Seattle Art Museum and the Prown Method

Seattle Art Museum - Object sketch

Seattle Art Museum – Object sketch

On this post we are introducing an alternate method for art appreciation and analysis. The Prown Method, published in 1982 by Jules David Prown, gives us a path from general to particular, culminating in research for the better understanding of artwork in all of its variants. To put on practice this model, a visit to the Seattle Art Museum took place, selecting one of the objects of the Greek Culture that could later be studied and researched. The sketch (above) is the object that caught my eye, which i’ll try to defragment using Prown’s visual analysis steps:

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Description. The object is a ceramic carved cup with two handles, symmetrically designed. On one side of the vase we have a carved face of what it appears to be an angry man with big pointy ears, grown beard and mustache. On the other side, there’s also a face but with a more calm expression, with a more relatable facial construction of the Greek human figure sculpting, slightly pointy ears and subtle head tilt. These carved faces share the body of the vase, with the handles above them. Its base is the neck of both characters, opening its width a few centimeters at the bottom edge. The height of the object may be about 4-5 inches.

Deduction.  The vase/cup may have been made for personal and household use. The sculpted faces: are these pagan Gods? Semi-gods? Mythological creatures? Could there be a possibility of being used for ritual purposes? Probably not, since they don’t seem to have the idealistic Greek human figure. Is there a meaning (playful or serious) depending on the side you picked this vase up? Additionally, these are only heads, an uncommon way (or even prohibited) to depict a Greek God. It could be holding any liquid: water, wine or oil, even food such as small fruits. The main question here is the original purpose of use of this object, even though it could have had a third-fourth use as a flower vase or for interior decoration purposes.

Speculation Part 1. It’s interesting to imagine this object being used centuries ago in its original conditions.  The face of  the bearded man with pointy ears is most likely to be a Satyr, a mythical creature in ancient Greece, easily recognised in art as a man with goat legs. On the other side, it’s hard for me to tell if this character could be a satyr too, since there are not significant features that reveal this, other than the ears. In previous satyr representations, they mostly appear as bearded man-goats (excluding this one), but there’s also evidence of full human representation of them. Here are some sketches illustrating what I’ve come up with in the deduction and speculation of the object:

Speculation Part 2. Doing research, I’ve run into different sources specialising on Greek pottery. The object studied in this post is a Kantharos, a drinking cup, one of many types created by Greek culture. There are variations in terms of shape, size and overall detailing, commonly divided by the Greek art periods that we have already studied. The kantharos are considered to be part of the Hellenistic period in spite of their classical craftsmanship look because they were the main drinking vessels of the late 4th and 3rd centuries. These objects were moderate in size, with most examples falling between 9 and 12cm in height (3.5 – 4.7″), usually created under the influence of art tendencies  and fashion. In the upper part of the vase, below the rim, there might have been a painting with a satyr scene as well, which can be seen in other kantharos examples. The subjects of the kantharos are narrowed to Dionysiac characters or Dyonisos himself, god of wine and fertility in Greek mythology, which makes sense for the type of object we are analysing. Now we can define the two characters depicted in this drinking cup: A maenad (female followers of Dyonisos) and a satyr, usually related to a carefree and partying lifestyle. The pointy ears mentioned early is one of the satyr’s common attributes: goat like ears. On the other side there’s the maenad, a female classic-like face that would accompany you, along with the satyr, in your drinking frenzy. These two characters can be seen in many objects created by the Greek artisans (mostly on pottery), usually doing crazy activities involving sex, chasing, teasing each other, drinking, and much more. Below, there’s an example of Greek pottery with these two characters:

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This is it for now, hope you enjoyed the post!

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Bibliography.

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One thought on “Seattle Art Museum and the Prown Method

  1. Pingback: Byzantine art and the Pantokrator | FRANCISCO GUERRERO

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