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Reading the Vase: Exploring responses to Greek art through an examination of d'Hancarville's interpretation of the Hunt Krater and Keats's 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' by Jessica Billington

This article examines the cultural significance of eighteenth-century collections of Greek vases through an exploration of two different responses to these artefacts. D’Hancarville’s explanation of the Hunt Krater attempts an empirical, objective analysis of the vase, assigning identities to unnamed figures and determinedly linking the scene to a famous legendary episode. D’Hancarville likens his reading of the vase to solving an ‘algebraic problem’ as he seeks to definitively establish the vase’s meaning. His approach can be seen as a consequence of the need to create the market, the science and the value of Greek vases at a time when they had not been widely classified, assessed or organised. It also reflects the ideals of the Enlightenment and d’Hancarville’s somewhat calculating personality. The mere existence of Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ perhaps demonstrates the success of eighteenth-century collectors and publishers in establishing the Greek vase as a significant subject of scholarly and artistic contemplation. The poem, however, is an openly speculative, Romantic response to a generic Grecian Urn that embraces and enjoys its mystery rather than attempting to solve it. D’Hancarville and Keats’s responses both idealise Greek art and Greek virtues but the forms and styles of their interpretations display the varying contexts in which they were written and their differing artistic philosophies.

Date created: 
Friday, May 24, 2019
Attribution for this resource:
Reading the Vase: Exploring responses to Greek art through an examination of d'Hancarville's interpretation of the Hunt Krater and Keats's 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' by Jessica Billington, All rights reserved.