Ancient Greek Vase Painting - Rediscovery and Scholarship

Rediscovery and Scholarship

Interest in Greek art lagged behind the revival of classical scholarship during the Renaissance and revived in the academic circle round Nicholas Poussin in Rome in the 1630s. Though modest collections of vases recovered from ancient tombs in Italy were made in the 15th and 16th centuries these were regarded as Etruscan. It is possible that Lorenzo de Medici bought several Attic vases directly from Greece; however the connection between them and the examples excavated in central Italy was not made until much later. Winckelmann's 'Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums of 1764 first refuted the Etruscan origin of what we now know to be Greek pottery yet Sir William Hamilton's two collections, one lost at sea the other now in the British Museum, were still published as "Etruscan vases"; it would take until 1837 with Stackelberg's Gräber der Hellenen to conclusively end the controversy.

Much of the early study of Greek vases took the form of production of albums of the images they depict, however neither D'Hancarville's nor Tischbein's folios record the shapes or attempt to supply a date and are therefore unreliable as an archaeological record. Serious attempts at scholary study made steady progress over the 19th century starting with the founding of the Instituto di Corrispondenza in Rome in 1828 (later the German Archaeological Institute), followed by Eduard Gerhard's pioneering study Auserlesene Griechische Vasenbilder (1840 to 1858), the establishment of the journal Archaeologische Zeitung in 1843 and the Ecole d'Athens 1846. It was Gerhard who first outlined the chronology we now use, namely: Orientalizing (Geometric, Archaic), Black Figure, Red Figure, Polychromatic (Hellenistic). Finally it was Otto Jahn's 1854 catalogue Vasensammlung of the Pinakothek, Munich, that set the standard for the scientific description of Greek pottery, recording the shapes and inscriptions with a previously unseen fastidousness. Jahn's study was the standard textbook on the history and chronology of Greek pottery for many years, yet in common with Gerhard he dated the introduction of the red figure technique to a century later than was in fact the case. This error was corrected when the Aρχαιολογικη 'Εταιρεια undertook the excavation of the Acropolis in 1885 and discovered the so-called "Persian debris" of red figure pots destroyed by Persian invaders in 480 BC. With a more soundly established chronology it was possible for Adolf Furtwängler and his students in the 1880s and 90s to date the strata of his archaeological digs by the nature of the pottery found within them, a method of seriation Flinders Petrie was later to apply to unpainted Egyptian pottery.

Where the 19th century was a period of discovery and the laying out of first principles the 20th century has been one of consolidation and intellectual industry. Efforts to record and publish the totality of public collections of vases began with the creation of the Corpus vasorum antiquorum under Edmond Pottier and the Beazley archive. It is to John Beazley's comprehensive studies Attic Red-Figure Vase Painters 1942 and Attic Black-Figure Vase Painters 1956 we owe the naming of dozens of previously forgotten artists by Morellian stylistic analysis. Similarly Arthur Dale Trendall and Humfrey Payne along with Darrell A. Amyx supplied the chronology to the otherwise neglected Apulian and Corinthian schools.

Beazley and others following him have also studied fragments of Greek pottery in institutional collections, and have attributed many such pieces to artist. Scholars have called these fragments disjecta membra (Latin for "scattered parts") and in a number of instances have been able to identify fragments now in different collections that belong to the same vase.

Read more about this topic:  Ancient Greek Vase Painting

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