Thursday, November 14, 2013

Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum!

Zephyrus and HyacinthusAttic red-figure
cup from Tarquinia,  c. 490 - 480 BCE
This is one of the best things I've ever found on the Internet, this Corpus of Ancient Vases.

I've been fascinated by ancient Greek vases since art school, and here I find that someone has done the sensible thing of collecting information about all ancient Greek vases known to humanity and making that information available in one place - and making it browsable and searchable.

These vases are so fascinating for many reasons - there are so many of them - Wiki claims there are over 100,000 in the CVA - that they give vivid insight into the social customs and beliefs of these people. One of the most riveting being of course the fact that the ancient Greeks were very OK with homosexuality, and scenes of men embracing, courting and even having sex appear on lots of vases.

My favorite type of Greek vase is known as "red figure" - the drawings on those vases are the best of all, thanks to the red images allowing a nice use of brush to create the inner lines. The black figure vases, which preceded the red figure, while beautiful in their own right, tend to have fairly primitive drawings.

They had plenty of other subjects besides homosexuality of course, but their openness about homosexuality is so fascinating because it's such a contrast to our own culture, even now in the age of gay marriage.

And thanks to the Greeks' unashamed love of beautiful men, the men on the red figure vases are often quite cute. Many of the men in ancient Greek vases are often actually desirable, which is much more than you can say for the vast majority of the men depicted in old (if not exactly ancient) Indian or Japanese erotic paintings.

In the case of Indian art the men invariably have cheezy little moustaches, but if they didn't you might think they were women, they have such feminine faces.

And in the case of the ancient Japanese erotica all the men look like they're balding, thanks to the fashion of the time.

I do like the elegant lines, but that fat balding baby look just does not do it for me. If they didn't have arranged marriages their society would have surely died out from lack of female desire.

And don't even get me started on what was supposed to be hot for European men prior to the English Regency period.

So I plan to do lots of checking out of this online Greek vases  repository - not just for the cute guys though, but also just to see some of the vases I've never seen before. Although there are 100,000, only about 100 are shown on the Internet, and museums rarely show their entire collections all at once.

To get a sense of how many vases there are, I've done a  search on just red-figure vases, with the inscription "kalos" (the boy is beautiful) on the vase, and only those in the catalog that have images. The search resulted in 538 vases.

Admittedly the vase images that tend to get reproduced the most are those with the best artwork, but it's still fascinating to look at even a poor drawing by somebody from two thousand years ago.