Today on Project Gutenberg, we have…
Shapes of Greek Vases by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
“Ah, now this takes me back to my days as an art history student,” I say, as if those days were carefree in any way and also more than two or three years ago. But seriously, one of the first things I learned about in those courses was MetPublications. The Metropolian Museum of Art in New York is an extremely prolific publisher, with writings on the art of pretty much any country or time period you can think of. Many are catalogues related to past exhibitions, but you also have symposium papers, books written for use by educators and past issues of the Met’s annual periodical.
As to how the Met would classify this particular book, I’m not sure. It doesn’t look like it was written as a tie-in with any exhibition. Nor could I find any copy of it on the Met’s website itself, since their catalogue only goes back to 1964, while this is from 1922. It may be almost a hundred years old, but it’s still cool to look through.
Shapes of Greek Vases is exactly what it sounds like: a catalogue of ancient Greek vases with brief notes on the many designs found there. They’re sorted by function, ranging from your basic amphora (large two-handled jar) to stuff like the hydria (three-handled jar for water) and the oinochoë (wine jug). My favorites are the moulded jars, which are shaped like human or animal heads. They exist on a spectrum that goes from “kind of creepy” to “extremely creepy.”
The appreciation of beautiful form, with the ability to create it, which was characteristic of the Greek people, is nowhere better illustrated than in the shapes of their pottery. These vases—the jars, dishes, and cups made for household and religious use—were designed with intelligent skill to serve their purpose in the most effective fashion, and are valued for their fine shapes no less than for their interesting and beautiful decoration.
The following reproductions of the most important shapes in use among Athenian potters during the sixth and fifth centuries B. C. will show with what care the relation of the height to the width and the proportion of the parts to the whole were designed with a view to harmonious effect, and how skilfully the forms of the neck, the mouth, and the foot, and the position of the handles were planned for practical use.Page 3
There are lots of pictures. They aren’t great by modern standards, especially if you’re more interested in the designs on the vases themselves, but they capture the shape of each piece quite well (although not the size: it would have been nice to include some extra references in that regard). Each picture is captioned with notes about specific design elements like the shape of the base or the lip. Often you’ll get two examples of one pottery type next to each other in order to show how their style changed over time.
I would say the strongest point of this book is its ability to be easily understood. It doesn’t read like a textbook at all: the captions are simple and straightforward and contain a minimal amount of field-specific language (i.e. terms you probably wouldn’t hear outside of discussing Greek vases). This makes it a decent source for someone who’s just getting into the study of this topic, or someone who just wants to look at some vase pictures and learn a bit about them. If you’re serious about studying ancient Greek art, obviously you should get something that’s more recent and more in-depth. But if you’re a casual reader looking for something to pass the time with, this is a good choice. It’s also another example of the many cool and unusual things you can find by looking through PG.
And that’s what we found today on Project Gutenberg! See you next time!