The Berlin Painter and His World: Princeton University exhibition

By Alastair Harden, Acting Head of Classics

1On a visit to the British Museum with 6.2 Classical Civilization students in February, after looking at the Parthenon sculptures and the frieze from the Temple of Apollo at Bassae, I brought the class around the Greek Vase galleries. I know these galleries very well, so I confidently strode up to a glass case, ready to wax lyrical on one of the most beautiful pieces on the A-level syllabus: a magnificent volute krater depicting the final duel between Achilles and Hektor. I mentally gathered my notes and got ready to dispense wisdom when – much to my disappointment – the case turned out to be empty. Well, not quite empty: a card read “This vase has been loaned to the Princeton University Art Museum for the exhibition ‘The Berlin Painter and His World’.” This kicked off a very welcome chain of events that led to me trading the Block 3 Parents’ meeting for an aeroplane bound for New Jersey and attending the most important conference and exhibition on Greek Art to be held in a generation.

2I’d heard that Princeton was hosting the first exhibition devoted to a single vase-painter in almost forty years, so I emailed J. Michael Padgett, Princeton’s curator of Classical antiquities, chastising him for ruining my speech about Achilles and Hektor and fondly recalling the afternoon in 2011 when he took me to the store-room under the galleries in the museum at Princeton to examine some fragments for my doctoral dissertation. To my surprise and delight he replied straight away, inviting me to two events: the fizzy ‘gala opening’ of the Berlin Painter exhibition on March 4th, and a star-studded one-day symposium on April 1st. (Well, ‘star-studded’ to Greek Art enthusiasts. Or really to vase-painting enthusiasts. Well, really, to enthusiasts of early Athenian red-figure vase-painting, which thankfully I am.) I expressed my regret that I could go to neither, but after some string-pulling and many apologetic emails to my Block 3 parents I found myself gratefully bound for the symposium.

3‘The Berlin Painter’ is the name given by the Oxford scholar John Davidson Beazley to an otherwise-anonymous painter of the most beautiful painted pottery of the early fifth century B.C.: Beazley grouped together several vases which he judged to have been painted by the same person in a 1911 article entitled ‘The Master of the Berlin Amphora’, and in doing so he effectively initiated the study of Greek vase painting as a major art form. Beazley remained central to the study of Greek vase painting until his death in 1970, and I was working as a researcher at Beazley’s archive in Oxford (www.beazley.ox.ac.uk) when I left academia to come to Bedales.

The Berlin Painter was one of thousands of painters whom Beazley was to identify on stylistic grounds, but to all scholars of Greek art the Berlin Painter has a special place as the first painter to recognize the aesthetic potential of using the shape of the vase and the framing painted floral and geometric patterns to bring the painted scene to life. Before this, painters usually treated the shape of the vase as a blank field to be filled in, and simply divided the vessel into zones or panels, but the Berlin Painter seems to have had a gifted sense of how the complex shapes of the vases can complement the drawing. He (or she, though we presume the painter was male: that’s another discussion…) also observed anatomy in minute detail, and I hope all of my students share my enthusiasm at how the Berlin Painter renders the complex relationship of the serratus anterior muscles to the ribcage in a level of anatomical detail unprecedented in its accuracy, at a time when sculptors were also looking to complex anatomical accuracy to make bronze and stone resemble real living bodies.

4The exhibition in Princeton brings together a representative selection of pieces from museums all over the world, including the ‘name vase’, the ‘Berlin Amphora’ which Beazley discussed in his 1911 article; sadly the exhibition does not include the beautiful fragment which Beazley saw in Winchester College, pictured, but it was awe-inspiring to be in a gallery with so many pieces of such high quality. The symposium featured a brilliantly stimulating group of lectures, including a wonderful talk by Richard Neer about how Beazley’s sexuality and early Brideshead-like days as an Oxford undergraduate in the 1900s influenced his later scholarship, and a typically poetic paper by the renowned French scholar François Lissarrague on the painter’s astonishingly sensitive use of deep black backgrounds for the figural scenes. Mario Iozzo, director of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Florence (home of the famous François Vase), revealed that he found what all archaeologists long for: a secret message, barely detectable beneath the black glaze of one vase. His paper will quite literally have every curator of Athenian vases looking again for these tantalizing hidden words, which will occupy scholars for decades: they can only be seen with the naked eye under certain lighting conditions, preferably when the vase is being held in the hand, a nice reminder of the tactility of these objects in an era which is increasingly devoted to digital images and accessing artefacts primarily through the internet.

At the reception following the conference I re-connected with Prof. Lissarrague, who wrote the single most beautiful book on Greek vases (Greek Vases: The Athenians and Their Images) and, much less illustriously, examined my PhD thesis in 2013 (‘Animal-skin garments in archaic Greek art: style and iconography’). I also caught up with several other academics whom I knew through my five years working at the Beazley Archive: I was reminded of the joys of research, and I’ve already since been consulted by a curator at the Metropolitan Museum in New York about an animal skin on an ancient statuette. It has been very rewarding to spend even a brief time among academics and curators, and I plan to re-enter this world by writing a paper this summer on the Berlin Painter’s use of animal-skin garments: this will be one of hundreds of pieces of research inspired and stimulated by the epoch-making conference and exhibition, with its beautiful catalogue, and it was truly a privilege to have attended this monumental event.

On the day of the exhibition’s opening, Michael Padgett gave an excellent introductory lecture on the Berlin Painter which you can see here.

Bedales A Level Success

Bedales students have achieved strong A Level results for 2013 with 40% of all grades at A*-A. They have secured places at universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Exeter, Bristol, St Andrews, York, Warwick, Leicester, Leeds, Manchester, Kings College London, University College London, Imperial College London, Plymouth, Aberdeen, Swansea, Sheffield, Nottingham and Brunel, art colleges such as Falmouth University, Arts University Bournemouth, City College Brighton, University of the Arts London and UCA Farnham, as well as international institutions including New York University.

Six Bedales students have secured places at Oxford and Cambridge; four have done so through this summer’s grades and two former students received unconditional offers.

Sam Wilkinson from Midhurst, who will read Physics at Oriel College, Oxford, received his results today having spent the summer working as a Data Scientist for NASA in collaboration with their team which is based at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas. Sam achieved four A*s in Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Further Mathematics, and an A grade in Biology.

Katie Millard from Hambledon will read French and Linguistics at Keble College, Oxford after achieving 4 A*s in Chemistry, Latin, English Literature and French. Maddy Green from Liss will read Medicine at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge after achieving three A*s in Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics, and an A in Further Mathematics. Nell Whittaker from Shrewsbury will study English at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge after achieving an A* grade in English Literature and two A grades in Latin and History. Former student Christy Callaway-Gale from Petersfield will read Spanish and Linguistics at Oriel College, Oxford after achieving three A Level A* grades last summer. Rosie Nicolson from Cranbrook, Kent will study Architecture at Cambridge, having gained three A Level A* grades at Bedales in 2011. Three of the students, Christy, Sam and Maddy, were taught at Bedales Prep, Dunhurst, before progressing to Bedales senior school and sixth form.

Two students; Georgina Gulliver from Buriton and Deputy Head Girl, Katie Shannon, from Steep will both go on to read Architecture at the University of Manchester and the University of Edinburgh respectively. Georgina achieved two As in Art and Mathematics and a D3 in Music Pre-U. Katie achieved three As in Art, Design and Mathematics, and a B in Physics.

Tim Jones from Dorking will read Mathematics at Imperial College London after achieving three A*s in Chemistry, Mathematics, and Further Mathematics, and an A grade in Physics. Joe Pemberton from Chichester will also read Mathematics, but at the University of Warwick, after achieving two A*s in Mathematics and Further Mathematics, an A in Latin and a D3 in Music Pre-U. Lucy Waterhouse from Midhurst achieved two A*s in Drama & Theatre Studies and History, and an A grade in English Literature and will read History of Art at the University of Bristol. Evie Cullingworth from Downley, Buckinghamshire achieved two As in English Literature and Drama & Theatre Studies, a D3 in Music Pre-U and will study Drama at New York University.

Felix Conran from London is delighted to have secured a place at the University of the Arts in London to study Product Design and Arran Stamper from Preston, Lancashire will read Illustration at the University of Edinburgh (after achieving two A*s in Art and Russian, and an A grade in Design). This is a particular achievement for both these students as it is rare for Art and Design students to be offered places on such prestigious arts degree courses without having first completed a Foundation Diploma year. This was because their work was of such a high calibre.

Although both receiving university places, Archie Howes from Ropley and George Veys from Guildford have decided to set up their own business, Darkroom Productions, an event management company providing the sound and lighting for festivals, concerts and corporate events.

Commenting on the results, Keith Budge, Headmaster of Bedales Schools, said:

“Congratulations to our students on their hard work and good results. Bedales students progress to an impressive range of universities and art colleges in the UK and overseas. I’m sure that the 2013 leavers will go on to make a significant contribution in a broad range of fields across the arts, sciences and business.”

Other Bedales student successes include:

  • Sebi Bacon from Steep achieved two A*s in History and Mathematics, and an A grade in Physics; to study Economics at University College London.
  • Georgia Green from Steep achieved an A* in Drama & Theatre Studies and two A grades in English Literature and Spanish.
  • Elize Layton from London achieved an A* in Drama & Theatre Studies, and two A grades in Dance and Religious Studies.
  • Piper Anderson-Klotz from London achieved an A* in Art, an A grade in French and a B in Classical Civilisation.
  • Toby Matimong from Southsea achieved an A* in English Literature, a D2 in Music Pre-U, and a B grade in Biology.
  • Egor Platon from Chisinau, Moldova achieved an A* in Russian and two B grades in History and Mathematics.
  • Jessica Sankey from Petersfield achieved an A* in English Literature, and two B grades in Classical Civilisation and History; to study English at the University of Sussex.
  • Reuben Thompson from London achieved an A* in English Literature and two B grades in Economics and Geography; to study Geography at the University of Exeter.
  • Anna Brown from Liss achieved three As in Biology, Physics and Geography.
  • Scarlet Watney from Bosham achieved three A grades in Design, Economics and Mathematics.
  • Georgina Brand from Petersfield achieved two As in Design and Psychology, and a B in English Literature; to study Fashion Communication at Northumbria University.
  • Anna Jacobs from West Meon achieved two As in Biology and History, and a B grade in Mathematics.
  • Sophie Grierson from London achieved two As in English Literature and Drama & Theatre Studies, and a B grade in Classical Civilisation; to study English Literature at the University of Leeds.
  • Oscar Cooper (Head Boy) from Southsea achieved two As in Economics and History, and a B in Mathematics.
  • Bethany Maskall achieved two As in Biology and Chemistry, and a B in Drama & Theatre Studies; to study Biochemistry at the University of Sheffield.
  • Mohammad Pechuho from Karachi, Pakistan achieved two As in English Literature and Religious Studies, and a B in Classical Civilisation; to study Classical Studies at the University of St Andrews.
  • Talia Pick from Chichester achieved two As in English Literature and Drama & Theatre Studies, and a B in History.
  • Charlotte Robins from Winchester achieved two As in Biology and Mathematics, and a B grade in Physics; to study Natural Sciences at the University of Exeter.
  • Eleana Wilson-Smith from Midhurst achieved two As in Religious Studies and Spanish and a B in Art; to study a Foundation Diploma in Art & Design at Arts University Bournemouth.
  • Oliver May from Lymington achieved an A in French, and two B grades in Biology and Chemistry.
  • Neal Raithatha from East Meon achieved an A in Mathematics, and two Bs in Chemistry and Economics; to study Mathematics at Loughborough University.
  • Izabela Swiderska from Petersfield achieved three B grades in Design, Psychology and Spanish; to study a Foundation Diploma in Art & Design at University College Falmouth.

The full A Level statistics were as follows:

  • A* passes: 14%
  • A* – A passes: 40%
  • A* – B passes: 63%
  • A* – E passes: 99%

Cambridge Pre-U D1and D2 grades are equivalent to an A*; a D3 is equivalent to an A; M1 is equivalent to an A grade and M2/M3 merit grades are equivalent to B grade.

Please note that this data is provisional and subject to re-marks.

View photos.

Bedales A-Level Success 2013

Bedales A-Level Success 2013

Bedales A-Level Success 2013

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.