This talk, the Annual Ridgway Lecture sponsored by the AIA Puget Sound Society and UW Classics, explores a new facet of Euphronios, who is widely held to be the most innovative ceramic artist in late Archaic Athens. Shifting attention away from stylistic developments, Hedreen explores the painter’s subjective conception of his own artistry. Fundamental to this exploration is a series of vases signed by an artist who calls himself Smikros – in English,
“Tiny.” Smikros takes responsibility for several ambitious vase-paintings, including the earliest “self portrait” in Western art, where he depicts himself as the guest of honor at an improbably lavish party. Vases signed by Smikros are hard to distinguish from those signed by Euphronios. This talk argues that “Smikros” is a fictitious creation, an alter ego, of Euphronios himself,
who created an artist so compelling that it fooled the greatest connoisseur of Athenian vase-painting, Sir John Beazley. Several paintings signed by Smikros contain anomalies that puzzled Beazley, and these are best understood as intentional. They are invitations to scrutinize the identity, artistry, character, and ambition of “Tiny,” the artist with the oversized ego. In turn, they invite us to think about the creativity of Euphronios, the painter who (sometimes) calls himself Smikros.
Modern scholars have failed to appreciate the subjectivity of Euphronios because of differences in our expectations. The vase paintings were intended for the symposium, which featured the performance and re-performance of poetry. Some iambic poetry circulating at symposia featured ideas very similar to those explored by Euphronios, including first-person narratives in
which the poet appears in the guise of someone else, and first-person narratives in which the poet’s rivals are fictitious artists.
Exaggeration, boastfulness, and implausibility surround many claims of iambic narrators. This outlandishness focuses critical attention on the persona of the poet, just as Euphronios’ vase-painting calls critical attention to the persona of Smikros. Euphronios’ ambition was to be recognized as an artist as creative as any practitioner of sympotic art, even a great poet.