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.
Such dedication and scholarship, however worthy, may sound dry and soul- destroying. Dale Trendall carried it all with modesty and considerable wit. His company and conversation shimmered with his delight in his work and in the world around him. He knew (as academics have to) the cheapest hotel most convenient for work in the Louvre and Bibliotheque Nationale. His knowledge of the contents of the cellars of many a museum in Italy probably rivalled that of their curators.
When Trendall was not working through mountains of proofs he revealed himself as a man of deep culture, observer of life and raconteur. His almost impish delight in work and people, and his readiness to sacrifice even comfort to scholarship, endeared him to everyone, not least to students who always found him a ready listener.
He belonged to a generation of scholars now almost extinct, who valued the truth above show. His standards were old-fashioned - he always answered letters, courteously and at length. Time and again he would say he was getting tired and that the next re-edition or Supplement would be the last, but still they came, until failing sight and health put an end to a career and an achievement which can never be outdated, nor need to be reworked.
Arthur Dale Trendall, classical art historian: born Auckland, New Zealand 28 March 1909; Fellow, Trinity College Cambridge 1936-40; Librarian, British School at Rome 1936-38; FSA 1939; Professor of Greek, University of Sydney 1939-54 (Emeritus), Dean of Faculty of Arts 1947-50, Chairman, Professorial Board 1949-50, 1952, Acting Vice-Chancellor 1953; Master of University House, ANU 1954-69, Deputy Vice-Chancellor 1958-64, Honorary Fellow 1969; CMG 1961; Geddes-Harrower Professor of Greek Art and Archaeology, Aberdeen University 1966-67; Chairman, Australian Humanities Research Council 1957- 59; Resident Fellow, Menzies College, La Trobe University 1969-95; AC 1976; books include Paestan Pottery 1936 (Supplement 1952, Addenda 1960), The Red- figured Vases of Lucania, Campania and Sicily 1967 (Supplements I 1970, II 1973, III 1983), Illustrations of Greek Drama (with T.B.L. Webster) 1971, The Red-figured Vases of Apulia 1978-82 (with A. Cambitoglou; Supplements I 1983, II 1991-92), The Red-figured Vases of Paestum 1987, Greek Red- figured Fish-plates 1987; died Melbourne, Australia 13 November 1995.