Greek Temples, Theatres, and Shrines
Ancient Greek Sculpture of South Italy and Sicily
A History of 1000 Years of Greek Vase Painting
Crete and Mycenae
The Techniques of Painted Attic Pottery
There is a famous story in Plutarch’s Life of Aristides, telling how this virtuous Athenian was asked by an illiterate voter to scratch the name of Aristides on a potsherd because he wanted him banished. “But what harm has he done you?” asked the statesman. “None,” said the man, “but I am tired of hearing him everywhere called the Just.” Needless to say, Aristides complied and went into exile.
For several generations now Greek art has labored under a similar handicap. It was all but ostracized for having been called perfect too often. The plaster casts of famous antiques which were used in the academic tradition for the training of artists became the all too vulnerable symbols of cramping authority. Small wonder that most of them have now been shoved into attics if they were not actually smashed in an orgy of iconoclastic glee. Even the civilization which had given rise to these images did not fare better. Dubuffet, the spokesman of l’art brut, summed up this attitude conveniently in an interview he gave some time ago: “If I am right that what is called ‘civilization’ consists in the degeneracy of the values of savagery I consider it harmful. Long live savagery…. As to classical art which is so much revered, I am sorry, but I find it poor and devoid of tension…. It lacks depth…it is a parlor game.”
The large crop of books on Greek art which have been published in the last few years suggests that this reaction may be ebbing. But the source of this new interest is probably neither the art school nor the museum. It is Greece itself. Until recently it was a remote and inaccessible country, but now an ever increasing stream of tourists traveling with organized tours under expert guidance or singly under their own steam are visiting the mainland and the islands. If they have heard of M. Dubuffet’s strictures and have ever suffered by being made to draw from plaster casts—which is doubtful—such memories will soon fade away on the Akropolis or in Delphi. They will come home with the desire to learn more about Greek art and to revive and fortify the impressions they gained during their brief trip.
In most respects the five large picture books published here by Messrs. Abrams will admirably meet this demand. They all follow an identical plan, skillfully designed to appeal to a large public without alienating the specialist. In the aggregate they provide well over a thousand plates of monochrome and nearly two hundred color photographs by Max Hirmer, who is a master of his craft. Each volume contains an informative Introduction by a specialist and an appendix of detailed notes on the plates complete with bibliography, ground plans, reconstructions, and all the apparatus of learning. The fact that these texts are translated inevitably impairs their readability slightly but care has obviously been taken, so that in one case the translator of the text on Greek …