Master of Attic Black Figure Painting: The Art and Legacy of Exekias

By Elizabeth Moignard

IB Tauris (2015) h/b 288pp £75 (ISBN 9781780761411)

The effect of reading M.’s book is to send one straight off to the museums in Munich, Boulogne, London, Rome and Athens to examine the works of Exekias. The vases are all familiar and some, as the Achilles and Penthesileia vase, reside in the British Museum. What M. achieves in this book is to bring them to life, enabling the reader to see many new angles and gain an insight into the character and motivations of this supreme 6th century black-figure potter and painter.

Each of the five chapters focuses on one key piece whilst weaving in others. M. encourages the reader to look for Exekias’ personality and see him as an innovative artist who plays on and manipulates the emotions and can capture the essence and mood of the moment. The depiction of Ajax on several vases presents him as a defeated hero. The Vatican vase (Achilles and Ajax playing a game of dice) gains from study of the reverse side and its lesser-known depiction of the Dioskouroi; here M. poses questions about the depiction of a homecoming and draws our attention to the detail of the sweaty horse and the white paint used on the dog. M. regularly homes in on the detail—a pin prick in the centre of the eyes on the outside of the famous Dionysos symposium cup demonstrates use of  a compass; her fascinating analysis of the different genders depicted on the 8th century Dipylon vase points out the two-handed gesture of the women, and the single-handed one of the men.

In the final chapter, M. argues that the Dionysos cup encapsulates Exekias’ skill, and she describes it as ‘a wild card’. Here we see confident innovation in the positioning of the boat off-centre, and the warrior scenes under the handles. M. draws attention to the exterior of the cup, and e.g. the tiny detail such as the closed eye which shows through the helmet of one of the dead warriors.

This reviewer will not race south through France this summer but, inspired by the fresh light M. has thrown on Exekias, will pay homage to the Ajax suicide vase which lives quietly in the town museum in Boulogne.

Hannah Murray—Oxlat Latin Teaching Scheme, University of Oxford

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