Height, 14 11/25 inches.
THIS is one of those far-famed vases, commonly called Etruscan, because the first were found in Etruria. Since then, a much greater number of them have been found in Graccia Magna, or Naples, in Greece proper, and in Sicily; and it has been admitted that they are of Greek and not Etruscan origin, so that it has been felt necessary to change their denomination. Among the divers names that have been proposed, the following have prevailed, or will at least assuredly prevail in the end: Grecian vases, those which belong to Greece proper; Italo-Grecian, those which come from Græcia Magna or Naples; and Siculo-Grecian, those which belong to Sicily. Finally, a fourth species of vase has been discovered, the fabrication of which may really be attributed to the ancient people of Etruria. The latter will retain the name of Etruscan vases; but, up to the present time, the collections of them are of little importance, and we shall not need to dwell on them.
Each of the three categories of Grecian vases is very easily recognized: it is enough to have made once or twice the comparison of one with the other two kinds. We may mention, in connection with this subject, that during our stay in Magna Græcia we often heard strangers express doubts as to the
genuineness of Grecian vases offered to them, which doubts had no foundation whatever. There are at Naples several manufactories of pottery, imitative of the Etruscan and Grecian, from which charming table-services proceed, that would certainly have been improved upon in France if the introduction of foreign pottery were not prohibited there. But there is a wide difference between an imitation and a counterfeit, and the most casual inspection would enable any one, even a child, to distinguish the true vase from the false one. It is only necessary once to see them both together.
Grecian vases are found in the kingdom of Naples, in various parts but they are generally classed into Nola, Basilicate, and Apulian vases. Those of Nola are most prized, and unquestionably they are the finest, both for the elegance of their shape, and for the purity and splendour of their varnish.
The use of these vases was widely spread among the ancients; an immense quantity of them have been discovered, and the mine is still far from being exhausted. They were used for domestic purposes, for sacrifices, marriages, presents at divers periods of the year, and especially for funerals. When the body of the deceased person had been placed in the tomb, his relations and friends walked around it in succession, each carrying in his hand a little vase full of essence, with which he sprinkled the corpse, and which he afterwards placed in the tomb by the side of the dead. It was put in the folds of the mantle in which he was enveloped, on his arms, in his hands, and at his feet. And in the case of a rich person, the inside of the tomb was adorned with several large vases ornamented with beautiful figures, some filled with essences, and others bearing fruit or flowers. It is consequently in ancient tombs that the vases which form part of our collections are daily brought to light. In this respect those of Nola have another great advantage over the vases of Apulia and the Basilicate: they can mostly be removed without breakage, a very rare circumstance as regards
those of the other localities, and which is thus accounted for. The custom of the inhabitants of Campania, and of Nola in particular, was to cover their tombs by means of two stones forming an angular roofing. This causes a greater strength of resistance to the spade of the excavator, who is promptly made aware of their presence, and takes the necessary precautions to draw them out in a good state of preservation. But this is not the case in the other provinces, where the tombs are sometimes entirely exposed, and sometimes covered merely by a flat stone. In the former case, the spade plunges into the bottom of the tomb and breaks everything it encounters there; in the latter, chips of the stone lid itself fall into the monument and injure the objects contained in it. The manufacture of this pottery among the ancients had, like the other arts, its childhood, maturity, and decline. The earliest vases are especially recognisable by their originality of shape and by the coarseness of the figures. Those of the decline generally have more pretentions and less elegant shapes than the vases of the best period. The figures in them are often loaded with dull whites.
We will now say a few words respecting the vases of the best period.
Only two colours appear in them: that of the original substance, reddish and clayey, and deep black. The Sicilian vases (Siculo-Grecian) mostly bear black figures on a reddish ground. The Italo-Grecian, on the other hand, usually have reddish figures on a black ground. This is not a rule without exception, for both kinds are to be found in both localities; but, in all cases, black is the only colour which the workman has super-added, red being that of the original substance. It was only, as we have already said, in the period of the decline that white was added.
Some vases are entirely black, or entirely reddish, without figures, or with nothing but a few arabesques, garlands, or fillets, and it is needless to
add that these are the least prized. Amongst the vases with figures, most of the subjects represent initiations into different mysteries, games and wrestling, but it may be remarked that it is rather the rarity of the subject than the finish of the figures that tends to raise the price of these antiquities.
These vases are very varied in form, and many of them possess an elegance which renders them worthy to be used by our own artists as models, Each of the shapes is called at Naples by a particular name, derived from its resemblance to some modern object. The bell vase (campana) is that of which the opening, greatly extended, is wider than the body. See Plates LVIII. and LIX.
The Langelle vase, a graceful shape with two handles, for which see Plate LX.
The Nasiterne vase (see the Plate at the commencement of this chapter). The opening is divided into three compartments, and has the form of a trefoil. These vases have only one handle,
The Cattino, a diminutive of catto, a bucket to draw water, when there is, over the opening itself, a handle in the shape of an arch. The balsaminæ, or lachrymatories, little vases with one handle, and with narrow necks, and body more or less protuberant. They are called Balsaminæ, because balms or perfumes were put in them, and lachrymatories, because the liquor comes out drop by drop, like the tears that fall from our eyes.
The lamp-vase, which assumes the shape of a small antique lamp.
Rhyton, having the shape of a hem. Cups, salt-cellars, ink-horns, &c.
We will not pursue this nomenclature any further, and we will refer those who desire to understand it thoroughly to a pamphlet of Canon Jorio, keeper of the gallery of Grecian vases in the Naples Museum.
The Plate opposite the first page of this chapter is a Nasiterne vase from Nola. 1 It shows a youth, crowned with leaves, holding two sticks in his hands, and to all appearance beating a dog and bitch with them, who are in the act of copulation. It would be difficult to say whether the artist had any mysterious hidden meaning.
116:1 Nola. in Campania Felix, about fifteen miles from Naples. It is said that at Nola that bells were first used by the Christians, and hence were called campanæ.