Chapter 5 – Vignette
Arthur Dale Trendall: A memoir
J. R. Green
J. R. Green is Emeritus Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Sydney. He has worked for many years on the ancient pottery of South Italy and Sicily, and not least on its regional schools and the relationships between colonial Greeks and the native people. He is an authority too on the material evidence (vase-paintings, terracotta figurines, marble reliefs and the like) for the appearance and style of Greek and Roman theatre performance. Of late he has been particularly concerned with what ancient audiences actually went to see in those theatres of the Roman period that are such a prominent part of the Italian landscape.
Arthur ‘Dale’ Trendall was to have more impact on the archaeology of the Greek colonies of South Italy and Sicily than any other antipodean scholar. He was born in 1909 in Auckland, New Zealand, where his father taught woodworking and technical drawing. From 1921 to 1925 he attended King’s College (where he became dux), and then the University of Otago, Dunedin, from 1926 to 1929, where he was attracted to Classics under the influence of the figure of T. D. Adams, the dynamic and gifted professor of the subject who drew wide audiences to his lectures. There is no doubt that Trendall saw the importance of Adams’s style, and this was a debt that he acknowledged through the dedication of one of his earliest books, Frühitaliotische Vasen (1938). Trendall then studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1931 to 1933 on a postgraduate scholarship. During his first long vacation there in 1932 he travelled in Italy, and was very impressed by the Greek colonial sites, especially by the unspoiled beauty of Paestum. In 1933 he was elected a Research Scholar in Classics at Trinity and from 1933 to 1936 he studied at Athens and Rome, holding a Rome scholarship for the last two years. The next two years were also spent in Rome, as librarian to the British School. His first monograph, Paestan Pottery: A Study of the Red-Figured Vases of Paestum, was published by the British School at Rome in 1936. After this, he was a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, for three years.
When Trendall was beginning his career, J. D. Beazley at Oxford had for some 20 years been exploiting the possibilities of attributing the figures depicted on Athenian pottery to individual hands, as a means of classifying that body of material in human rather than abstract terms. To some degree Beazley’s work paralleled that being carried out on Italian Renaissance painting at the same time. Trendall decided to devote himself to the red-figure pottery produced in the Greek cities of South Italy and Sicily, a subject that he was to pursue with an absolute passion and tireless devotion for more than 60 years. Others, such as Adolf Furtwängler in Berlin, H. B. Walters in the British Museum and Giovanni Patroni, not to mention Beazley himself and his pupil Noël Moon, had already gone some way in distinguishing the various schools and centres of manufacture. Trendall’s was nevertheless a brave choice, for as he wrote in the Epilogue (vol. 1, p. 1036) to The Red-Figured Vases of Apulia (1978–82) in the 1930s ‘the general attitude to South Italian vases was rather like Vergil’s advice to Dante in regard to the lost souls outside the gate of Hell: “non ragionam di lor, ma guarda e passa.”’ (‘Let us not speak of them, but look and pass on.’)
Trendall came to Australia in 1939, to the Chair of Greek at the University of Sydney, vacated when Enoch Powell returned to Britain, having foreseen the outbreak of war. From 1948 Trendall also held the newly instituted Chair of Archaeology. In effect Trendall developed Classical archaeology as a serious subject during that time. He revitalised the University’s Nicholson Museum through astute purchases of antiquities, often from old English private collections that were being dispersed in the postwar period. He also conceived the internationally important Handbook of the Nicholson Museum (1945, 2nd edition 1948), which set the local material within a broader picture of ancient art – at a time when few such surveys were available.
Trendall’s years in Sydney were perhaps most remarkable for his brilliant lecture-courses. The lectures inspired a whole generation of students, not least Martin Fredericksen, his best pupil, who went on to work on Campania, and whose early death in 1980 was a great sadness. During these years Trendall also began to inspire other universities to acquire collections of antiquities to assist in teaching. This idea which had, of course, long been accepted in Europe and some parts of North America, was new in the antipodes outside Sydney. In 1954, at the age of 45, he gave up his chair at Sydney to become the first master of University House in Canberra. To many at the time, this seemed a bold move. Canberra, although the federal capital, was a comparatively small place, and the University did not then have a very great reputation in the humanities. Moreover, others were sorry that Trendall had given up regular teaching. He, however, had seen possibilities which others did not. University House was designed as a graduate college, and he set a standard of style and humanity there that has lasted ever since. It was also the beginning of a remarkable period of government-inspired expansion in the Australian university system (as it was in the Australian economy), and Trendall was at the centre of things. Nevertheless one can see why he made an attempt to return to Cambridge, applying for the Chair of Classical Archaeology in 1962. Australia is fortunate that he was unsuccessful. This was also the period in which Trendall undertook those extensive travels and researches that culminated in the publication in 1967 of The Red-Figured Vases of Lucania, Campania and Sicily, a work that tackled so many difficult problems of the pottery traditions of those areas in a way that has proved to be definitive. The latter book had been foreshadowed in the introductory sections of Vasi antichi dipinti del Vaticano: vasi italioti ed etruschi a figure rosse (1953–55), a publication which had a major impact in Italy.
The way was now clear to take on the largest subject of research, that of Apulian red-figure pottery. Trendall’s first publication, an article in the Journal of Hellenic Studies for 1934, had dealt with an Early Apulian volute-krater; the volume Frühitaliotische Vasen of 1938 discussed the stylistic development of Apulian vases down to about 380 BC, but the large number of Apulian vases in public and private collections throughout the world made the task of attribution extremely daunting. At this time, two new factors proved to be of great benefit to the project. One was the presence in Australia of Alexander Cambitoglou, whom Trendall had encouraged to move to Sydney in 1961 and who had worked on Apulian material under the guidance of T. B. L. Webster in London. The other was Trendall’s own move in 1969 from Canberra to become resident fellow at La Trobe University on the outskirts of Melbourne. He was to remain there for a quarter of a century, his longest period at any institution. Here he was able to devote himself almost entirely to his work, and he did so at a phenomenal pace. The result was the appearance in 1978 of the first volume, covering Early and Middle Apulian, of The Red-Figured Vases of Apulia, followed four years later by an even larger second volume encompassing Late Apulian. Together with its two hefty supplements of 1983 and 1991–92, this was a monumental achievement. Some 10,000 vases were assembled and attributed to some 370 painters and groups. But the accomplishment was not confined to classification, for the work was – and is – a treasure of exact knowledge, accumulated over many years, on the style, subject matter and shapes of Apulian vase-painting.
Like many of the most successful academics, Trendall had the skill of organising his time and of prioritising what was important, in addition to being unafraid of hard work. He was the author of some 24 books and monographs, and of numerous articles. There was a rich justice in the way that the last of his major classificatory books, The Red-Figured Vases of Paestum (1987), brought him back, full circle, to his old love. The version of 1936 had discussed some 400 vases; this new one nearly 2000. Red Figure Vases of South Italy and Sicily (1989) was one of Trendall’s last works, and with its authority, its breathtaking pace, its wit, its sparkle and its myriad illustrations it is not simply a summary of all his work – it is, in its way, reminiscent of his lecture style of the old days.
In order to carry out his work as efficiently as possible, Trendall gradually built up a magnificent personal library and photographic archive: everything necessary was at his fingertips. Nevertheless, he firmly believed that it was essential to examine as many vases as possible. Certainly he had a prodigious visual memory, but it is hard to imagine anyone else who could have undertaken the difficult task of keeping track of so many vases as they passed across several continents through the hands of dealers, to private collectors and museums, many of them minor. Trendall was an indefatigable traveller, moving around the globe in pursuit of vases old and new; he was fortunate that the introduction of jet passenger aircraft on intercontinental routes at the end of the 1950s reduced the travelling time from Australia to little more than it is today. Since he was not very fond of hot weather, there were few Australian summers in which he stayed at home: he was much happier pursuing South Italian vases in the northern winter, when museum curators were on duty and famous towns were not thronged with tourists. It was also typical of Trendall that each trip was meticulously planned. Long before his departure he would know the date on which he would be travelling from, say, Taranto to Metaponto; moreover, he would know precisely which train or bus he would be taking, each carefully calculated to maximise useful time in view of museum opening hours. His visits were so regular that in South Italy he was popularly known as ‘il rondinello’ – ‘the swallow’, an image perhaps favoured by his white shirt and dark suit. He was also envied for his vivacity and stamina, his fluent Italian, and his discretion with Italian cuisine.
Those of us in the antipodes are conscious of Trendall’s outstanding qualities as a researcher, and also of how much he achieved for our subject in the Australian university system. He was no narrow scholar confined to his study; he was a skilled administrator, played a major role on policy issues, and enjoyed his acquaintance with Robert Menzies during Menzies’s years as prime minister. Trendall had little time for the pretentious or for academic fools. But one remembers his charm and quick wit; his kindness to the young; his sensitivity; his erudition, and the infinite amount of time he would devote to those who wanted to learn. He held a knighthood in the Papal Order of St Gregory, and received the the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George in 1961. Also in 1961 he was made Cavaliere Ufficiale Ordine al Merito of Italy. When he died in 1995, Trendall bequeathed his archive and books to La Trobe University, where they now form the basis of a Research Centre. In concluding we may quote his own words, from his speech on receipt of the Premio Internazionale Galileo Galilei dei Rotary Italiani in 1971:
If I have also been able to make a modest contribution to the better understanding of one of the wellsprings of Italian culture, then I am honoured; I am anyway very happy that in order to pursue my researches I need to return every year to Italy, which, I might say on this delightful day, I regard with pride as my second homeland.1
1 ‘Se io avessi potuto porgere anche un contributo modesto alla migliore comprensione di una delle fonti della cultura italiana, sarei onorato; in ogni modo sono felicissimo che per la continuazione delle mie ricerche io debba ritornare ogni anno in Italia che considero in questo lieto giorno con molta fierezza come la mia seconda patria.’ The full text of Trendall’s moving and at the same time revealing acceptance speech on the occasion of the Galileo Galilei Prize is available from: http://www3.humnet.unipi.it/galileo/Fondazione/Vincitori%20Premio%20Galilei/Arthur_Dale_Trendall.htm.
There are obituaties of Trendall by J. R. Green and Ian McPhee (1996) in Antike Welt 17:67–68; by Henri Metzger (1996) in Revue Archéologique 411–413, and by L. Cozza Luzi (1997–1998) in Atti della Pontificia academia romana di Archeologia. Rendiconti 70:321–322. There are also appreciations of his work in the articles by J. R. Green, David Ridgway and Dyfri Williams (1996) in the Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 41.