- The Derveni Krater: Masterpiece of Classical Greek Metalwork
In The Derveni Krater, the first publication in a new series, Ancient Art and Architecture in Context, a range of complementary approaches—art historical, contextual, and technical—is brought to bear on a particular object. Both subject and author are well suited to the enterprise. Beryl Barr-Sharrar's first article on the krater was published in 1979, and this volume testifies to her sustained study of the vessel. The Derveni Krater was found in an un-plundered cist tomb, excavated in 1962, near the ancient town of Lete, north of Thessaloniki. It is the outstanding vessel in a tomb that contained over forty bronze or silver vessels and implements, weapons and other personal effects. Furthermore, this tomb (B) was one of seven in the area, most of which (where they had not been robbed) were rich in contents, particularly tomb A, where the Derveni Papyrus was found.
The first three chapters are introductory, providing an overview of metal vessels in Macedonia, a survey of the finds from the seven tombs (acknowledging a debt to P. Themelis and I. Touratsoglou, who remain the first point of reference) and then a close description of the krater itself. Chapters 4 and 5 are devoted to the development of the volute-krater in the fifth century, [End Page 266] focusing on the few other extant bronze volute-kraters of 'type-A' and their ceramic parallels. The second of these chapters concentrates on specific features such as volute masks and ribbing, as well as the literary evidence for elaborate metal vessels. A third chapter considers the production of the Derveni Krater's frieze and ornament. Finally, Barr-Sharrar turns to the iconography, paying particular attention to the comparable maenad-types that occur on neo-Attic marble relief vessels. These suggest that the prototype(s) for the Derveni Krater was still visible in the late second century B.C. In the penultimate chapter, Barr-Sharrar demonstrates that the subsidiary ornament is complementary to the main frieze, and her conclusion reiterates her suggestions regarding the use and purpose of the vase.
There is much of interest throughout these dense chapters, and I note here only some points pertinent to the krater itself. Although Barr-Sharrar concedes that "a certain internationalism in metalworking . . . [makes] a 'regional' approach to styles after the end of the Peloponnesian War problematic, perhaps even inappropriate" (113), her analysis leads to the conclusion that the Derveni Krater was "probably made in an established workshop at Athens, or possibly a center in the northeastern Peloponnese" (181). This contrasts with previous assertions that it was manufactured in Macedonia.
The Derveni tombs are dated to the last quarter of the fourth century. Barr-Sharrar demonstrates effectively, however, that metal vessels could be kept in circulation for decades before deposition in a grave, and, on account of the stylistic comparanda, suggests a date around 370 B.C. for the Derveni Krater. Barr-Sharrar reads the frieze as ". . . .an epiphany of the god [Dionysos] accompanied by attendant and highly significant reminders of his omnipotence" (183), most obviously as regards the maenad wielding a child and the pair about to tear apart a deer. The single-sandaled hunter, the subject of much contention, is identified as (a non-Euripidean) Pentheus, but with the possibility that he could also be understood as a real initiate. There is, in other words, more than a simple "mythical" reading of the frieze: "[p]erhaps we can better understand the iconography . . . if we perceive it, like Bacchae, as having some correspondence, some 'homology,' to the actual experience of a Dionysiac initiate" (183). This approach applies to Barr-Sharrar's interpretation of the vessel, and indeed the burial as a whole, informed by the Dionysiac imagery of the krater, the extensive provisions for an afterlife within the tomb, the content of the Derveni Papyrus in tomb A, and also the inscribed gold Orphic tablets...