Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum

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Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum
Fragment of a pithos (large storing jar) with abstract vegetative decoration, found in Cnossos. Terracotta, Palace Style, Late Minoan II (c. 1450–1400 BC). Louvre, first vase published by CVA.

Country28 countries (2018)
DisciplineArt and archaeology
Publisher100+ member museums
Published1923 on
Media typePrint
No. of books300+ (2018)

Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum ("corpus of ancient vases"; abbreviated CVA) is an international research project for documentation of ancient ceramics. Its original ideal target content: any ceramic from any ancient location during any archaeological period, proved impossible of realization and was soon restricted to specific times and periods. As the project expanded from an original six nations: England, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Italy,[1] to include the current 28,[2] the topic specializations of each country were left up to the commission for that country. The French commission (Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres), serves in an advisory position.

The terminology of any commission regarding the target content of any documentation activity must not be confused with archaeological terms. For example, the CVA Online concerns itself with ancient Greek pottery, excluding the pottery of the Bronze Age. Such a decision does not imply that the pottery of the Bronze Age is not ancient Greek, but means only that CVA Online's "ancient Greek" category does not include it.

Brief history[edit]

Union Académique Internationale[edit]

CVA is the first and oldest research project of the Union Académique Internationale, a federation of academies (national institutions of an advisory scientific character) from 61 countries (2015).[3] The Union was the inspiration of Edmond Pottier, at the time Curator of Antiquities at the Louvre, the national museum of France (and former royal palace). His interest in the Union, however, went beyond antiquities to any international scientific project.

He called a meeting of representatives from any interested academies in Paris for May, 1919. The meeting voted the Union into existence. At a second meeting in October, bylaws were passed, after which the Union moved to Brussels; that is, Brussels was made the home of the General Secretariat, which would preside over day-to-day operations between meetings. Its seat would be the Palace of Academies in Brussels. Maintenance of the Secretariat was to be the responsibility of the Académie royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. Its secretary would be the Secretary General of the Union. Henri Pirenne was elected president of the Union.

The meetings in 1919 were foundation meetings. At its end 11 countries had joined, the six mentioned above plus Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, and the United States. In addition three more were under contract, but had not sent representatives: Spain, Norway and Romania. The first assembly of the academies was not until 1920. Operations were to center around research projects, given sequential numbers in order of adoption. Five projects were proposed initially; three were voted, Project Number 1 being the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Currently (2015) it is the first of 76.[4]

CVA Project[edit]

The final decision was to publish a comprehensive catalogue of painted ancient Greek vases. He was also the publisher of the first fascicle for the Louvre in 1922. At that time six countries were part of the project. Today the project covers a compendium of more than 100,000 vases located in collections of 26 participating countries. At present day only public collections located in museums are added to the catalogue.

The CVA mostly publishes Greek (including Italian) pottery between the seventh millennium BC and late antiquity (third-fifth century AD). The publications are divided into fascicles by country and museum. By the end of 2007 a total of 350 volumes consisting of 40,000 fascicles were published. One of the largest amounts of publications was done in Germany: 84 volumes and 3 supplements.

Since 2004 all textual descriptions and images are freely accessible as a web-based database (CVA Online). Languages allowed for publication are English, French, German and Italian. Further publication rules have to be fulfilled. This often requires a restoration of the actual objects. For example: fragments have to be distinctively different from restored parts. For older restorations this is often not the case.

The documentation of a vessel is done in several steps. First the vessel is described in its overall condition followed by an iconographic interpretation. If possible an artist or a workshop will be determined. Integral parts of the documentation are photographs and hand-drawings depending on the condition of the vessel and the projects budget. The last step of the documentation for a CVA volume is a chronologic classification.

Scientific and Digital Methods[edit]

The Austrian commission used for the first-time of the CVA project a 3D scanner for documentation of vessel shapes in 2006.[5][6] A follow-up project using 3D acquisition was granted[7] and a second volume based on 3D technology published.[8] The high-resolution 3D datasets of the Austrian projects were processed using the GigaMesh Software Framework providing digital profile lines and unwrappings (or rollouts)[9] as basis for the figures of the final publication. Further methods novel to the CVA include computed tomography -- in particular X-ray microtomography,[10] multispectral imaging[11] and X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy. In the second half of 2019 rendings including rollouts were shown at the Louvre as part of the 100 years CVA exhibition in the last display cabinet representing the future CVA.[12] Until present day the Austrian commission is the only one using digital methods as well as scientific methods.


Every participating country is completely responsible for its own scope, while the Union Académique Internationale in Brussels has the patronage traditionally led by a French scientist. Currently in charge is Juliette de La Genière.

CVA Commissions (selection – more to be added)
Country Current leader Organization since
Austria Claudia Lang-Auinger Austrian Academy of Sciences 1935
Germany Paul Zanker (leader qua position), Stefan Schmidt (real leader) Bavarian Academy of Sciences 1921
Great Britain Thomas Mannack British Academy 1925[13]
Switzerland Hans Peter Isler Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kurtz, Donna (2006). "Ancient Pottery on the Web". British Academy Review (9).
  2. ^ "Participating countries". Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. 2018. Archived from the original on 2014-04-13. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  3. ^ "History". Brussels: Union Académique Internationale. 2015.
  4. ^ "Projects". Brussels: Union Académique Internationale. 2015.
  5. ^ Hubert Mara; Elisabeth Trinkl; Paul Kammerer; Ernestine Zolda (2007). "3D-Acquisition and Multi-Spectral Readings for Documentation of Polychrome Ceramics in the Antiquities Collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna". Proceedings of the International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM).
  6. ^ Kunsthistorisches Museum - Antikensammlung (2009-12-09). "Scientific projects of the KHM: Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum KHM Band 5 (Attisch rotfigurige Vasen Band 4". Annual report of the KHM (see also). online services and annual report. Archived from the original on 2015-05-18. Retrieved 2015-05-06.
  7. ^ Austrian Science Foundation (FWF) (2007-10-06), Attische Keramik im KHM Wien, online services
  8. ^ Lang-Auinger, Claudia; Karl, Stephan; Kratzmüller, Bettina (2019), "Bronzezeitliche und eisenzeitliche Gefäße aus Zypern. Attisch geometrische und protoattische Gefäße", Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum Österreich Band 7 KHM Wien Band 6 (in German), Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften — VÖAW, ISBN 978-3-7001-8267-2, retrieved 2019-05-13
  9. ^ Sebastian Bechtold, Susanne Krömker, Hubert Mara and Bettina Kratzmüller (2010), "Rollouts of Fine Ware Pottery using High Resolution 3D Meshes", Proceedings of the 11th VAST International Symposium on Virtual Reality, Archaeology and Cultural Heritage) (in German), Palais du Louvre, Paris, France, doi:10.2312/VAST/VAST10/079-086, ISBN 9783905674293{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ Advanced documentation methods in studying Corinthian black-figure vase painting on YouTube showing a Computed Tomography scan and rollout of the aryballos No. G26, archaeological collection, Graz University. The video was rendered using the GigaMesh Software Framework, cf. doi:10.11588/heidok.00025189.
  11. ^ Hubert Mara, Elisabeth Trinkl, Paul Kammerer and Ernestine Zolda (2007), "3D-Acquisition of Attic Red-Figured Vessels and Multi-Spectral Readings of White Primed Lekythoi of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna for the new CVA Volume", Proceedings of the 9th European Meeting on Ancient Ceramics – "Vessels: Inside and Outside" (EMAC) (in German), Budapest, Hungary{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ "IWR Newsroom, Contribution of visualizations to an archeological Exhibition in the Louvre Museum, July 23, 2019". Retrieved 2020-01-03.
  13. ^ "Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum".


External links[edit]