THE HISTORY OF GREEK VASES: Potters, Painters, and Pictures

John Boardman, Author . Thames & Hudson $45 (320p) ISBN 978-0-500-23780-9

Sir John Boardman—author of Greek Art, Athenian Black Figure Vases and Early Greek Vase Painting—is Mr. Greek Vases, and his masterful and classy explications of what might in other hands seem dry and dusty archeological material are a joy to read. Here Boardman gets down to the nitty-gritty of how and why potters created and decorated the vases, how their artistic quality developed and their influence spread. "The raw material could not be commoner or cheaper," he points out, yet Greek vases still astonish with their ornate elegance. Perhaps most illuminating here, along with the 358 clear and well-placed b&w photo illustrations, are short chapters devoted to aspects of painting and to techniques used to create the vases—throwing different pieces on the potter's wheel and then joining them later, as opposed to trying to create them all of a piece. Tricks for studying vases are also included: one amusing example takes note of a vase that can be roughly dated because the names of its young lad models, some of whom grew up to be well-known citizens, are listed on it. ("They were only of interest to their aged fondlers while they were still boys," notes Boardman.) A wise scholar, Boardman concludes with remarks on common sense, itself everywhere evident in this book: "It remains essential in the formulation and execution of any academic exercise and is itself largely the product of experience, though we should take nothing for granted." No one even vaguely interested in ancient art will take this distillation of more than 50 years of study and scholarship for granted. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 05/01/2001
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