, though it is not that I know of any new inscriptional evidence as to whether specialists in Greek vase-painting have been using the word as the ancient Greeks used it.

Chicago, Art Institute.  Stamnos, mid-5th century BCE, namepiece of the Chicago Painter, a follower of the Villa Giulia Painter.  The ivy wreaths, the stamnos represented on one, the kantharos, Dionysos's cup, all place this among August Frickenhaus's Lenäenvasen, where it is pl. 4.  But this photo was made for the big exhibit of Greek Vase-Painting in Midwestern Collections (text by Warren Moon and Louise Berge), 1979.
Concentrated in the Early Classical and Classical periods, a number of red-figure stamnoi are decorated with depictions of a women's wine festival, quite consistently though some more exhaustively than others.
Snapshot from pl. 103 of Masterpieces of Greek Drawing and Painting, in its turn from De Witte and then Frickenhaus, Lenaeenvasen, Berlin, 1912, no. 13: ARV2, p. 1019, no. 82, where its new location and number, Warsaw 142465 (ex Czartoryski 42) are given.  The vase itself is a stamnos and, as usual, in the ritual represented, a stamnos is represented used in it.  The Phiale Painter is the youngest fine pupil of the Achilles Painter.  Whether the festival shown is the Lenaea or one of the parts of the Anthesteria it involves opening and ladling out of stamnoi, and whether by its ivy leaves or the baby Dionysos (here tended by women representing nynphs) or by the pillar image of Dionysos, it is a women's festival concerned with wine, and the thin (so probably wooden) column, as well as the literary sources, point to a country site.
All show the stamnos vase-shape on a stamnos-shape vase (this unrolled drawing is from a stamnos).  Where a woman holds a baby, it is universally agreed, she is being a nymph holding the infant Dionysos.
Snapshot of the Naples Stamnos no. 2419 of the Dinos Painter, a pupil of the Kleophon Painter, from Arias & Hirmer pl. 206.  This shows all the details that occur repeatedly on Frickenhaus's Lenaeenvasen.  It has been reproduced repeatedly; down to 1962 alone, see ARV2, pp. 1151-2, no. 2.  You have the pillar image, with its ivy and bread. the stamnoi on a table with the ladles used for dipping out the wine into skyphoi (not kylixes, which are for indoor banquets), the thyrsoi, the tympana. the maenads (women cutting loose--and notice that while one of the Late Archaic vases is usually taken to illustrate this festival, it is this one that is as near as makes no difference to Euripides' Bacchae).  This is a festival that could get sticky and smelly with all that new wine, but despite the déshabille, there are hundreds of Greek vase-paintings better qualified to represent 'eroticism'
A collection of these vase-paintings was studied by August Frickenhaus in 1912, in one of the Berlin Winckelmannsprogramme volumes.  I once did a report on these, but I don't have the volume available here.  The four I do show will suffice.  Beazley follows Frickenhaus in calling the festival the Lenäea (because it seems to be cognate with lenos, a wine vat), but others have thought it is the opening of the new wine in the Fall and part of the Anthesteria.  Either choice will do for what I need to say here.
Of course, I am always shocked to see a scientist make a booboo as bad as any art historian or classicist could make about science.  It was drilled into my head when I was young (and at Berkeley, just downhill from the Rad Lab--but, no, I am not related to Ernest Lawrence), that scientists would regard us art historians as bubble heads if we were not reasonably empirical and conscientiously exact.  They always were confusing us with museum docents!  But Gombrich seemed unaware that we had considered the importance of conceptual and visual / optical / illusionistic art, intellectually considered, long before his admirable book appeared (and drew the lines somewhat differently: he needn't agree, but I'd been taught not to overlook the bibliography that did not so much appeal to me); he didn't even know that the Apollo of Piombino, for example, was not Archaic but Archaizing.  And, though E. R. Curtius did know Greek and knew it very thoroughly, of course, his translator, Willard Trask, did not always distinguish nu and upsilon or sigma and omicron, or, if he did, had not bothered to check the English edition before it went through several editions.
This is the sort of thing that we humble humanists do notice.  I am always afraid to say anything about physics or mathematics, lest I insult scientific thought or make an ass of myself--or, worse, post something that the young may blithely copy and paste till kingdom come!
I hope Professor Kandel will not misunderstand my noticing the eroticism of "the Grecian vases from Stamnos".  I suspect the German preposition auf might help to explain it.  But, good lord, what are editors paid for?  For another thing, in this day and age, and in his context, 'Grecian' for 'Greek' looks pretty silly.


  1. Central figure on the Naples example looks decidedly Herm-like having no arms or legs in view. Greek vases a rich source of mythological subject-matter, much more than coins. Sarcophagus my favourite artefact from the archaic period.

  2. I'm writing a follow-up Post on the Pillar Idol. Where you see it as herm-like (and in what it lacks, so it is), others will, too. But knowing other representations of it, and having found side A of Makron's cup (which is not a stamnos, of course), I'll be writing an addendum to describe what it really was.