Greek vase painting and pottery



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GREEK VASE PAINTING AND POTTERY
Clay is plastic, tough, smooth.

Contains high percentage of iron and so fires pink.

White clay may have been mixed with the red.

Pots thrown and turned on wheel except for a few moulded ones.

Smaller were thrown whole, larger in sections.

Joints at neck and body, or body and foot. Coils of clay put over joins.

Handles attached - made separately.
Black figure technique invented in Corinth c 700BC

Figures painted in black silhouette, linear detail incised so that silhouette pale clay shows through black (cf engraving).

Touches of red or white paint sometimes added.

By about 630 Athenian Black Figure was established.

For 150 years captured all markets.
(a) Early BF potter and painter -marked transition from Proto-attic to full black figure.

(b) Kleitias and Ergotimas - Francois Vase

( c) Lydos, Amasis, Exekias and Group E
Black medium not a glaze but a liquid clay peptized (heavier particles eliminated by protective celloid)

Decoration applied while clay leather hard.

Whole Surface just covered with thin protective wash of peptized clay -this gave glossy reddish hue after firing.
In black figure design was painted in black silhouette. On red clay background.

Details incised, white and dark red added.

White - women' s flesh, old men' s hair

Red - hair, manes of horses, parts of garments

The incision of lines could add a wealth of intricate detail but was only decorative - could not suggest volume or mass.

Best BF potter and painter - Exekias


Red figure technique

About 530 BC red figure technique invented in Athens.

First - Andokides Painter, who also worked in black (no set work here)

Effect is reverse of black figure. Figures draw in outline and left in pale colour of the day while background was painted all black. Within the outline details were drawn with the brush~ incised with the graver (some incision in earliest examples)

Different textures of drapery or strength of body rendered by changing brush strokes.

Brush allowed more detailed and realistic treatment of anatomy and posture.

Draper patterns simpler.

Less colour added.

Arrangement of folds with zig-zag edges normal.

Neck florals of their lotuses, palmettes, separate leaves.


A preliminary sketch was made in the day with a blunt tool.

Figures drawn in outline.

More significant lines drawn in undiluted glaze -they showed black.

Less significant lines in diluted glaze -they showed golden brown.

After decoration was dry, firing was done in a single fire but 3 parts

1. Oxidising - air admitted. Vase and Glaze = red

2. Reducing - smoke, introduced, both parts = black

3. Re-oxidising -Vase = red - Decoration stayed black.


Initial wash and diluted glaze also reoxidising a third stage and so = reddish brown.

White parts stay white throughout.


After firing red ochre applied to intensify red of the clay.

Advantage of RFV - Brush gave better outline and detail.

Figures more lifelike and three dimensional.

A third technique - White figure vases

Used in Athens 6th Century -


Slip of white clay applied to vases as a background for the decoration.

As first figures applied a black silhouette with incised detail or in outline in diluted glaze or matt colour.

Later, tempera colours were used for drapery etc - red, green, blue, purple, mauve, pink.
Another technique was plastic roses in the form of heads.
Most vases were surrounded by ornamental patterns -geometrical designs (meanders) or materialistic patterns of vegetative nature e.g. lotus and palmette chain, ivy leaf wreath. These are secondary to main decoration.
Euphronios, Euthymides, Kleophrades, Makron -Pioneers

Berlin Painter, Penthesileia Painter, Niobid painter, Achilles painter, Meidias painter


Assess the importance of Exekias as painter and potter (mid sixth century)
He came from the tradition of Group E patterns and painters who broke with the traditions of the 55D’S. They used mythology and usually belly amphorae. Exekias developed the fine lip cups and may have invented the calyx crater.
Range and quality of his work is remarkable. He saw men as Gods and they act with an awareness of the divine in human thought. He planned every detail including fine scrolls under handles, chains, finely drawn leaves. Enormous care on armour and ornaments of draught players. Scenes have originality and verve., eg. Dionysus sailing across the interior of the Kylix, the 'eye' motif on the outside.
He made vase paintings a major art:

  • detail

  • imagination

  • care

  • coral red glaze

  • movement

  • originality

  • new designs instead of lotus and palmettes

  • variety

  • adaptation of subject to the shape of the vase

  • dignity of figures


Use of available space

Compare different positions of figures

-bands of Francois vase

-on a ground line e. g. Lydos krater, Euthymides

-on different ground lines e.g. Niobid painter, Meidias painter

On neck of vases e.g. Kleophrades, Berlin painter - rest of vase shiny black


Development of drapery
Lydos - drapery foldless

Amasis - drapery flat

Euphronios - freer folds, zigzags

Meidias - refined drapery. Makron, curves of baby



Kleophrades - natural drapery
Development of anatomy, profile, eyes, movement
Hair styles


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