Wine and Furies: bringing directed studies to the art gallery

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On a rainy fall afternoon, nearly a dozen freshmen gathered in the former Isabel B. and Wallace S. Wilson art gallery of the University of Art Gallery of Yale, unfolding stools in front of a table padded with a thick blue blanket. At the top rested a 4eTerracotta bell krater from the century BC, a large black urn on a pedestal adorned with intricate red figures.

Behind the crater stood Susan Matheson, the ancient art curator of the Molly and Walter Bareiss Gallery and an expert on vase painters in the ancient world. As she has done every year since 1994, when the museum acquired the crater, Matheson was there to present the vase – what she called “the most important Southern Italian vase in the Yale collection” – to the students. , all of which are enrolled in the Directed Studies Program, an intensive program for first-year students of Western and Near Eastern Fundamental Philosophy, Historical and Political Thought, and Literature.

Welcome back to face-to-face studies, ”Matheson began, noting that last year’s gallery lectures were to be held virtually. “We’ve had some really wonderful technological experiences, but it’s just not the same. “

Directed studies undergraduates not only enrolled in a demanding set of courses – they have adopted a lifestyle. Hundreds of pages of reading. Weekly lectures on each topic, as well as small discussion sessions. One trial per week. Film screenings. Symposia. Study sessions at the Beinecke Library. Gallery talks. Engagement with even more texts outside of the study program, thanks to the student-led initiative, “ReDirected Studies”. (Even, rumored to be, an evening in a gown.)

Rightly so, that day they were here to study what you might call a lifestyle object: a little nerd (in its artistic form), a little nerd (in its use as a container to serve the wine at Greek conferences or social gatherings). ).

The wine would be diluted with water, as much or as little as the host wanted, depending on what kind of party it was going to be, ”said Matheson, turning the vase to show the symposium guests on one side. toga. Questioning the students, she added, “The stools are good because you are on the same level as the reclining dinner would have been. “

An artist known as the Hoppin Painter created this crater around 375 BCE in Puglia after a plague pushed vase painters from Greece to southern Italy, Matheson explained. The painter used a wash or slip to mimic the distinctive red and black hues that characterize Athenian pottery, a result of the high iron content of the local clay.

The vase represents a scene from Orestia, the three plays written by Aeschylus that tell the story of the house of Atreus, including Orestes, who avenged the murder of his father, Agamemnon, by killing his mother, Clytemnestra. The crater represents two Furies advancing on a distressed Orestes. “I thought there were three Furies?” Asked a student. “Sometimes,” Matheson told him. “The vase painters had an artistic license – they could add or subtract Furies at will.”

Curator Susan Matheson presents the 4th-century bell crater, which she calls “the most important Southern Italian vase in the Yale collection.”

The students reflected on the connection between this visual scene and the plays and concluded that it was not a direct performance, but a moment between the end of “The Carriers of Liberation”, with Orestes fleeing the scene of the murder, and the opening of “The Eumenides,” when the Furies, tamed by Apollo, sleep in the temple of Delphi.

What distinguishes the figure of Orestes? Matheson asked the group, urging them to lean closer to the crater. “What is the relationship here with the passion the Greek painters of red-figure vases had for bodies writhing in space?” “

The students looked at the object intently but seemed hesitant to guess. Matheson noted that the crater was photographed in high resolution for last year’s Zoom sessions, and two iPads were produced to allow students to peer at the figures even closer: Orestes’ transparent tunic swirling around from him as he skidded to stop in the Delphic Temple, the almost invisible serpent twisting around a Fury’s arm, ready to strike.

Look at his face, Matheson said, pointing to Orestes. “Is he happy? Is he at peace with his world? The students all agreed that he was not.” What would be the reason? “Matheson urged.” He is tortured by his guilt, “s’ volunteered a student. “Yes, exactly,” Matheson. “So can we get some Furies out here?”

Matheson eagerly pointed out the new details the photograph had revealed, including a spear in one Fury’s hand and a snakeskin belt circling the other’s waist. “It was absolutely exciting when we found them,” she said. “It’s hard to thank a pandemic, but this is new information for academia. “

The students returned from the screen to the physicality of the vase, a rare opportunity to see it not behind glass but as a practical and living object, to connect with the hands that shaped its shape and used it, the scratches from the wine ladle still visible in its well.

Matheson made the students think of these real people.

What is the possible reason for putting this in someone’s symposium? ” she asked. “You can be creative, there is no right answer.”

The supervised study program often considers how texts exist in conversation with one another. It was therefore appropriate that Anne Gross ’25 responded by referring to another piece of work the class had studied. “It reminds me of a line from the Bacchantes, that wine is the gum of all suffering,” she said. She imagined the revelers watching Orestes anguish, “then having the wine, which encourages us to forget our own anger and our own suffering.”

The gallery is about to close, but you can take one last look, ”Matheson told the group. The students moved closer. Even the sound of sirens and traffic coming from the street could not interrupt fellowship through 25 centuries.

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