Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Intellectual Consequences of Collecting Corinthian Pottery

I was very struck by a recent comment by Nancy Bookidis who has excavated at Corinth since the late 1960s. In an extended discussion of the 1990 theft of antiquities from the museum at Corinth she noted:
This year I suggest a dissertation topic to a graduate student at the American School in Athens, who is interested in trade between Greece and the West. I proposed that she examine the foreign find-places of Corinthian vases that have been attributed to specific painters or workshops in order to determine whether or not certain cities only bought from a limited group of artists. Ultimately, she gave it up—too many vases with unknown proveniences.
In other words, the student was proposing to study the export of Corinthian pottery to Italy and Sicily (and beyond). What percentage of Corinthian pots in, say, Tuscany come from scientifically excavated tombs?

In another (but related) context I have noted that only some 13% of the Attic red-figured pots attributed to the "Berlin painter" come from "a relatively secure archaeological context"—indeed, some 50% of the pots have no context at all.

How far is extensive looting making a study of the distribution of Corinthian pottery in the west impossible? We are unlikely to know if "groupings" of pots from the same workshops relate to consignments or batches of Corinthian material. (I feel that this is more likely than workshops or potters "targeting" particular cities.)

I also note Corinthian pots appearing in recent postings concerning negotiations with Italy:
  • A Corinthian column-krater (Cleveland 1990.81). [List]
  • A Corinthian plate with the Ransom of Hector (to remain in Princeton y1989-25; Museum purchase, anonymous gift in memory of Isabelle K. Raubitschek and to honor Antony E. Raubitschek).
Reference
Bookidis, N. 2007. "The Corinth theft." In The acquisition and exhibition of classical antiquities: professional, legal, and ethical perspectives, edited by R. F. Rhodes, pp. 119-31. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.

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