Greek pottery

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1. General

Pottery is a primary source of evidence for Greek history. Pervasive and almost indestructible, its generally predictable development means that it provides a framework to which other arts can be related. The presence of clay in every region fostered local styles, whence trade patterns can be detected. Factors determining origin are clay, shape, and decoration, the last varying from none (most cookpots, coarsewares, storage amphorae) to the elaborate mythological scenes exemplified by Archaic and Classical Athenian vases (see imagery). Regular inscriptions give names of potters and painters and clues to workshop organization (see pottery, greek, inscriptions on) as do excavations like those in the Athenian Agora, the area of the Academy, or the Potters' Quarter at Corinth. Sir John Beazley adopted Renaissance attri‐bution methods to reconstruct the careers of many Archaic and Classical Athenian vase‐painters, and to gauge master–pupil relations and workshop patterns. Recent trends have moved from attributions towards the social significance of pottery, with renewed interest in factors influencing shapes, imagery and composition, esp. wall‐painting (see painting, greek). Thus metalwork has been seen as a model for Classical vase shapes and decoration.

2. History

The Protogeometric and Geometric periods (1050–700 bc) saw new shapes and motifs (notably the meander). From restricted beginnings, decoration came to cover the whole vase in horizontal bands. This period is characterized by local schools, notably Argive and Attic; here the 8th cent. saw the development of figure scenes, including funerary subjects (prothesis and ekphora), chariot processions and battles. From the 8th cent. onwards, it is possible to identify ‘hands’ such as the Dipylon Master.

From the late‐8th cent. the Geometric style developed into Orientalizing, with the addition of motifs including florals and animals (real and fantastic) which replaced Geometric patterns. Although silhouette continued, the black‐figure technique (invented in Corinth c.720) was most innovative; here lines are incised into a silhouette, with the addition of purple and white. The human figure was drawn with increasing naturalism, and mythological representations become complex. The chief 7th‐cent. fabrics are Proto‐Corinthian and Proto‐Attic; contemporary is the peak of the island and eastern Greek schools. A mid‐7th‐cent. series of vases of various schools may reflect contemporary free painting, using such elements as a brown paint for flesh and mass battle scenes (e.g. works of the Corinthian Chigi (MacMillan) Painter).

By 600, black‐figure was fully established in Attica, and by soon after 550 Corinth, Athens' main rival, had ceased producing figured wares, continuing with the patterned ‘conventionalizing’ style. Athenian potters produced a wider range of vases, introducing such shapes as the volute‐ and kalyx‐krātēr (wine‐mixing bowl), and a range of cups which are among the finest of Attic potting. The practice of inscribing vases helps us: the words epoiēsen and egrapsen probably mean ‘potted’ and ‘painted’, although the former may indicate ownership of the workshop.

Around 525, the red‐figure technique was invented at Athens. In red‐figure the decoration is left in the clay colour, and the background painted black; inner details are painted with lines of varying thickness. The use of the brush rather than the engraver allowed greater fluidity of drawing. Accessory colours are used sparingly in the 6th cent., white becoming common towards its end. The first generation trained in red‐figure (c.520–500) Beazley called the Pioneers; they are characterized by adventurous anatomical depictions. Late Archaic vase‐painting saw further advances by, e.g. the Berlin and Cleophrades Painters (who preferred large vases), and the cup specialists Duris and the Brygus Painter. Black‐figure continued in quantity until the end of the Archaic period and, for Panathenaic prize amphorae (see panathenaea), until the 2nd cent. bc.


Subjects: Classical Studies.

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