Obituary: Professor A. D. Trendall

By Boardman, John | The Independent (London, England), November 25, 1995 | Go to article overview
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Obituary: Professor A. D. Trendall


Boardman, John, The Independent (London, England)


A. D. Trendall was one of the great classical art historians of this century.

He devoted virtually all his academic career to the study of figure-decorated South Italian vases of the 5th to 4th centuries BC. There are at least 20,300 of them, and to modern eyes they range from the garishly complex and kitsch to the banal, from exquisite draughtsmanship to what he fondly called "little horrors". But they are susceptible to close analysis in terms of painter hands, which makes possible the creation of the history of a prolific craft in the main colonial Greek centres, in Campania, Sicily, and especially Lucania and Apulia. Moreover their decoration includes a host of figure scenes of mythological events in which many scholars have seen close reflections of subjects of the contemporary theatre, of Athens especially, but which also record much that has escaped surviving texts.

Through Trendall's work this great corpus was effectively put in order, painters and workshops identified, dates assigned, and a basis laid for continuing studies on the various other aspects of antiquity illuminated by such evidence, which he also pursued with enthusiasm.

His technique of attribution was one already perfected by J.D. (Sir John) Beazley, working on the even more numerous Athenian vases of the 6th to 4th centuries BC. Beazley had more than once turned his eyes to the South Italian, but it was left to Trendall to complete the task which called for skills of perception and visual memory commanded by very few archaeologists of any generation.

Both Beazley's and Trendall's work demanded a lifetime of dedication, decidedly one-man projects that could never have been effected by a team or even machines. The result was a series of massive books with lists, but also, unlike Beazley's, with close explanations of the criteria for identification, and rich illustration. And the books were followed by a long series of Supplements, since this is a subject for which new material, from excavations (legal and otherwise), was constantly forthcoming.

Arthur Dale Trendall was born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1909, and educated at Cambridge, where he was a Fellow of Trinity from 1936 to 1940, but returned south to the Chair in Greek at Sydney University, which he held until 1954; and thence to Canberra as Master of University House in the Australian National University to 1969, and as its Deputy Vice- Chancellor for six years. His last years were spent as Resident Fellow at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

He had a profound effect on the development of Classical studies in Australia. In his universities he was an able administrator and man of affairs: the other side to a life of dedicated and disciplined scholarship, acknowledged by Fellowship of many Academies world-wide, medals, honorary doctorates, and award of Companionship of the Order of Australia and the CMG.

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