The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Christopher Allen

HERE is al­ways some­thing in­trigu­ing about pri­vate col­lec­tions, es­pe­cially when they are truly pri­vate and anony­mous rather than a fash­ion­able ac­ces­sory for the newly rich. Con­tem­po­rary art more of­ten than not falls into this un­for­tu­nate lat­ter cat­e­gory, and col­lec­tions put to­gether by deal­ers and in­vest­ment man­agers are of no more in­ter­est than homes tricked out by in­te­rior de­sign­ers.

Col­lec­tions of things that are not fash­ion­able, and that de­mand ac­tual knowl­edge and ex­per­tise on the part of the owner, are ob­vi­ously like­lier to be in­ter­est­ing, in the same way other peo­ple’s li­braries are al­most al­ways in­trigu­ing be­cause they re­flect the in­ter­ests and to some ex­tent per­sonal his­to­ries of their own­ers. And with li­braries as with col­lec­tions, they don’t have to be big to be dis­tin­guished; in fact if they are too big they be­come rather im­per­sonal. Com­pre­hen­sive­ness is for mu­se­ums rather than for pri­vate houses.

Again, we ex­pect col­lec­tions to be found in wealthy quar­ters of cities: it is easy to imag­ine sub­stan­tial houses filled with paint­ings, stud­ies lined with books and pre­cious ob­jects of var­i­ous kinds. But ex­pe­ri­ence

Tshows that some large and im­pres­sive houses con­tain lit­tle of note, while ob­scure sub­urbs may hold un­sus­pected trea­sures — the word, in fact, ap­pro­pri­ately used as the ti­tle for an ex­hi­bi­tion of an­tiq­ui­ties from pri­vate col­lec­tions at the Univer­sity of Melbourne’s Ian Pot­ter Mu­seum.

The works on dis­play come from 11 pri­vate col­lec­tions scat­tered across Melbourne, but they have one im­por­tant thing in com­mon: most of them re­flect the in­flu­ence and teach­ing of one of the most im­por­tant art his­to­ri­ans Aus­trala­sia has pro­duced, although one far less well known to most readers than Bernard Smith, the great pioneer of Aus­tralian art his­tory who died last Septem­ber.

Arthur Dale Tren­dall (1909-95) was one of the great­est schol­ars of the his­tory of an­cient ce­ram­ics of the 20th cen­tury, a spe­cial­ist on the an­cient wares of south­ern Italy and Si­cily, the re­gion known in an­tiq­uity as Magna Grae­cia. Tren­dall, as we learn from the ex­cel­lent ac­count of his life by J. R. Green, which is avail­able on­line, was born in Auck­land and stud­ied at the Univer­sity of Otago and then Trin­ity Col­lege at Cam­bridge, where he be­came a re­search scholar in 1933, be­fore mov­ing to Rome where he was for a time li­brar­ian at the Bri­tish School, then re­turn­ing to Trin­ity as a fel­low of the col­lege.

In 1939 he was ap­pointed to the chair of Greek at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney, suc­ceed­ing Enoch Pow­ell who had re­turned to Eng­land to en­list in the army; he also held the chair of arche­ol­ogy and was re­spon­si­ble for the Ni­chol­son mu­seum. In 1954 he moved to Can­berra to be­come the first mas­ter of Univer­sity House at the the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity and, fi­nally, in 1969 to Melbourne to be­come a re­search fel­low at La Trobe Univer­sity.

In the course of these years, Tren­dall pur­sued his schol­arly work on the vases of south­ern Italy, pro­duc­ing an im­pres­sive se­ries of vol­umes on the vases of Apu­lia (where the main cen­tre of pro­duc­tion was Taranto, the an­cient Taras), Paes­tum (an­cient Po­sei­do­nia) and south­ern Italy in gen­eral. Along the way he in­spired many younger schol­ars and also, as it turns out, the col­lec­tors whose works are now on dis­play at the Ian Pot­ter Mu­seum.

There are other fine things in the show as well, but the most im­por­tant ob­jects are Greek vases, in­clud­ing some At­tic ones as well as a ma­jor­ity of south­ern Ital­ian wares. But whether pro­duced in At­tica it­self or in Apu­lia or Si­cily, all these vases had spe­cific uses and func­tions within the din­ner par­ties that were a cen­tral part of an­cient so­cial life.

The world of the clas­si­cal Greek city, the po­lis, was largely a public one. Pri­vate houses were rel­a­tively mod­est, con­spic­u­ous ex­pen­di­ture be­ing con­fined to public build­ings such as tem­ples. The cit­i­zens met in­for­mally in the agora and for­mally in the ec­cle­sia — the assem­bly — as well as in end­less ju­ries and com­mis­sions.

Com­ple­ment­ing this public ex­is­tence, as well as the pri­vate world of the home, was the in­ter­me­di­ate do­main of so­cia­bil­ity rep- re­sented by din­ner par­ties or sym­posia; one of Plato’s di­a­logues, the Sym­po­sium, takes place at such a gath­er­ing. They were held in din­ing rooms of pri­vate houses, where guests re­clined on couches around a cen­tral space and food was served on por­ta­ble ta­bles.

There were con­ven­tions, although these were sub­ject to vari­a­tion: food was eaten first, then water was brought to wash hands and wine was served. Although food and wine seem to have been served to­gether in the Homeric pe­riod, there is a for­mula in the Iliad and the Odyssey about the de­sire for food be­ing sated, which marks the point at which con­ver­sa­tion be­gins. The same prin-

Ceramic loutrophoros (a ves­sel for wash­ing) from Apu­lia, south­ern Italy, C315BC

Glass minia­ture am­phora, first cen­tury BC, Italy

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