The Collection of Vases was established as a distinct sector of the Museum founded by Gregory XVI in 1837 as a direct consequence of the methods and aims of archaeology in the age, which was interested in the individual object rather than its original context.
In this case, the pre-existing museographical tradition of the Vatican collections had a certain weight. Indeed, the nucleus of vases held in the Clementine Gallery of the Vatican Library dates from 1733, and brings together the results of seventeenth and eighteenth century collectionism. The collection of vases in the Vatican Library passed to the Gregorian Etruscan Museum only in 1900; a significant portion was constituted by Italiot vases, to which Room XXII is now dedicated.
The Collection of Vases follows a chronological order, structured according to production and painters (Rooms XVII-XXII), within which the Astarita Collection represents a distinct nucleus (Room XX). This latter is made up primarily of Greek and to a lesser extent Italiot vases (produced in the Greek-influenced cities of southern Italy, where they generally originated), and a smaller body of Etruscan vases.
In this museum the Etruscan cities of Vulci and Cerveteri represent the main sites of origin for the Greek vases. The excavations of the ancient Etruscan cities, which initially concentrated on the necropolises, produced a remarkable quantity of painted vases, exported in ancient times from Greek to the flourishing markets of Etruria.
All the ancient figured vases, including the Greek ones, were for a long time considered to have been of Etruscan production, as a result of an influx of “Etruschery” of the Tuscan school during the eighteenth century. The correct distinction between the vases from the Hellenic cultural matrix and those of Etruscan origin was due to the work of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768) followed by Luigi Lanzi (1732-1810), who published in Florence in 1806 his “De’ vasi antichi dipinti volgarmente chiamati etruschi” (“On ancient painted vases commonly called Etruscan”).
This section gathers together renowned masterpieces signed by or attributed to the great names of Greek vase painting.