The University of Wisconsin Press

Classical Studies / Archaeology / Art / History


Polygnotos and Vase Painting in Classical Athens
Susan B. Matheson

Susan B. Matheson has written the first detailed analysis of Polygnotos, a major vase painter of classical Athens whose workshop flourished for fifty years, from the the golden age of Pericles to the end of the fifth century. Inspired by the monumental art of Pheidias and other sculptors who defined fifth-century classical style, Polygnotos and his workshop reflected this style as it emerged from the sculptures of the Parthenon.

Matheson provides the first comprehensive chronology for Polygnotos’s own works, and then analyzes the distinctive, evolving Polygnotan style first isolated by Sir John Beazley, comparing this style to that of contemporary Athenian workshops and demonstrating its seminal influence on the later vase painting of southern Italy. She then surveys Polygnotan iconography to show its relation to contemporary vase painting and sculpture, emphasizing both its originality and its continuity with Athenian iconographic traditions.

The more than 600 pieces discussed here, 171 of which are illustrated, reflect the diverse religious, historical, and intellectual trends in Periclean Athens. Some vases bear innovative representations of myths from the dramas of Sophocles and Aeschylus, while others portray the religious sacrifices and rituals of Athenian civic life. Perhaps the most arresting, though, reveal the private life of Athens—drunken revelers at symposia, women conversing together, a somber young man departing for war.

The diverse subjects represented by the Polygnotan group of vase painters, comprehensively analyzed and extensively illustrated, offer an enlightening glimpse into Athenian life for students and scholars alike, leading to a broader understanding of art, religion, and society in classical Greece.

“Matheson shows her skill and originality in detailed discussions of style, dating, and iconography, where she critically assesses earlier literature and often adds her own observations. She clearly has a very good eye and a solid knowledge of the field of Attic vase-painting.”
—H. A. Shapiro, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

Susan B. Matheson is curator of ancient art at the Yale University Art Gallery and the author of several exhibition catalogs and guides to ancient art.

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February 1996

LC: 95-009683 ND
640 pp. 8 x 10
281 b/w photos, 4 line illus.
Cloth ISBN 978-0-299-13870-7

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