Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Berlin Painter: Athenian Vase-Painting in Early 5th Century B.C.


The Berlin Painter, his real name and story unknown, painted many beautiful vases for all kinds of uses in early 5th century Greece. That's 2500 years ago! This is a lovely traveling exhibit organized by Princeton University Art Museum and made possible by many private and public funders, including NEA. Thanks to them. Photos: Some of the 84 vases exhibited, beautiful to examine closely; bird on a bear, a favorite (next to center photo of 3 vases); fragments and pieces (far left), showing what conservators had to work with to put them together (and upper right graphic); huge vase of red roses at Grove St. entrance near the Cafe); Teddy at the Berlin Painter-themed Exhibition gift shop, and at TMA entrance (couldn't resist!). 
Hard to read but explains how to
recognize the style of the Berlin Painter.
"The Berlin Painter and His World: Athenian Vase-Painting in the early Fifth Century B.C' is now at the Toledo Museum of Art, and it's a most enjoyable exhibit.  The vases, painted in a technique known as red-figure ceramics, are nicely displayed and have limited but helpful text, which I always appreciate.  The vase-paintings are attributed to one painter, called simply the Berlin Painter, his real name unknown, his gender determined by anthropologists and historians, his style bold and distinctive.

The Berlin Painter. A master artisan. His personal story may be unknown, but the Greek world he inhabited comes alive through his vase-painting. Through his eyes we see the gods and goddesses, the heroes and mortals of the early 5th century BC, at war, at peace, at work, at play.  We see Zeus and Athena, Demeter and Dionysos, Achilles and Hector and Aegina. We see warriors and nymphs and satyrs. We see Herakles (the Greek transliteration of Hercules) at some of his 12 labors, taking me back to reading Latin with Mrs. Bullard at the Harley School. It also inspired me to look for Haley's Classic Myths, a  great book that she gave me as a gift.  I especially loved the paintings of nature, a bird on a bear, a sprig of flowers, floral motifs and ivy wreaths.

I wondered how the vases could be in such perfect shape. Thankfully a well-curated text explained that while some vases were found in burial places and in tact, most were scattered in a thousand pieces and had to be painstakingly put together. If you look very closely at some of the vases, now 2500 years old, you can see the seams where small fragments were glued together. The results are amazing. 




From the Catalogue: "The Berlin Painter and His World is a celebration of ancient Greece and of the ideals of reason, proportion, and human dignity that are its legacy. Focusing on the extraordinary work of a single anonymous master artisan, the exhibition provides a window onto ancient Athenian society at a time of economic growth and cultural flourishing through the art of vase-painting, the largest body of pictorial imagery to have survived from antiquity. Depictions of myths, cult, and daily life on red-figure vases posit questions on love and war, life and death, that still resonate today./  Though the artist’s elegant style has long been appreciated, this is the first exhibition devoted to the Berlin Painter. The exhibition features eighty-four vessels and statuettes of the early fifth century B.C., gathered from museums and private collections around the globe, and examines the elements of this artist’s style that allow the attribution of objects to his hand while affording unique insights into life 2,500 years ago."
These three graceful, colorful hand-blown vases, in the Berlin Painter-themed Exhibition gift shop,
were inspired by Greek ceramic vessels and created in TMA's Glass Pavilion by glass artist Alan Iwamura.  

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