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ART HISTORY I / SElF

WRITING ASSIGNMENT II
DUE: Wednesday, April 16, 2003


For this paper you must select a work from the periods we have or will be covering in this class. You can visit the Krarmert Art Museum or the Spurlock Museum at the University of Illinois. You may even have an opportunity to visit a museum in Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, or somewhere more exotic. Select an art work from one of these collections for analysis. You must provide a slide, postcard or sketch of the work chosen. The slide, postcard, or sketch will be returned with your paper.

Choose a work, dealing with a period we will be covering or have covered in our class. You may select a piece from the Paleollthic period to the Gothic period (1400) or can select a Pre Colombian or African artifact. You may want to take a quick look through your text book to see what period interests you.

Once you have selected the work you want to analyze note the following 4 things:

Artist Name,
Title,
Date,
Media.

Then, take fifteen to twenty minutes to actively look at the piece. How does this work strike you? Does the work appeal to you emotionally or intellectually? Is your reaction negative or positive? Make a list of ideas, terms and notes on your initial thoughts about this work.

In this analysis of the work your purpose is to inform the reader by explaining and evaluate the work for them. In most cases the reader will not have the chance to see the work so you are their eyes. Keep this in mind when you look at the piece.

Procedure: Here are some suggestions for things you will want to think about when you look at the work that can help you write your analysis



Writing the analysis: Write a four page (minimum), double spaced, typed analysis of the art work you selected. Do not reduce your type smaller than a size 10 or larger than a size 12.

Enjoy this exercise have fun looking at an actual art work rather than a slide.

Krannert Art Museum /
500 Peabody Ave.
Champaign, IL
333-1860
Hours:
Tues. Thurs & Fri. 10 - 5
Wed. 10 - 8
Sat 10-5 & Sun 2-5

Spurlock Museum
600 S. Gregory
Urbana, IL
333-2360


 

Critical Evaluation of a Neck Amphora

Introduction: The discovery of the plastic qualities of clay, and its ability to be molded and baked into vessels and containers to hold the liquids and drygoods needed by a people to survive, seems to be common to most all of humanity's early developing social groups.

Ancient Greece was not an exception to this truism, but its people's perspicuity to grasp and exploit the nuances and potentialities of the potter's craft took the creation of simple vessels for basic needs into a highly creative, technically difficult, and varied art form.

Background: It is generally recognized that Greek pottery and ceramic skills reached their zenith during the so-called Archaic Period between approximately 600 - 480 BCE. It was during this period that decorated pottery rose above a craft or industrial status into an expressive force that pushed the very limits of the artistic ambition of the time.  Now that “pottery vessels no longer served as grave monuments (which are now made of stone),...(the) painted decoration...shows a far greater emphasis on pictorial subjects...scenes from mythology, legend, and everyday life appear in endless variety...”[1]

And artists, instead of remaining anonymous crafters, now began signing their works indicative of the pride of their accomplishments and the value the public placed on their individual artistry.

Artist Name, Title, Date, Media, Context, Intent: The Krannert Art Museum’s collection of Ancient Greek pottery includes a piece from this period, a “Neck Amphora: Greeting to Rider/ Youths on Horses” of the Attic Black Figure Style, ca. 550 BCE by the “Painted Nose Painter” or the “Painter of Berlin 1686.”[2] The amphora, one of the basic traditional Greek pottery types, was a fairly large wide-mouth vessel used primarily for the storage of olive oil, wine, or even grains,[3] with a pair of handles at the neck for carrying or pouring. In some cases, special amphorae known as “Panathenaic Amphorae” were specially created as prizes for winners of Olympian contests, but pottery was owned by all social classes at the time and not generally considered status symbols or fine art.[4] So even though today pieces like this are considered valuable because of their antiquity, rarity, and recognized artistic qualities, in their time they may have been nothing more than generic household items.

Formal Properties: Since this was a “black-figure” style ceramic work, its typical decorative features are silhouetted as dark figuration against the typical rust or red-orange naturally-occurring clay background, as opposed to the later and predominately popular “red-figured” technique which reversed this coloration scheme. These dark areas were achieved through the application of “engobe,” a slip of finely-sifted clay that turns darker during the various and exacting phases of the firing process.

This particular amphora solidly stands about 14” high and 9” wide. Although intact in its original form and appearing in good shape for an artifact around 2,500 years old, its slightly chipped and marred finish gives a hint of its advanced antiquity. Its base of deep umber, known as a reversed echinus, is akin to an upside-down tea saucer, upon which the swelling form of the vessel rests; from this base the body of the piece bursts forth in immediacy like a hot-air balloon, its diameter increasing until reaching a height slightly below the top third of the vessel, then reversing in a gently angled short taper to the base of the necking. The neck then flares out to the wide mouth at the top of the jar. Black ear-like handles grace both sides of the vessel, each attaching at the base of the neck and then a little further down on the body just above its maximum swell where it begins to curve inward toward the neck.

A third of the way up the swelling body a wide dark band circles the vessel, dividing this amphora's burnt-orange background (its particular tint indicative of a clay indigenous to the Athens region and hence its “Attic” designation) into a large upper field and a narrow lower field where black rays spike upward from the base. The upper field, which conventionally holds the main subject of amphora decorations, shows a youth riding a horse, leading another horse with a person behind and another person in front perhaps greeting the rider (the “A” side), and two youths riding horses (the “B” side).

The arrangement and placement of the figuration in the larger field achieves an artistic objective of emphasizing and following the contours of the body’s swell. Above the figures and horses, just below the beginning of the neck, a double row of reversed ivy bands resembling tiny “spades” alternating in blue and deep russet surround the vase. The russet coloration also appears in one of the riders and in a horse’s mane. Lettered inscriptions are scattered around the horses on the background.

Comparison: The figures and horses in this vase are a rendered like a similar vase representation from the same era such as “Oriental Between Two Horses” (an amphora found at Vulci, Italy - c. 520 -510 BCE.)[5] The figures, although typically slender, elegant, and somewhat elongated with long limbs stretching into almost diminutive size, lack the detailing and finesse of the latter work.  

Evaluation: Knowledgeable evaluation of this piece has found enough tell-tale nuances in the style of decoration and the body of the piece to assign a probability of the work as being from the hand of one of the two artists listed above; but the theme of the scene, or scenes, of horses, riders, and standing figures is uncertain.

One seemingly obvious clue to what the scenes represent - the lettered inscriptions previously mentioned - only add to the mystery:  they actually spell nothing. Many vase painters were illiterate - so the letters appear to be nothing more than added decoration to balance the work in some fashion perceived by the artist. The subject matter may also be generic - nude youths (as warriors?) riding horses (one of the riders holds a spear), a bearded man standing behind a horse wearing a himation (a long outer garment), a nude standing youth holding a spear while raising a hand to a rider, possibly in greeting. Suggestions include a “returning-warrior theme” or perhaps a bucolic scene of the horsemanship of which the Greeks were very fond.[6]

Conclusion: This piece is certainly intriguing due to its known antiquity, its gently distressed condition giving it the patina of age, and a more than acceptable harmonious and interesting artistic composition. However, in my estimation it doesn’t have the desirability a piece with superior artistic endeavors and a more focused and recognizable decorative theme showcasing the universal subjects of Greek mythology that Greece is famed for. 

- Daniel John Bornt
Champaign, IL
14 April 2003  

 

References:  



 

[1] Jansen's “History of Art,” 2nd ed., p. 97

[2] Krannert Art Museum and Kinkhead Pavilion:  “A. Perkins attributes the vase to the Painter of Berlin 1686 in Greek Vase-Painting in Midwestern Collections (ed. by W.G. Moon; Chicago: Art Institute, p. 50-51).”
[3] Krannert Art Museum and Kinkhead Pavilion
[4] Vickers 1994, 102; http://christinaf.ncms.org/arc/panathen.htm  -The Panathenaia by Christina Hetrick
[5]
“Art - A History of Painting Sculpture Architecture,” 2nd ed. Vol I by Frederick Hartt, p. 153
[6] Krannert Art Museum and Kinkhead Pavilion: “A. Bishop (Moon, W.G. and L. Berge, eds. (1979). Greek Vase-Painting in Midwestern Collections. Chicago: Art Institute, p. 51)”