Vase Painting, Gender, and Social Identity in Archaic Athens

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This study explores the phenomenon of spectators in the Classical world through a database built from a census of the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, which reveals that spectator figures flourished in Athenian vase painting during the last two-thirds of the sixth century BCE. Using models developed from psychoanalysis and the theory of the gaze, ritual studies, and gender studies, Mark Stansbury-O'Donnell demonstrates how these "spectators" emerge as models for social and gender identification in the archaic city, encoding in their gestures and behavior archaic attitudes about gender and status.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"this book will stimulate graduate students and scholars interested in the viewing and reading not just of Athenian pottery but of the ancient visual arts in general. While the author notes that his work is only the beginning, he addresses figures that often have been neglected, thus demonstrating the possibility that they have something to tell us about the ancient world. In short, Stansbury-O'Donnell has given us a new and vital directions to explore in the study of decorated pottery." - Elizabeth Langridge-Noti, American College of Greece, American Journal of Archaeology

“This study makes important progress in the discussion of the meaning of spectators in images on Athenian vases. … Most important, the results here invite subsequent work and provide a clear basis for it.” – Bryn Mawr Classical Review

“Stansbury-O’Donnell’s investigation is both thorough and carefully presented. … His careful methodology is exemplary, and his study shows a way forward for our understanding of the unsung figures in Attic art.” – The Journal of Hellenic Studies

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521853187
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2006
  • Pages: 330
  • Product dimensions: 6.97 (w) x 9.96 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark D. Stansbury-O'Donnell is Professor of Art History at the University of St Thomas in St Paul, Minnesota. A scholar of Greek art, he is the author of Pictorial Narrative in Ancient Greek Art and has published articles on the painter Plygnotos and issues of narrative and methodology in the American Journal of Archaeology and several edited volumes.

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Table of Contents

1. Seeing spectators; 2. Defining spectators; 3. Vision and the construction of identity; 4. Ritual performance, spectators, and identity; 5. Men and youths: gender and social identity; 6. Women as spectators: gender and social identity.

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  • Posted January 22, 2009

    the significance of spectactors on ancient Greek vases

    Stansbury-O'Donnell makes up for the 'little systematic study of spectator figures on Greek vases' which vases have long been recognized as important artifacts from the beginnings of Western culture. He begins his exemplary study by 'looking at the chronological distributions of all 742 vases in the CVA census, with a comparison to the vases in the Athens census.' CVA is the abbreviation for Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, an international project begun in 1919 to record and compare the large numbers of vases in museums around the world. The 'spectators' on Greek vases--sometimes referred to with the comparatively weaker word 'onlookers'--are not simply secondary characters to fill in bare spots around the warriors, mythological figures, artists, or athletes who are the main characters and focus of attention. For it is the spectators with their gestures, postures, expressions, and placement who signify the regard or standing of the main characters in the Greek society, the polis. The professor of art history at the U. of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, engages in an extended, meticulous, scholarly study of all of the meaningful variables of gesture, etc., and related variables of regard and standing of the characters on Greek vases. Focusing especially on the spectators, he makes inferences and conjectures regarding what they are signifying about the primary characters and Greek society. The author distinguishes four main types of spectators ranging from 'invested spectators [who are] catalysts in the narrative [of what is being portrayed on a particular vase]' through interested spectators and detached spectators to pure spectators who are 'not catalysts in the narrative.' The work establishes a new standard of study and level of knowledge for its field.

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