PRINT January 1964

Greek Art at Santa Barbara

THE ART GALLERY OF THE UNIVERSITY of California at Santa Barbara has assembled an exhibition of nearly one hundred objects of Greek art*, chiefly representing the art of the Greek sculptor, potter and vase-maker. The exhibition is drawn exclusively from private collections in Southern California.

The exhibition does not pretend to cover all aspects in the development of Greek Art completely, for gaps will naturally exist in an exhibition of this kind. Nor can one hope to supply examples for all important types of objects. Because of their bulk and the expense of their transportation, certain specimens of monumental sculpture in a number of well-known collections (for example, the Paul Getty and Wright Ludington Collections), could not be included. Consequently, attention has been given to more portable objects. Even so, from the relatively limited types of objects displayed, an attempt has been made to illustrate—by direct or indirect means—the major phases of Greek art from the Geometric to the Hellenistic Periods (ca. 1000 to 30 B.C.). Hence, it has been possible to bring within the confines of a single gallery, thousands of miles from their places of origin, works of art that document a millennium of Greek creativity.

The sculpture on display well illustrates the anthropocentricity of the ancient Greeks. The human form, male or female, was always the central theme in their art. The sculpture is not limited to that executed in marble as there are some fine examples of small bronzes and terracottas which serve to trace the general evolution of the human body in the history of Greek art. Because so many Greek originals (especially those by the great masters) are now lost, a goodly number are known only through Roman copies. Thanks to the Roman passion for Greek art—at first when great quantities of Greek art formed part of the plunder and booty—the initial sources became exhausted, and countless “replicas” and “adaptations” were consequently commissioned.

Especially well represented in the exhibition is the art of vase-painting, as much admired today as in Antiquity. Greek vases were not prized by Greece alone, but by many peoples of the ancient world, particularly by those of Etruria where so many Greek vases were found that they were once thought to be “Etruscan.” The great variety of vase-shapes on view speaks well for the creative genius of Greek potters whose products were often superbly adapted to their uses; for example, the hydria (water jug) with two horizontal and one vertical handle designed for lifting, pouring, and balancing on the head when carried from public fountain to home. Every shape presents different areas for decoration, each with its own specific problems of composition. To the limitless number of subjects that form the repertory of Greek vase-painting, we owe much of our insight into practically all facets of Greek life.

The two chief techniques of Greek vase-painting, the earlier Black-Figured and the later Red-Figured (introduced ca. 530 B.C.) are more than adequately represented. In the black-figured technique, the figures are rendered in silhouette, a survival from an earlier period of vase-painting. Details (facial features, anatomical details, drapery, etc.) are indicated by incision, the background remaining the basic red color of the fired clay. The red-figured technique, on the other hand, shows a complete reversal of the earlier technique, for the background is now painted black and the figures left unpainted; that is, reserved, and the details are then rendered with very thin black lines. Needless to say, the red-figured technique allowed greater freedom and facility in depicting the more intricate and complex three-quarter views and twisting movements of the human body which, as we know, was also the preoccupation of the contemporary sculptors. In addition to Attic (that is, Athenian) red-figure, there is a good sampling of South Italian red-figure: vases made by the Greek colonists and their descendants, who lived in southern Italy. At first, their products were closely modeled on Attic specimens. But by the 4th Century B.C., they developed styles peculiar to their own localities; for example, Apulian and Campanian, districts of ancient Italy which more or less correspond to the modern Italian provinces that basically retain these names.

For their esthetic quality and technical skill, coins from the ancient world of Greece cannot be neglected in an exhibition devoted to Greek art. Hence, a small but handsome selection has been included which ranges in time from the Archaic to the Hellenistic Periods and which reveals a stylistic evolution similar to that of sculpture and vase-painting. (The representative specimens of Greek numismatics are from the Newport Balboa Savings and Loan Association Collection where a superb and extensive selection of all periods and areas of numismatics is stored and, in part, impressively exhibited.)

Mario A. Del Chiaro is Associate Professor of Art at the University of California, Santa Barbara.



*“Greek Art,” The Art Gallery of the University of California, Santa Barbara, November 19 thru December 17, 1963.