involved spectatorship in archaic greek art involved spectatorship in archaic greek art guy hedreen
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INVOLVED SPECTATORSHIP IN ARCHAIC
G U Y H E D R E E N
The most conspicuous feature of the ancient Greek type of cup known as the eye cup (for example, plate 4.1) is that it is looking back at its beholder.1 It will not blink or turn away, but is permanently attentive. The cup asks the viewer to submit to it. What exactly the cup wants from the beholder, the precise form that this submission takes in an encounter with it, is considered here.
The eye cup first appeared in Greek art in the late Archaic period, sometime between 540 and 530 BCE. Between that time and the end of the Archaic period, in 480 BCE, the eye cup became extraordinarily popular in more than one production centre. Some scholars have argued that there is little significant meaning to be found in the eye scheme of decoration.2 However, while it is one thing to question the significance of a decorative motif – for example, the meander pattern present in Greek art from the Late Geometric to the Hellenistic periods3 – the eye scheme is different, because it appears all of a sudden, fully developed, achieves great popularity for a limited period of time; and is not in any event subsidiary decoration but the main decoration of the cups. An earlier, widely held inter- pretation, that the eye decoration was apotropaic in intention, aimed at warding
4.1 Chalkidean black-figure eye cup, c. 530–520 BCE. Ceramic, 10 � 27 cm. Munich: Staatliche Antikensammlungen (589). Photo: reproduced courtesy of the Staatliche Antikensammlungen
und Glyptothek M .unchen.
ART HISTORY . ISSN 0141-6790 . VOL 30 NO 2 . APRIL 2007 pp 217-246 & Association of Art Historians 2007. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 217 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
off evil, at least had the merit of assuming that the motif had some specific function or meaning. The difficulty with the apotropaic interpretation of the cup’s eyes is that it attempts to account for a sophisticated pictorial conception in terms of primitive superstitious belief in the absence of any positive evidence connecting the two phenomena. A related visual motif in Greek art, the gorgoneion (the frontal face of the legendary gorgon Medusa), is also accorded powerful apotropaic force, both in ancient mythology and modern scholarship. Yet the extraordinary popularity of the gorgoneion as a visual motif attests to its ineffec- tiveness as an apotropaic device in any literal sense, a point that even some ancient writers recognized. In a recent article in this journal, Rainer Mack proposed a new interpretation of the gorgoneion that contextualizes it within ancient artistic practices of visual narration and pictorial convention, rather than notions of primitive magical belief.4 I take an approach similar to Mack’s in this study of eye cups. It is important to recognize, as several scholars have demon- strated, that the faces of eye cups, like the face of the gorgoneion, represent the faces of particular mythological individuals or types of mythical characters (silens [also known as satyrs], nymphs and perhaps Dionysos the god of wine). The eye cup and the gorgoneion are characterized by similar manipulations of pictorial conventions, including eye contact between the represented figure and the viewer as well as the elimination of pictorial space within the image. The effect of those manipulations, I argue, is to put the viewer into the position of being an inter- locutor – a counterpart within the mythical world – of the gorgon, silen, or nymph represented on the vase. Explaining precisely how the visual motifs encourage that response is the principal aim of this essay.
It is also argued that this particular mode of pictorial engagement with a viewer is not unique to ancient art. Richard Wollheim’s model of a spectator within a representation, with whom the beholder of the work identifies, helps to clarify how the interpretation advanced in this paper differs from the inter- pretation of Norbert Kunisch and others, which holds that the eye cup functioned as a mask for the user of the vase. I also show that this mode of pictorial engagement is not limited in ancient art to gorgoneia or eye cups, but also char- acterizes some representations of silens shown en face, with a frontal face.
Although my arguments are based primarily on the formal analysis of the pictorial conceptions of eye cups and other works of ancient visual art, they can be supported by consideration of the formal characteristics of some poetry performed during symposia, which are the most likely context in which the vases in question were originally experienced. The poetry employs literary conventions (first-person narrative forms, the re-performance aloud over generations of traditional poems in the symposium) that facilitated the temporary adoption of fictional personae. Both poetry and vase-painting afforded symposiasts the opportunity, provided them with an incentive, or induced them temporarily to identify with fictional or mythical figures. Contextualizing eye cups, gorgoneia and en face silens more broadly, I argue that there are affinities between the kind of engaged spectatorship informing those works and certain structural features of early Greek drama as examined by Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s description of the twofold experience of inhabiting a dramatic role or persona, on the one hand, and being aware of oneself in the role, on the other, is not fundamentally different from Wollheim’s model of engaging with a spectator in a picture: that
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is, a beholder taking on the point of view of a spectator located conceptually within the virtual world of a picture yet spatially on the spot where the beholder is located.
Perhaps because of the schematic nature of the decoration of eye cups or the gorgoneion as a visual motif, many scholars have tended to look to comparative folklore rather than to the history of art for insights into the significance of those visual artefacts. Nietzsche’s analysis reminds one that the visual motifs were circulating at a time when the Greeks were developing particularly sophisticated forms of mimetic poetry and drama, forms that had special interest in the experience of both performers and audience. There is no inherent reason why the pictorial forms of that time may not have been just as sophisticated.
A B R I E F H I S T O RY O F E Y E C U P S The cup now in Munich (plate 4.1) belongs to the so-called Chalkidean workshop of Archaic Greek pottery. The decoration of cups from this production centre always includes a pair of eyes on each exterior side. It usually includes a nose and
4.2a and 4.2b Chalkidean black-figure eye cup, c. 530–520 BCE. Ceramic, 13.7 � 27.6 cm. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of F. W. Rhinelander, 1898 (98.8.25). Photos: all rights reserved,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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ears as well. Occasionally, in place of the ears or nose, one encounters silens, nymphs, vases, flowers, or sphinxes (plate 4.2).5 In Archaic Athenian vase- painting, there is a comparable series of cups bearing a pair of eyes, usually also a nose, and occasionally ears.6 Possibly the earliest extant Athenian eye cup is the one signed by the innovative potter Exekias and dated around 535 or 530 BCE (plate 4.3).7 In his study of Chalkidean vases, Andreas Rumpf argued that no extant Chalkidean eye cup is likely to be earlier than the cup signed by Exekias. But he pointed out that the eye cup appears with suddenness in Athenian vase-painting, at a time when it was dominated by other shapes and schemes of decoration of cups. He suggested that a Chalkidean eye cup earlier than any now known might have been the source of inspiration for the Athenian series.8 It seems unlikely, however, that the Athenian eye cup in its entirety derives from Chalkidean models. The shape of most Athenian eye cups differs from Chalkidean cups in the
bowl and foot; Exekias’s cup, for example, does not have a drum-shaped foot. Hans Bloesch has demonstrated that the Athenian shape, known as type A, originated within Athenian pottery workshops.9 The scheme of decoration employed on type A cups also rarely includes ears, which are common on Chalkidean eye cups. The two series of eye cups, Chalkidean and Athenian, might derive independently from the so-called ‘eye bowls’ manufactured in East Greece from the late seventh to the mid-sixth centuries.10 Alternatively, all three series may be independent manifestations of a pictorial conception that is the chief subject here.
WH O ’ S A F R A I D O F T H E E Y E S O N A C U P ? The eyes staring out from the cup have often been understood to be apotropaic in intention, a magical means of warding off ill effects or evil forces.11 The inter- pretation has been supported with reference to the modern Greek practice of pinning a small blue glass eye to a person’s clothing – to ward off the ‘evil eye’, as it is called – though evidence of continuity between the modern practice and Archaic Greek culture is hard to come by. There are, however, numerous diffi- culties with any simple apotropaic interpretation of eye cups, as Didier Martens, among others, has shown.12 Adherents of this theory cannot agree on what is
4.3 Athenian black-figure type A cup, c. 535–530 BCE, Exekias. Ceramic, 13.6 � 30.5 cm. Munich: Antikensammlungen (2044). Photo: courtesy of the Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyp-
tothek M .unchen.