GREEK VASES: The Athenians and Their Images

Francois Lissarrague, Author . Riverside $75 (240p) ISBN 978-1-878351-57-9

Looking at Greek vases for the clues they provide about the people who created them, Lissarrague (The Aesthetics of the Greek Banquet), a professor at Paris's École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, does not forget to enjoy them for the artistic pleasures they provide. In short chapters organized by vase subject matter ("At the Banquet," "Under the Gaze of Eros," "Athletes, Games, and Competitions," etc.), Lissarrague offers what he calls a "bouquet of images... composed to please the eye." His comments are personal and perceptive, even if the image quality of the 180 (mostly color) illustrations varies, mainly due to extreme closeups of artworks that omit essential parts of objects and shove details into the reader's face in a disconcerting and distorting way. (This book was originally published in France and has been clearly and serviceably translated by Kim Allen, who is credited with a minuscule mention in the copyrights at the very end of the book.) Lissarrague offers intriguing anecdotes about certain masterpieces, like the François Vase in the Florence Archeological Museum, pulverized in 1900 by a disgruntled museum worker. Musing on how vases convey their images to us ("by association and by accumulation"), Lissarrague has a worldly-wise tone on matters like "the Greek bisexuality which brings together, without exclusivity, homo- and heterosexual relationships, in a culture which, though highly masculine, was not ignorant of feminine charms." He has sympathetic words for satyrs: "There is something naïve and sometimes childish about satyrs. They are like young animals let loose and out of control, whose gesticulation causes laughter." A bibliography, although almost entirely in French, is helpful. (July)

Forecast:An appealing mix of French intellectual aestheticism and Greek art works, this deserves inclusion in all larger art history or social science collections, but the price will deter most browsers.

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
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