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CELEBRATE! Profile: Victoria Doose '12

An English and art history double major takes a second look at the meaning of Greek vases that scholars have traditionally ignored.

“Even if a vase doesn’t seem like it’s useful for the traditional ways people have looked at Greek vase paintings doesn’t mean it’s completely useless for scholarship,” said Elon University senior Victoria Doose.


By Caitlin O’Donnell ‘13

Elon University senior Victoria Doose is breathing new life into ancient Greek vases by studying the historical significance of pieces traditionally disregarded by scholars, and her work is the latest to be featured in a series of E-net profiles on undergraduate research to be presented during CELEBRATE! 2012

Doose’s interest in the subject began during an “Issues in Greek Art” course when she discovered the mythical character of Chiron, a centaur known for his wisdom and kindness – characteristics not often found among his species. Doose started collecting ancient vases depicting Chiron and another centaur, Pholos, known for similar traits.

While culling through her assortment, Doose recognized patterns that didn’t line up with existing theories about Greek history and art.

“These vases had been ‘swept under the rugs’ in some ways,” Doose said. “From a methodological perspective, you can’t use them because they don’t make sense in that framework. I started looking into other ways that did make sense, such as context.”

In one case, a vase featuring the Greek hero Herakles as a baby was thought to contain an error. On one side, the vase shows the god Hermes carrying Herakles in his arm while on the other side Chiron is shown, arms outstretched, prepared to take the baby.

Based on iconographic research of ancient literary mythology, other scenes would identify the child as Achilles, not Herakles.

Doose challenges the idea that the portrayal of Herakles is wrong. Since it was found buried in a tomb in Etruria, she focuses on the funerary context of the vase.

“One of my theories is that it wouldn’t matter for an Etruscan whether Herakles technically fits into the painting's story or not,” Doose said. “What matters is the painting’s connection to funerary context. If you can look at it in other ways, you can see why people would have wanted the vase and why it would have held appeal.”

In many cases, scholars often try to attach literary texts to the images found on vases and disregard those that don’t line up entirely.

“Even if a vase doesn’t seem like it’s useful for the traditional ways people have looked at Greek vase paintings doesn’t mean it’s completely useless for scholarship,” Doose said. “There are other ways of looking at things that people haven’t thought about.”

Evan Gatti, assistant professor of art history and Doose’s mentor, said it is important to look at how iconography is used as a method in art history to construct meaning.

“Her conclusions about the way two centaurs have been depicted in Greek vase painting may seem narrow,” Gatti said, “but her approach asks significant questions about what we really know about the ancient and even modern contexts for vase paintings, as well as raises issues about the historically complex relationship between texts and visual images.”

At the 2012 Spring Undergraduate Research Forum, Doose presented one of three case studies in a project titled "Re-Thinking Iconography in Ancient Art: A Case Study of the Munich Antikensammlungen Vase 1615." The English and art history double major recently returned from a presentation at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

“I’m going to keep up with it in my own ways, even if not in a scholarly context,” Doose said. “I’m still very much interested in it.”

The Charleston, S.C., native is also involved with the Classics Club and worked as an editorial assistant of Elon’s Perspectives on Undergraduate Research and Mentoring journal. The Elon College Fellow, whose research during SURF doubles as her thesis, is a member of Phi Kappa Phi and the Sigma Tau Delta English honor society.

Doose said she hopes to find a job in an editorial position at a publishing company following Commencement in May, but she has not ruled out graduate studies.

CELEBRATE! is Elon University's annual, weeklong celebration of student achievements in academics and the arts. It runs this year April 22-28.

Eric Townsend,
4/25/2012 8:54 AM