Greek Vase Painting and the Origins of Visual humour, Cambridge / New York: Cambridge University Press 2009 (2012 paperback, 2013 ebook)

This book is a comprehensive study of visual humour in ancient Greece, with special emphasis on works created in Athens and Boeotia. Alexandre Mitchell brings an interdisciplinary approach to this topic, combining theories and methods of art history, archaeology, and classics with the anthropology of humour, and thereby establishing new ways of looking at art and visual humour in particular. Understanding what visual humour was to the ancients and how it functioned as a tool of social cohesion is only one facet of this study. Mitchell also focuses on the social truths that his study of humour unveils: democracy and freedom of expression, politics and religion, Greek vases and trends in fashion, market-driven production, proper and improper behaviour, popular versus elite culture, carnival in situ, and the place of women, foreigners, workers, and labourers within the Greek city. Richly illustrated with more than 140 drawings and photographs, as well as with analytical tables of comic representations according to different themes, painters, and techniques, this study amply documents the comic representations that formed an important part of ancient Greek visual language from the 6th through 4th centuries BC.

Citation index: 228+

Reviews of Greek vase painting and the origins of visual humour

Bryn Mawr Classical Review. (2011.02.14)
“The author is thorough and I can think of no genre of Greek humour which he has overlooked, and he has been as thorough with the relevant literary evidence as with the representational.” full review

Prof. Em. J. Boardman, Oxford University

American Journal of Archaeology 115.1 (2011)

“[…] this broad survey of scenes of visual humor will serve as a valuable starting point for further research. The extensive lists and citations will make the book an aid for further work on humor and should encourage more synthesis and refinement of theoretical approaches to visual humor.” full review

Prof. M. D. Stansbury-O’Donnell, University of St.Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota

Choice Review
“[…] Caricature, parody, overt sexual imagery, drunkenness, gender stereotyping, and the deconstruction of myths are investigated, categorized, and interpreted with exemplary thoroughness and
psychological subtlety […]” full reviewProf. Em. R. Brilliant, Columbia University
Arctos 46 (2009)

“Until recently, the study of ancient humour has been based on literary evidence[…] Mitchell’s book is the first comprehensive study of visual humour in ancient Greece […]” full review

Dr. M. Carucci, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies

Revue archéologique 51 (2011)

“[…] un contributo chiaro e prezioso, in alcuni casi nuovo, in altri di conferma, sugli elementi che provocavano il riso negli antichi Greci […]” full review

Prof. M. Iozzo, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence

Classical World 104.2 (2011)

“[…] the book is an important standard work Classical World and will be a basis for all further study of this fascinating aspect of Ancient Greek culture.” full review

Prof. J. M. Hemelrijk, Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam

Journal of Hellenic Studies 131 (2011): 251-2

“[…] His generous division of the material makes for an effortless read, free from the burden of excessive secondary sources and citations…” full review

Ass. Prof. T. J. Smith, University of Virginia

PUBLICATIONS (2000-2022)

Perikles Christodoulou – Alexandre G. Mitchell (eds.), When Walls Talk! Posters – Promotion, Propaganda and Protest. Temporary exhibition catalogue, House of European History, Brussels. Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union, 248 p. | web

Perikles Christodoulou – Alexandre G. Mitchell, “Ideological struggles and armed conflict”, in Perikles Christodoulou – Alexandre G. Mitchell (eds.), When Walls Talk! Posters – Promotion, Propaganda and ProtestTemporary exhibition catalogue, House of European History, Brussels. Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union, p. 89-95.

(in press) “Le phallus comme objet et véhicule d’humour dans la peinture de vases attique”, in Archimède. Archéologie et histoire ancienne. Numéro spécial, The Phallus in all its Glory.

(in press) “Montrer la laideur dans une société tournée vers la beauté : caricature, anxiétés et culture populaire d’après les vases grecs figurés du 6e au 4e siècles avant J.-C.”, Valérie Huet (éd.), Caricature et Laideur, CRBC, Brest, 2022.

(in preparation), “The Greek crisis (2010-2016) in the hands of European cartoonists: Use and abuse of Classical Greece to address current affairs”, Antike Welt

2021 “Visual Humour on Greek Vases (550-350 BC): Three Approaches to the Ambivalence of Ugliness in Popular Culture”, in Daniel Derrin and Hannah Burrows (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Humour, History, and Methodology, Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 175-200.| read here

“Les handicaps et malformations à l’époque de Galien”, in Au temps de Galien, catalogue de l’expostion, Musée Royal de Mariemont, pp. 155-161. | read here

“Classical reception in Lysistrata posters: the visual debate between traditional and feminist imagery”, in P. Walsh (ed.), Brill’s Companion to the reception of Aristophanes, Brill, pp. 331-368. | read here

“The Hellenistic turn in bodily representations: venting anxiety in terracotta figurines”, in C. Laes (ed.), Disability in Antiquity, Oxford: Routledge, chapter 13. | read here

“Drôles de vases grecs”, L’Histoire, Mai 2016, no.423, pp. 72-75. | read here

“Humor, women, and male anxieties in ancient Greek visual culture”, in A. Foka, J. Liliequist (eds.), Laughter, Humor, and the (Un)Making of Gender, Historical and Cultural Perspectives, Brill, pp. 214-240. | read here

“La caricatura nell’ antichità”, L. Lorusso, E. Fazzi (éds.), Il sorriso della mente, la caricatura nella storia delle neuroscienze, Edizioni Santa Caterina, Pavia, pp. 13-31. | read here

“Greek Visual Humor”, in S. Attardo (éd.), Encyclopedia of Humor Studies: A Social History, Sage Publications, pp. 271-275.

“Democracy and popular media. Classical receptions in 19th to 21st centuries political cartoons: statesmen, mythological figures and celebrated artworks”, in L. Hardwick, S. J. Harrison (éds), Classics in the Modern World: A ‘Democratic Turn ?, Oxford, pp. 319-349. | read here

“Disparate bodies in ancient artefacts : the function of caricature and pathological grotesques among Roman terracotta figurines”, in C. Laes (éd.), Disparate Bodies “A Capite ad Calcem” in Ancient Rome, Leiden, pp. 275-297. | read here

“Grotesque terracotta in the Greco-Roman world: the role of caricature in visual humour, of theatrical masks in the realm of Comedy and of portraits of deformity in ancient medical centres”, Rivista Italiana di Neurobiologia.

‘Greek gods and mortals’, Wace, R. (ed.). In our own image. Gods and mortals in ancient art. London. | web | pdf

‘Ancient Greek visual puns: a case study visualhumor’; in Attardo, S. and Popa, D. (eds.). New Approaches to the linguistics of humor. Academic Printing House of Dunarea de Jos, Univ. of Galati (Rumenia). | read here

‘’, in Lambrakis, A, Lezine,V. (eds.), État de la publication scientifique dans le domaine de l’archéologie, des arts et traditions populaires: [actes de colloque], 20-22 février 2004, Athènes. Athens: Αρχαιολογία και Τέχνες. | web

‘Humour in Greek vase-painting’, Revue Archéologique, fasc.2, pp. 3-32.|summary | read here

Comic pictures in Greek vase-painting: humour in the polis and the Dionysian world, in the sixth and the fifth centuries B.C. D.Phil Thesis, University of Oxford.

‘Une outre outrée: parodie et jeu iconographique à propos d’une coupe de Leipzig’, KTEMA 25, pp. 115-122. | read here



(in preparation) Anne Gangloff, Valérie Huet, Christophe Vendries (eds.), La notion de caricature dans l’Antiquité. Textes et images. Préface de François Lissarague, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2021. 24 × 15,5 cm, 232 p., 8 pl., fig., 24 €, ISBN 978-2-7535-8043-5. Latomus

Dorota Dutsch, Ann Suter (éds.), Ancient Obscenities, Their Nature and Use in the Ancient Greek and Roman Worlds. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2015. 1 vol., 366 p., 14 ill. ISBN 978-0-472-11964-6. Antiquité Classique

Walsh, D. (2009). Distorted Ideals in Greek Vase-Painting. The World of Mythological Burlesque, C.U.P. 2009’ Classical Review 60.2 | read here

Clarke, J. (2007). Looking at Laughter (100 B.C.- A.D. 250). Berkeley: University of California Press. Bryn Mawr Classical Review September 2008, no. 55. | read here