Part 3: “Dionysos: The Bold and the Beautiful” by Katerina Volioti

In the previous part, I outlined that a pre-occupation with rigid stylistic categories might hinder creative thinking. In this part, I explore the possibility of a bold and beautiful combination of images and stories from different timeframes, cultures and geographical locations.

A striking and recurrent theme of Classical Mythology is the propensity of mythical actors to transform themselves. The quintessential god of transformations is, of course, Dionysos, the god whose many roles include that of god of wine. In one peculiar incident known from ancient texts and art, Dionysos sails away while pirates turn into dolphins and the mast of his ship into a vine. Transformations are characterised by swift and continuous action. Indeed, in the book Dionysos, the Merry God[1] (my translation) by Filippos Mandilaras (author) and Natalia Kapatsoulia (illustrator) from 2013, Dionysos’ life is characterised by incessant movement, including travel to and from distant lands.

Recent museum exhibitions about polychromy – the colours, patterns and metal attachments that adorned the sculptures in Antiquity – have helped us to revise the story of Classical art and to move away from Winckelmann’s ideas about Classical beauty, especially the simplicity and purity associated with white marble.[2] For children and adult learners polychromy offers multiple opportunities for creative thinking. Polychromous statues are aligned more with the art and consumer goods of western societies, as is also implied in the recent thought-provoking exhibition The Classical Now.[3] Reconstructions of painted statues, with their kitsch and quasi-plastic looks, negate idealisation and hierarchies of value. Learners are also prompted to think about different colour combinations in educational museum activities.[4]

More remarkably perhaps, when statues’ colour palettes and patterns mismatch in a bold way, polychromy creates a new aesthetic principle. The idea of a mismatch or blend, moreover, may allow for the marrying of the styles of the Classical world with incongruent elements from cultural assemblages in far-away places. The lithographs and etchings of New Zealand artist Marian Maguire, for example, exhibit a fine blending of ancient Greek culture with that of colonial New Zealand.[5] Earlier this summer Maguire exhibited works that show Greek goddesses.[6] The style of these works is reminiscent of Greek vase painting. Their meaning, however, reflects (post)modern concerns about the established status quo. Athena, for example, looks as if she is fed up with her militaristic role that supports imperialism. She wants to remove her armour and walk away from her role:[7]

Figure 10: Athena tires of her shield and spear by Marian Maguire. Lithograph on Velin Arches 250g paper from the 2017 series Goddesses. Courtesy of Marian Maguire

It was during this year’s OMC workshops in Warsaw that I was prompted further to combine images of Classical artefacts with contemporary material culture from outside the Classical world. I was inspired by Divine Che Neba’s presentation about people-object interactions in today’s Cameroon. Professor Che Neba’s slides included photographs of: traditional mud huts with cone-shaped thatched roofs (Fig. 11); and wooden and beaded souvenirs, most of them bearing eye-catching colours, such as bright yellow, red orange and deep blue (Fig. 12). The strong colour contrasts reminded me of polychromy in Greek sculpture:

Figure 11 Traditional Cameroonian houses.jpg
Figure 11: Traditional Cameroonian houses. Photograph: Divine Che Neba
Figure 12 Traditional Cameroonian artefacts.jpg
Figure 12: Traditional Cameroonian artefacts. Photograph: Divine Che Neba

I produced a sketch drawing that blended (mis)matching artefacts from Greek and Cameroonian cultures:

Figure 13 Greco-Cameroonian Art.jpg
Figure 13: Graeco-Cameroonian Art. Sketch drawing by Katerina Volioti

I copied images from Professor Che Neba’s slides and from illustrations of Greek archaeological finds in two guide books for adult learners by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens: Pots and Pans of Classical Athens by Brian A. Sparkes and Lucy Talcott  (1959, Fig. 14);[8] and Amphoras and the Ancient Wine Trade by Virginia R. Grace (1979, Fig. 15):[9]

Figure 14: Pots and Pans of Classical Athens, American School of Classical Studies, Athens
Figure 15: Amphoras and the Ancient Wine Trade, American School of Classical Studies, Athens

My drawing presents a collage of disparate entities in terms of style, size, materials, and, of course, provenances. To some extent, Cameroonian and Greek material culture seem to be blending into one another, potentially calling for a combination of their respective mythologies. Such a combination is possible as an intellectual exercise because of mythical actors’ transformative powers and capacity to travel long distances. If children find ancient (and modern) myths fascinating, it is precisely because mythical characters can find a way to use Chian transport amphorae in a Cameroonian mud hut.


I close this reflective blog posting with a call for illustrated children’s books to embrace also the creative blending of material cultures and of mythical stories from different parts of the world. The art history and archaeology of museum exhibits could be a starting point for producing new (artistic) designs that, like mythical actors, step out of time and space and challenge the very essence of stylistic unity. If we teach the Classical world in a way that encourages a sense of innovation, then we may shape the founders of tomorrow’s start-ups with products that will change the world. More crucially, children will learn from a young age to think outside the box and embrace the bold and the beautiful in a way that breaks down the boundaries between the present and the past, the real and the imaginary and, surely, Greek and Cameroonian material culture.

Prepared by

Katerina Volioti

Katerina Volioti October 2018.jpg

Katerina is currently teaching modules on Classical art and archaeology at the University of Roehampton.

Elaborated by Dorota Bazylczyk


I am grateful to Susan Deacy,[10] Michael Loy,[11] Katarzyna Marciniak,[12] and Amy C. Smith[13] for reading and commenting on earlier versions of this blog posting. For images, I would like to thank Divine Che Neba, Eirini Dermitzaki, Marian Maguire, Anja Slawisch, Carol Stein, and Peter Stewart. All URLs are correct as at 21 August 2018.


[1] –,-the-cheerful-god and

[2] – See, for example,

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[4] – See, for example,

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“Blending Styles and Cultures: Part 2 – The Unity of Style” by Katerina Volioti

The second part of this blog posting consists of two sections. Firstly, I comment on how style works for art historians. Secondly, I consider in what ways a pre-occupation with style is evident in children’s books and how this aligns with art historical approaches. 

Art historians and style

Stylistic analysis is important for art historians and archaeologists. The close and often meticulous observation of an objet d’art enables scholars to discuss distinctive technical and artistic traits, date the work, and contextualise it within the artist’s oeuvre and contemporary society. In effect, stylistic analysis constructs classificatory schemas, ranging from phases in an artist’s career to typological sequences. For Greek vases, John Beazley, the greatest vase connoisseur of the twentieth century, devoted his life to the systematic examination of how different painters rendered idiosyncratically the anatomical and ornamental details of their drawings (1).

Figure 6 Sir John Beazley studying lekythoi
Sir John Beazley studying lekythoi. Photograph from the Beazley Archive. Courtesy of the Classical Art Research Centre, University of Oxford

Beazley thus attributed vases to different painters and created a sequence of the relationships of painters, both stylistically and chronologically. Beazley built a robust system for ordering thousands of painters and their vases, to which subsequent generations of vase scholars have adhered. Evidently, learning about style and acquiring skills in stylistic analysis is invaluable in specialist scholarship.

When I teach undergraduate modules in Classical Art at Roehampton, my students and I are also faced with learning about style. Even before coming to university, students have an idea about the Classical style as something that describes ancient and modern works, such as Neoclassical buildings that look either Greek or Roman, or both.

Figure 7 Neoclassical architecture.jpg
Neoclassical architecture: Sackler Library, Oxford. Wikimedia [source]

Students are right to find the timeframe of the Classical era, from 480 to 323 BCE – that is, from the naval battle of Salamis (480 BCE) to the death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE) – a little too tight in appreciating the Classical style (2). Indeed, much of Classical art, especially sculpture, is studied through its legacy and emulation in later periods. Even Praxiteles’ mid fourth-century BCE Aphrodite of Knidos, the most-discussed sculpture in ancient texts, survives only in Roman copies (3). In the first-year module Introduction to Classical Art (4), therefore, we problematise style and its implications for a quasi-historical approach to ancient art. As we discuss in our seminars, there exist no comprehensive answers in scholarship for why a particular style emerges, persists, and changes. While stylistic analysis appears to be a systematic approach, through the study of style the ancient world does not become more objective and scientific. If anything, an imaginative approach is needed in envisaging how style becomes influential and malleable over time.

Style in children’s books

In the books that I have studied for the OMC project, myths, sites, and museum exhibits are presented chronologically, from earlier to more recent times. In educational activities, children are asked to order mythological and historical figures (e.g., Theseus; Pericles) and material entities (e.g., the Erechtheion; the New Acropolis Museum) chronologically. From early on children are meant to think in terms of grouping like with like. This practice goes back to the eighteenth-century historicizing work of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (the Father of Art History), and in fact even earlier. The strong emphasis on periodization reflects the importance of (ancient) history in formal school curricula, both in Greece and other countries. That is, children are required to learn the names and (approximate) dates of different periods of human activity in the lands and islands of Greece. The list of periods is long and diverse – some periods are named for materials while others for style – and includes the Neolithic, the Bronze and the Dark Ages, the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman eras, Late Antiquity, the Byzantine period, the Ottoman and recent past and, of course, modern times. Human activity is understood (to a certain degree) through the rise and fall in artistic output, which is taken to reflect socio-economic prosperity and decline. With an emphasis on artistic achievement, children tend to valorise certain periods over others. Children note, for example, the high artistry of Cycladic and Mycenaean artefacts in the museum guides for these two stylistic groups. These guides include Ariadne Tells Stories from the Cycladic Period in the National Archaeological Museum from 2009 (5and Argos Tells Stories from the Mycenaean Period in the National Archaeological Museum from 2008 (6(my translation of titles in Greek). Both books are by Evi Pini and Popi Kirdi (authors) and by Stamatis Bonatsos, G. Ntelagiorgou and Giannis Sarsakis (illustrators). By contrast, the Dark Ages are given short shrift in all the books that I have examined, since this period can boast little in terms of artefactual elaboration.

Although mythology is placed in the deep past before (pre)history began, its relation to this periodization remains opaque. For all books that I have written database entries, there appear to be subtle efforts to associate mythology with historical events and archaeological finds so as to define mythology more concretely in time and space.

The Trojan War. The Beginning of History, from the series I Read Mythology [source]

In The Trojan War. The Beginning of History (7(my translation, the cover above) by Evi Pini (author) and Eliza Vavouri (illustrator), which was published in 2011, episodes from the epic cycle are recounted in a vivid and page-turning fashion, as if they were events that really happened. Yet there is no explanation of the title, specifically why these episodes marked the beginning of history. Some illustrations imitate Mycenaean frescoes and objects, such as boar’s tusks helmets. For readers who recognise the affinities with Mycenaean artefacts, the illustrations – just like the written text – point to actual people who made and used material culture in the past, and not to fictive mythological characters. Artistic style seems to add a material dimension – possibly credence – to myth. Mycenaean frescoes and helmets, moreover, are treasured museum exhibits, centrepieces of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (8). With all these pointers to history, archaeology, and museum visitation, the story of the Trojan War blends the past with the present; and the real with the imaginary.

Figure 9 The real_Fortifications of Troy I
The real: Fortifications of Troy I, ca. 2920 BCE. Photograph by Anja Slawisch taken in 2007

This blending does not allow, however, for the mixing and matching of different styles. Appropriately for the Trojan War the style of the illustrations refers to Mycenaean times, the time when historians and archaeologists believe that this war took place. Consistency in style is needed, not least because the book is an educational resource that follows to some degree school textbooks. When freed from their (art) historical contextualisation, how might mythological stories help with innovative thinking and artistic creations, both of which are favoured by young children?

In the final part of this blog posting, I suggest that a departure from strict stylistic norms can unleash creativity in children and adults alike.

Prepared by Katerina Volioti

Elaborated by Dorota Bazylczyk






(5) and

(6) and



(8) See