Connoisseuship in the study of Attic Early Iron Age workshops

July 4th, 2017

The following information comes from the authors PhD thesis on Attic Geometric and Orientalising pottery. This is an isolated article that discusses the application of connoisseurship.

Connoisseurship is another area of iconographic studies related to Greek Early Iron Age decorated finewares. It is discussed separately as it is the only approach taken for the identification of Attic Geometric and Orientalising workshops, and individual artists. Similarly to other iconographic studies, it was based primarily on Late Geometric figurative representations.

Connoisseurship in the study of Attic Early Iron Age workshops
The first application of the principles of connoisseurship on Attic painted pottery was by John Beazley (1922). Donna Kurtz (1983; 1985) suggested that this methodology derived from the work of the Italian art historian Giovanni Morelli, whose work was known to Beazley, perhaps through the time he spent in Italian museums studying collections of pottery from Etruscan graves (Kurtz 1983; 1985; Robertson 1991; Whitley 1997). Beazley (1922) followed Morelli’s ideas and focused on the manners in which specific artists depicted human anatomy on Greek painted pottery. These manners were definite, coherent and distinctive, and formed a personal “system of renderings” for each painter (Beazley 1922, 84). Beazley (1922; 1946; 1951; 1956; 1963) employed this logic to study the systems of renderings of various Attic painters, to categorise their work, to define affiliated groups of artisans, and to identify different schools and workshops in Archaic and Classical pottery production.

J.M. Cook (1935; 1947) was the first to employ the principles of connoisseurship in the study of Protoattic pottery. He identified workshops of the EPA ‘Classical Tradition’ attributed to the Analatos painter and the Mesogeia painter, and the LPA workshop of the Nessos painter (Cook 1935; 172). Similarly to J.M. Cook, Gerba Nottbohm (1943) was the first to assign a group of Geometric vases to a particular painter, and more specifically to the Dipylon Master, opening new paths in the investigation of Attic Geometric workshops.

The first application of the Beazleyan connoisseurship in a full identification of Attic Late Geometric and Early Orientalising workshops was published in 1961 by Jean M. Davison. Davison studied roughly 800 vessels (1961, 9); she summarised the work of all previous connoisseurs and identified 17 different groups of painters and broader workshops, including related schools and independent artists (hands). These comprised a total of at least 36 artisans: the Dipylon Master (painter of Athens NM804) and Workshop, including the Kunze Painter, the Sub-Dipylon Hand and Workshop, the Dipylon Oinochoe Group, and the Tapestry Hand; the Villard Workshop; the Hirschfeld Painter and Workshop; the Lion Painter; the Workshop of Athens 894, comprised of the Painter of Athens NM894, the Stathatou Hand and the Hydria Hand; the Workshop of Athens 897, comprised of the Painter of Athens NM897, the Empedokles Hand, and the broader Workshop of Athens 897; the Philadelphia Painter; the Benaki Painter and Workshop; the Oxford Painter and Workshop; the Birdseed Workshop, comprised of the Birdseed painter, the Birdseed Skyphoi Group and the Painter of Munich Oinochoe 8696; the Lambros Painter and Workshop; the Knickerbocker Painter and Workshop; the Swan Wokshop; the Burly Painter and Workshop; the Early Analatos Painter; the Mesogeia Painter; and finally, the Vulture Painter and Workshop.

Davison’s approach was critiqued by R.M. Cook (1962) and Evelyn Smithson (1962). Both scholars argued that Davison’s investigation was limited to a small number of vessels, which represented about 1/5 of the existing material found until that time. Furthermore, R.M. Cook (1962) argued that some of the groups described by Davison did not exhibit distinct characteristics in order to be grouped individually. For example, the Knickerbocker painter and the Oinochoe groups were analysed and grouped mainly in terms of abstract ornaments and their arrangement (Cook 1962, 88). Smithson (1968, 423) also argued that some of Davison’s major groupings (1) were just composites and not real individual groups.

Davison’s groups were revised by J.N. Coldstream (1968, 29-82), who also adapted them to his chronological system (see Section 2.1.2). According to Coldstream, there used to be at least 21 different groups of ceramic workshops producing decorated finewares for the period between LGIa and LGIIb:

Despite the arguments by R.M. Cook (1962) and Evelyn Smithson (1962), Davison’s (1961) work and the revised conclusions by Coldstream (1968) are still accepted and widely used nowadays.

Sarah Morris (1984) was the first to employ connoisseurship in a study that moved away from defining production units, to investigating the social context of ceramic production. Morris (1984) compared Athenian and Aeginetan Orientalising finewares, and concluded that ‘Attic’ Black and White wares of the Middle Protoattic period were in reality Aeginetan exports. Toughing on the historical events, Morris (1984, 116) saw the possibility of a war between Athens and Aegina in the early 7th century BC, followed by Athenian recession and poverty because of an Aeginetan embargo. Both events justified the decline of Athenian Middle Protoattic ceramic workshops. Whitley (1994b, 66) argued against this point that ceramic production and consumption in Aegina and Athens were probably not related during the middle of the 7th century BC due to the different vessel shapes encountered in both contexts; therefore both productions should be treated independently.

Bohen (1988) examined the evolution of forms and decorative motifs on different types of Athenian pyxidae from the Sub-Mycenaean to the Late Geometric period. Her analysis included the identification of potential workshops by examining the decorative motifs on miniature clay-horses that were attached on the top part of the ‘horse-pyxis’ vessels, following the example of Davison (1961).

The methodology of Beazleyan connoisseurship and the discussion on Davison’s (1961) Geometric workshops continues by Anne Coulié (2010; 2013; 2014) and her arguments regarding the Dipylon Workshop. In a recent re-evaluation of Davison’s (1961) conclusions, Anne Coulié (2015) argues that the identification of individual artists in a traditional workshop can be more complicated than what has been demonstrated in previous years. In her own analysis of the Dipylon workshop, Coulié sees the style of at least five individual artists: the Dipylon Master painter, three of his most accomplished students and a secondary student that would only decorate the surface of handles (Coulié 2015). The complexity and the innovative character of the Dipylon workshop have also been discussed by Galanakis (2013) through a combined analysis of shape and decoration.


  1. The Kunze Painter, the Knickerbocker Hand and Workshop, the Tapestry Hand and the Burly Hand and Workshop.