Inszenierung von Identitäten: Unteritalische Vasenmalerei zwischen Griechen und Indigenen

U. Kästner and S. Schmidt, eds., Inszenierung von Identitäten: Unteritalische Vasenmalerei zwischen Griechen und Indigenen, Beihefte zum Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum Deutschland Band VIII (München: C.H. Beck, 2018). 9783769637793.

Reviewed by Ricarda Meisl, New York University,

The Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum hardly needs an introduction; for a century it has now been the go-to publication for ancient ceramics from twenty-eight countries, including catalogues of collections and specialised supplements, such as this eighth Beiheft zum Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum Deutschland. While working under the broad umbrella of identity and connections between Greeks and indigenous groups in South Italy, the edition was born out of a conference that took place in Berlin in 2016, inspired by the exhibition Gefährliche Perfektion – Antike Grabvasen aus Apulien (Dangerous Perfection – Ancient Funerary Vases from Apulia) in the Altes Museum Berlin. Together with the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Berliner Antikensammlung painstakingly restored thirteen monumental funerary vases from Ceglie del Campo near Bari in Apulia and presented the results to the public through this temporary exhibition. The so-called Ceglie vases are also featured in the volume and their elaborate decorations serve as a starting point to investigate vase paintings as a source of identity creation for indigenous groups in South Italy. The sixteen contributions in German, Italian, and English therefore cover a broad scope of approaches and engagement with the material and South Italian pottery.

Despite not being distinctly separated into different themes, certain thematic clusters are illustrated by the papers. While the first three contributions (Garaffa, Montanaro, and Silvestrelli) focus on assemblages at distinct locations in Southern Italy and their meaning for consumption and production in the area, the following nine tackle questions raised by vases without distinct find contexts and provenance, such as connoisseurship, relations between Greeks and local groups, depictions of theatrical scenes, and vase shapes as signifier for identity and gender (Denoyelle, Herring, Carpenter, Nowak, Heuer, Todisco, Giuliani, Schönheit, and Schierup). The volume concludes with three papers (Melillo, Svoboda, and Saunders) that engage with the Ceglie vases and their restoration specifically, connecting the Beiheft back to the inaugural exhibition.

The introductory essay by editors U. Kästner and S. Schmidt provides crucial context and a foundational discussion to connect the broad range of papers to pressing questions within the research of South Italian pottery and to these overarching thematic clusters. The editors provide an overview of the unique history of the area and its challenges, while also critically interrogating concepts such as provenance, the occasional overwhelming focus on individual painters, and restoration. Their call for a postcolonial approach towards the interactions between Greeks, Greek vases, and indigenous groups deserves special mention: instead of prioritizing Greek vase productions and the adoption of Greek elements into local life (and death), the editors argue for a perspective that foregrounds the agency of the Italic population as active consumers and producers of these vases, not passive recipients of a superior Greek culture. 

This agency of the local population is a key theme of the first paper by Valentina Garaffa. In her discussion of the purchase and use of Greek vases in Oinotria in the sixth century BCE, Garaffa focuses on case studies from two necropoleis, Torora-San Brancato and Guardia Perticara, as well as the settlement of Garaguso, which was an important node of travel routes within the Basilicata, to illustrate her points. Garaffa argues that the acquisition of Greek vases does not so much constitute a transferal of Greek cultural practices, as was proposed in older literature, but that they serve as markers of the elite who showcased their status through the integration of foreign objects. The indigenous societies hereby play an active role in the reuse, change, and adaptation of Greek vases without necessarily transferring their function. Her view stands in opposition to Andrea C. Montanaro’s paper in this volume, which focuses on “warrior chief” burials from pre-Roman Apulia. Using case studies of elite male burials from the fifth century BCE and a close investigation of the iconographic program of the vases interred with the deceased, Montanaro supports the view that local elites imported not just the ceramics, but also cultural practices such as the symposium and athletic competitions. Depictions of Greek warriors and heroes on the vases spoke directly to the warrior identity of the Italian elite, Montanaro argues, and Hellenic practices served as a further way to symbolize aristocratic superiority and status.

Francesca Silvestrelli’s contributions constitute an ideal transition between the first two papers and those that follow. Discussing the Italian red-figure pottery from Heraclea, Silvestrelli showcases challenges faced by researchers due to a great deal of unpublished material, as well as a focus on bigger sites such as Metapontum. Her holistic approach encompasses burials, settlements, and sanctuaries and allows for interesting results regarding decorations, vase shapes, and painters. Silvestrelli showcases how this integrated approach, together with re-examinations of published and unpublished ceramics, moves research away from a view that focuses on only the biggest Greek colonies in the region.

The importance of a re-evaluation of old and new material is also the focus of Martine Denoyelle’s discussion of A. D. Trendall and his seminal work on South Italian red-figure pottery, which was last updated in 1992. Using examples of the so-called Palermo Painter, Denoyelle not only showcases the importance of understanding attributions and a painter’s work to investigate “visual languages, cultural identities and local productions” (p. 52), but also illustrates just how much new finds can affect the fickle question of identity and the authority of an established catalogue such as Trendall’s. Her call for the critical engagement with established literature and centralized archives that make objects, new discoveries, and their research more widely accessible is especially commendable and important.

More directly engaging with the question of identity, through both expressions of gender and indigenous elements, are the papers by Edward Herring, T. H. Carpenter, and Christiane Nowak. Herring considers the question of the nestoris, a purely local shape, and its connection to identity. Carrying distinct associations with heritage and serving as markers of indigenous identity, these vessels nevertheless incorporated Greek elements, showcasing the elaborate overlap and exchange between local and Greek influences. Unfortunately, none of the surviving nestoris to date have a clear provenance, which makes research on use and gender associations—they are seemingly closely related to women—challenging. In a similar vein, Carpenter investigates the shape of the column krater, its iconography, and its find contexts to gain an insight into local pottery consumption and the reasoning behind the vessel’s frequent placement in local burials. After this discussion of local vase shapes and depictions of indigenous groups, Nowak asks the very relevant question of whether the dichotomy between Greek and locals is even permissible. She rightfully problematizes approaches influenced by nationalism, colonialism, and imperialism in traditional research and convincingly demonstrates that instead of being othered or being the results of invasions, local groups in South Italy were integrated in the urban structures of the colonies from the very beginning. According to her hypothesis, distinctions within the South Italian communities manifested more along social roles than ethnicities and she argues, therefore, that a focus on indigenous groups within iconography is misguided when engaging with questions of local identities and the complex adaptation, re-creation, and integration of red-figure pottery in the region.

Focusing on the depictions of Dionysus on South Italian vases, Keely Elizabeth Heuer also argues for a dissolution of the strict dichotomy between Greek and indigenous groups. Due to the highly formulaic character of Dionysiac scenes, she emphasizes that the objects spoke just as much to local groups as they did to Greek individuals. While the details of Dionysus worship in Italy, despite a great deal of attention in modern scholarship, remain elusive, Heuer does important work in connecting the deity with expressions of marriage and familial bonds in local traditions, potentially revealing a new aspect of Dionysus in the South Italian context.

The complicated question of local religion and ritual is also the theme of Luigi Todisco’s contribution, which focuses on the depiction of naiskoi on vases of the fourth century BCE from Taranto and the question of their origin. While the depictions are often connected to real archaeological evidence from the region, Todisco questions a direct relation between iconography and architectural remains and ascribes a mediatory function between the otherworldly realm of Dionysus, burial rites, and the relationship of fourth-century-BCE Apulia to the naiskos form. 

With a move from ritual to entertainment, the next two papers pivot toward the issue of drama and its depiction on South Italian vases. Luca Giuliani focuses on evidence from Apulia and adds to the ongoing discussion of whether vase iconography can truly be taken as a direct representation of actual theatrical practices, while Lilian Schönheit discusses the distribution of the different iconographies of theatres and theatre scenes across South Italy and among different indigenous groups. Schönheit highlights the widespread interest in Greek theatrical motifs and the agency of local consumers in the choice of vase decorations, as well as the possibility of local staging conventions. The discussions surrounding performances and iconography are concluded by Stine Schierup, who focuses in his contribution on three fourth-century-BCE vases from Lucania which are now in the National Museum of Denmark. By associating the three vases with local production and indigenous groups due to their representation of non-Greek clothing and overall lower quality, Schierup interprets the iconographical program of the vases as depictions of Italic funerary games. Questions surrounding copying habits of the local painters and, more importantly, modern restorations, however, make concrete interpretations challenging.

The final three papers connect the volume directly with the exhibition that was the impetus for the overall conference. Luigi Melillo introduces the notorious nineteenth-century restorer Raffaele Gargiulo through vases from the Real Museo Borbonico in Naples and highlights the practices that would result in vases wherein ancient decorations and modern iconographic interventions became nearly indistinguishable. Melillo thereby draws attention to complex questions of restoration through an interrogation of nineteenth-century and modern practices and the extensive changes made to vases in attempts to erase damage. A similar tale of caution is offered by Marie Svoboda, who details the collaboration between the Getty Museum and the Antikensammlung Staatliche Museen zu Berlin that resulted in the exhibition. The project analyzed four vases that were restored by Gargiulo in order to better understand his practices and processes, and the paper homes in especially on the question of how to treat nineteenth-century interventions. Svodoba argues for seeing these interventions as part of the history of the object and conducting extensive documentation while ultimately leaving those interventions in place. 

The volume concludes with David Saunders using the aforementioned restoration process as a starting point to investigate the iconography of the vases, all of which lack provenance. In an attempt to find potential assemblages and groupings, Saunders is able to discover themes and relate them to local Apulian traditions. Saunders shows that, in particular, nuptial pairings and love under the protection of Aphrodite as well as battle scenes seem to carry importance, and he proves that local elites were well-versed in Greek mythological narratives and deities.

Overall, the papers cover a variety of topics and questions, and the volume as a whole offers a perfect snapshot of where research into South Italian vases currently stands. Owing to the fact that these are proceedings from a conference, the papers are generally on the shorter side and would have sometimes benefitted from more room to develop arguments and delve deeper into the complex questions surrounding identity. The overarching theme is often pushed into the background in favor of interrogations of connoisseurship and individual vases or findspots, and the volume would have profited from a methodological exploration of the theme in the introduction and a clearer definition to connect the papers with both the theme and each other. The attempted shift within many papers toward a foregrounding of the lived indigenous experience, with postcolonial approaches that move away from a cultural dominance and superiority of the Greeks, is, however, very needed and highly commendable. The papers should therefore be seen as a starting point for a more nuanced approach towards local groups, their agency, and the interaction between material culture and identity formation in South Italy—leaving behind the dichotomy of Greek and a monolithic “other.” While the general introduction by the editors is without a doubt useful for anyone interested in an overview of the region and its pottery, the individual papers, designed for a very specialized conference, are geared more towards scholars with an extensive knowledge of the material and geographical area and can occasionally be hard to digest for the uninitiated. Those hoping for a deep, methodological exploration of identity and its expression through material culture, however, will be somewhat disappointed by the often indirect engagement with this question.  

It is a definite strength of the volume that the individual papers are put into dialogue with each other and often illuminate different approaches towards pressing research questions. This strategy  highlights the difficulties faced by archaeologists, historians, and restorers engaging with the region: lack of provenance, contexts, and written sources, the trading of antiquities, and the often-careless restorations the vases experienced. The volume, therefore, offers a valuable overview of the many avenues research of South Italian vases can and will take, but moreover serves as a reminder of the complex issues faced by such research, and is a valuable compilation of material that further illustrates and updates the archaeological record of this ancient region. 

Table of Contents

Vorwort (6)
Unteritalische Vasenmalerei zwischen Griechen und Indigenen / Ursula Kästner and Stefan Schmidt (7–13)
Vor den rotfigurig bemalten Vasen: griechische Formen und Mythenbilder in den indigenen Kontexten Süditaliens / Valentina Garaffa (15–24)
Death is not for me: Funerary Contexts of Warrior Chiefs from Pre-Roman Apulia / Andrea C. Montanaro (25–38)
La ceramica italiota a figure rosse ad Eraclea (ultimo quarto del V – prima metà IV secolo a.C.) / Francesca Silvestrelli (39–51)
Trendall and After: Some News from the Palermo Painter / Martine Denoyelle (52–59)
Identity, Gender and the Nestoris in Apulian Red-Figure / Edward Herring (60–66)
A Vase Shape as a Marker of Identity: A Case Study from 4th Century B.C. Apulia / T. H. Carpenter (67–74)
“Griechen” und “Einheimische” auf rotfigurigen Bildern kampanischer Vasen. Eine zulässige Dichotomie? / Christiane Nowak (75–86)
Detecting Dionysos in Indigenous Contexts: Clues in South Italian Vase-Painting / Keely Elizabeth Heuer (87–97)
Vasi con naiskoi tra Taranto e centri italici / Luigi Todisco (98–106)
Theatralische Elemente in der apulischen Vasenmalerei: Bescheidene Ergebnisse einer alten Kontroverse / Luca Giuliani (107–18)
Theaterbilder im Spannungsfeld zwischen Italioten und Italikern / Lilian Schönheit (119–27)
Warriors and Acrobats: A Case Study of Late Fourth Century B.C. Lucanian Vases in the Collection of the National Museum of Denmark / Stine Schierup (128–35)
“Da cento pezzi inutili si restituisce in Napoli il vaso intero”: Raffaele Gargiulo e l’Officina di restauro dè vasi italo-greci del Real Museo Borbonico di Napoli / Luigia Melillo (136–44)
A Six Year Journey: The Study and Conservation of Four Apulian Vases from Ceglie del Campo / Marie Svoboda (145–56)
The Iconographical Context of the Ceglie Vases / David Saunders (157–66)

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s