MYTH, CULT, AND PERFORMANCE: SIR JOHN SOANE'S CAWDOR VASE

Authors


  • This paper was given in much the same form as the Trendall Lecture at the Institute of Classical Studies, 15 May 2012. My sincere thanks are extended to ICS directors Mike Edwards and John North for the opportunity to serve as Trendall Fellow, to the Deputy Director, Olga Krzyszkowska, and to Senior Fellow Richard Green for making my stay in London so pleasant. I am grateful to the staff of Sir John Soane's Museum, and especially to Helen Dorey and Sue Palmer for their on-going assistance. I have greatly benefited from discussions of this material with Sue Blundell, Lucilla Burn, Ian Jenkins, Gregory Nagy, the late David Ridgway, Ryan Platte, and Madelaine Goh. For help with the preparation of the lecture and its publication I also thank Dylan Rogers, Carrie Sulosky-Weaver, Renee Gondek, and Veronica Ikeshoji-Orlati. The drawings were prepared by Dan Weiss.

Abstract

The Cawdor Vase was purchased by Sir John Soane in 1800, launching the London architect's career as a collector of antiquities. The Apulian red-figure volute-krater (4th c. BC) is displayed in the dining room of Soane's house-museum at no. 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, in the exact location it occupied when Soane died in 1837. The krater appears in artistic representations and section drawings of the house, as well as in descriptions of the museum and its holdings. Prominent modern scholars (Vermeule and Trendall) studied the object, securing its place in the corpus of South Italian wares.

As intriguing as its role in the history of collecting and reception is the Cawdor Vase's unique iconography. On one side is an enigmatic version of the preparations for the chariot race of Oinomaos and Pelops, and on the other a familiar type of naiskos scene. The decoration on the vase, taken as a whole, reveals the different stages of the famous myth and can be connected with textual accounts, the cult of Pelops, Apulian funerary ritual, and the foundation of the Olympic Games.

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