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May 26, 2005

   

UNDERGRADUATES TEAM WITH SCHOLAR FOR RESEARCH PROJECT

Hasaki, Kemezis, Bowes, Cavin, Slater
From left: Eleni Hasaki, Gwyneth Cavin, Rachel Bowes, Katie Kemezis, Jessica Slater

Ancient Greek vase-painters tended to specialize by size, according to a statistical survey of thousands of vases conducted by four Bryn Mawr undergraduates under the supervision of a postdoctoral fellow in classical and Near Eastern archaeology. Eleni Hasaki, who has just completed a one-year term as a Whiting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities, led Rachel Bowes '05, Gwyneth Cavin '06, Katie Kemezis '06 and Jessica Slater '05 in the research. She plans to include the findings of her team in a book on the technology and organization of ceramic production in Greek antiquity.

As a Whiting Postdoctoral Fellow, Hasaki taught two courses while working to complete her book project. She opened her spring-semester graduate seminar on Greek pottery to advanced undergraduates. Hasaki conducted most of the class meetings in the rooms that house the College's Ella Riegel Study Collection, which she terms an "an invaluable teaching resource."

"The Bryn Mawr collection includes many examples of the types of pots we were studying," Hasaki says. "Being able to see and handle them gives students a better understanding of the material."

The group studied the history of connoisseurship, focusing on the work of the early 20th-century scholar John D. Beazley, who cataloged about 20,000 ancient ceramic vessels and attributed unsigned works — the vast majority of ancient vase paintings — to particular artists.

Beazley's attributions are still considered reliable by most scholars, Hasaki says, but his attributions tell readers little about how the vases were produced, distributed and used or the social relationships involved.

"Our group research project basically treated Beazley's work as an important record from which we could glean further information," Hasaki says.

Using the catalog of 7,000 vessels that Beazley published in Attic Black-Figure Vase Painters, the students created a database that allowed them to compile basic statistics about the painters Beazley identified. According to Hasaki, the mathematical trends and relationships that emerge promise to provide insight into issues like apprenticeship structures, craft specialization and the relationships between potters who made vessels and painters who decorated them.

"We divided the pots of various shapes into large, medium and small categories and looked at individual painters to determine whether a given painter specialized in a certain size of vessel," says Bowes. "We found solid evidence that they did. Only about 10 percent of the painters painted vessels in more than one size category." This grouping, the students say, allowed them to suppress the statistical "noise" of particular shapes of vases and focus on the technical issues shared by all vessels of similar size.

The database still contains plenty of buried treasure, Hasaki says, and she plans to subject it to further analysis. She hopes that a little basic math can shed light on whether painters further specialized in certain shapes of vessels and the commercial relationships between painters and potters, among other things.

The students' reading gave them critical guidance in making sense of the data, Hasaki says. It introduced them to research models used in ethnoarchaeology and anthropology, and it gave them insight into the intellectual framework of Beazley's studies.

Slater delved especially deep into the latter topic, writing an honors thesis titled "Contextualizing Connoisseurship."

"Beazley never really disclosed the method he used to make all those attributions," Slater says. "But there are good reasons to believe that it owes a lot to the technique developed by Giovanni Morelli, who became famous among art lovers in the late 19th century by reattributing several celebrated Renaissance paintings. Morelli did this by focusing closely on how painters rendered minute details such as ears, eyes and feet.

"One of Beazley's precursors in adapting this sort of method to ancient vase-painting was Joseph Clark Hoppin, a member of the Bryn Mawr faculty. But Hoppin dealt only with signed works. Beazley insisted that he could identify artists by style alone."

According to Hasaki, learning about the history of Beazley's method gave the students some understanding of its strengths and its limitations.

"For instance," she says, "the basic method was developed by connoisseurs of Renaissance painting whose goal was to be able to distinguish the hands of famous artists from those of their imitators or even forgers. Beazley, too, was inclined to draw sharp distinctions. This is something to bear in mind when we learn that about 65 percent of the artists Beazley distinguished are assigned authorship of only one to five pots. He had reason to be what I call a 'splitter' as opposed to a 'lumper,' but there may be other ways to look at small variations in style — they could reflect a change in an artist's style over time or a complicated apprenticeship structure."

Literary sources about apprenticeship in the period during which the vases were made — about the sixth to the fifth century B.C.E. — are extremely scarce. But Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists gave the students intimate accounts of several workshops in a later period.

"Vasari gave us a look at some of the human factors that can affect style," said Cavin. "According to Vasari, apprentices were taught to imitate the styles of their masters. Pupils often finished works begun by their masters, and many workshops contained multiple members of the same family. Artists' work improved with practice, changed when they were exposed to new influences, and sometimes suffered when their vision or other faculties begin to fail."

"Any of those situations might have been important factors in what Greek vases look like, too," Kemezis added.

Hasaki has now returned to an assistant professorship at the University of Arizona, where she plans to continue the research begun at Bryn Mawr. She has incorporated her research team's findings into a conference presentation and intends to refer to them in her book about the structure of ceramic workshops as well as an article in an edited volume on ancient apprenticeship.

Two of the students will also pursue archaeology around the world. Cavin will join excavations on the Greek island of Despotiko this summer and has been awarded a prestigious internship at the Goulandris Cycladic Museum in Athens that will follow her participation in the dig. Next fall, Slater will begin a master's program in archaeological sciences at the University of Sheffield in England.

 

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