Black-figured amphora (wine-jar) signed by Exekias as potter and attributed to him as painter

Black-figured amphora (wine-jar) signed by Exekias as potter and attributed to him as painter


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Exekias, also spelled Execias, (flourished c. 550–525 bc ), Greek potter and painter who, with the Amasis Painter, is considered the finest and most original of black-figure masters of the mid-6th century bc and is one of the major figures in the history of the art. He signed 13 vases (2 as painter and potter and 11 as potter). The commonest inscription on the vases is “Exekias epoiēsen me” (“Exekias made me”).

On Exekias’ amphora in the Vatican, the vase represents Achilles and Ajax playing a board game on one side. On the other side is a young man, Castor, with his horse, Kyllaros other figures are his mother, Leda, his father, Tyndareus, and his twin brother, Pollux (Polydeuces).

The second amphora “made and decorated” by Exekias is at Berlin. On one side Heracles is shown wrestling with the Nemean lion. On the other side are two Attic warriors, Demophon and Akamas, the sons of Theseus. This was probably one of Exekias’ earliest works. Parts of it have been restored.

It is not certain how many of the nine remaining vases inscribed as “made by” Exekias were also painted by him.

Some unsigned vases (his total known output is only about 40 vases) have been attributed to Exekias on the basis of their stylistic relation to the Vatican amphora. Foremost among these are an amphora in Boulogne, Fr., illustrating the death of Ajax, and a calyx krater (a vessel used for mixing wine with water) at Athens. This calyx krater is probably the earliest example of this pottery shape, which may have been Exekias’ own invention.

In addition to vases, Exekias was responsible for a set of clay plaques, about 15 inches high, of funerary scenes, designed to decorate a tomb. A kylix (a shallow drinking cup) now in Munich, of a type just coming into use in Exekias’ time, also carries the potter’s signature and depicts Dionysus reclining in a ship.

Exekias’ grand, calm depiction of tragic themes, qualified by his attention to psychological tension, ensures him a central place in any account of the basic tendencies of ancient Greek art.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Chelsey Parrott-Sheffer, Research Editor.

The Weapons of Dionysus: Drinking Vessels in 6th Century Ancient Greece

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The Theatre of Dionysus (shown in the background) exhibited performances for hundreds of years. To the Ancient Greeks, Dionysus was the Greek God of the vine, wine and its harvest, merry-making, religious ecstasy, and theatre. Many of the images depict Dionysus as a young man in a carefree pose and will include a drinking vessel, grapes, or a pinecone staff. He influenced Ancient Greeks through the transformative power of alcohol and its ability to bring ecstasy to the social activity of its consumption at the symposium. ‘The Weapons of Dionysus’ explores different vessels used to store and consume water and alcohol. Furthermore, the vessels used, specifically in the symposium, depicted many different aspects of Greek social life and mythology, including the apotropaic eyes, Homeric myths, Herculean tasks, and daily Greek life. ‘The Weapons of Dionysus’ describes the different uses and myths that appear on the vessels and allude to the greater idea of divine influence over daily social life.

Black-figured amphora (wine-jar) signed by Exekias as potter and attributed to him as painter - History

1. The Amazon queen Penthesilea

Black-figured amphora (wine-jar) signed by Exekias as potter and attributed to him as painter. Made in Attica, Greece, 530–525 BC. Found in Vulci, Italy.

The Amazons were a wild race of warrior women, and women only, who were believed by the Greeks to live somewhere on the northern borders of the Greek world. They were entirely mythical, of course – but they were still capable of striking fear into the hearts of Greek men, always representing a potentially deadly threat to male civilisation. Greek storytelling was full of accounts of conflicts between Greeks and Amazons, and how this dangerously female power base was eventually stamped on: the women were either defeated in battle, or ‘mastered’ in the bedroom when they finally saw the error of their segregated ways and opted for marriage with Greek men. Both versions are hinted at in this 6th-century BC pot, made in Athens. It shows the mythical hero Achilles killing the Amazon queen, Penthesilea. It was said that, at the very moment that she died, the pair fell in love. Too late.

2. A Vestal Virgin

Very few women had a powerful, public role anywhere in the ancient world. But this 2nd-century AD head shows one of those who did. She is one of the priestesses known as the Vestal Virgins, who had the important job of guarding the sacred hearth of the city in their temple in the Roman Forum. In return they were granted a range of privileges: from front row seats at the theatre to the right to free convicted criminals and special private transport arrangements around the city. But these privileges were hard earned. In addition to the obligation to remain virgins, they had to make sure that the fire on the sacred hearth never went out. If it did, it was a sure indication that the state was in danger and that one of the Vestals was no longer a virgin. And the penalty for that was burial alive.

3. The goddess Athena

Athena was the Greek goddess of wisdom and of everything that demanded human cleverness, from spinning and weaving to navigation and she was the goddess who gave special protection to the city of Athens (the famous Parthenon temple on the Acropolis was dedicated to Athena). But it is hard to know quite how female she would have seemed to the average Athenian. As you can see on this 6th-century BC Athenian pot, she was a warrior (when, apart from the weird Amazons, fighting was man’s work in the classical Greek world). She was a virgin (when women were supposed to produce babies for the state) and she herself was not even born from a woman, but direct from head of her father, the god Zeus. She certainly did not provide a positive female role-model, in the Greek sense of the word ‘female’.

4. Egyptian queen Cleopatra

Cleopatra (VII) is one of the most famous women in the history of the world: queen of Egypt, lover of Julius Caesar (and mother of his child), and of Mark Antony (a relationship immortalised by William Shakespeare, not to mention Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton). Outside the heartlands of ancient Greece and Rome, there are queens and princesses with rather more power to their names. On this 1st-century BC coin, in the words around her portrait head, Cleopatra is described as ‘queen’ and ‘goddess’. But how much independent power she had is difficult to pin down. She is almost represented as the partner of some prominent Roman man. Was this equality? Was she their pawn? Or were they hers?

5. An anonymous Roman woman

It is important not to forget those ancient women who were not rich and famous, not mythical heroines or superhuman goddesses. This Roman woman lived sometime in the early 2nd century AD. We do not even know her name let alone what she did with her life (the panel at the bottom where her history was meant to have been inscribed was left blank). But she was important enough to someone to be shown on her tomb in the guise of Venus, the goddess of love: she is semi-naked and holds a dove and a palm as Venus was often shown. For some grieving husband or parents, she was a goddess.

Do you agree? Who would be in your top five? Let us know on Twitter, where you can also follow Mary. Her 2017 London Review of Books lecture from the British Museum, Women in power, is available here, and in an edited version on the BBC iPlayer.

Black-figured amphora (wine-jar) signed by Exekias as potter and attributed to him as painter - History

Black-figured amphora (wine-jar) signed by Exekias as potter and attributed to him as painter

Greek, about 540-530 BC
Made in Athens, Greece found at Vulci (now in Lazio, Italy)
Achilles killing the Amazon Queen Penthesilea

Penthesilea brought her Amazon warriors to help the Trojans defend their city, but was killed in combat with Achilles, the greatest of the Greek warriors. The scene on this vase shows Achilles looming above her as she sinks to the ground. Achilles’s face is masked and protected by his helmet Penthesilea’s helmet is pushed back to expose her features and emphasize her vulnerability at this vital moment. Her spear passes harmlessly across Achilles’s chest, while his pierces her throat and blood spurts out. According to a later version of the story, at this very moment the eyes of the two warriors met and they fell, too late, in love.

On the other side of the vase, Dionysos, god of wine, is shown with his son Oinopion.

The vase is signed, just behind Achilles’s right arm, by Exekias as potter. The painting has also been attributed to him. The amphora’s taut and rounded shape is emphasized by the spirals around each handle, and the figures, the pattern decoration and the writing are all immaculately rendered. Exekias was perhaps the finest of all painters to use the black-figure technique.

L. Burn, The British Museum book of Gre (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

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Tradition and Originality: A Study of Exekias. BAR International Series 2092

Anne Mackay’s interest in Exekias began with her 1982 dissertation, Exekias: A Chronology of His Potting and Painting, and the painter has been a friendly presence in her life ever since. Her new book has had a long gestation but it was well worth the wait. Mackay examined first hand all but two of the 30 extant vases that comprise the work of Exekias two others, known today only from photographs, bring the total to 32.

Exekias was not a prolific artist, but his achievement in the Attic black-figured technique is rivaled only by that of Kleitias, Nearchos and the Amasis Painter. As a potter, he was instrumental in developing and perfecting the amphora Type A, the eye cup, and the variant of neck-amphora that became standard in the last decades of the sixth century B. C. He also produced two sets of handsome funerary plaques, which are not part of this study. 1 Exekias’s sensitivity to shapes and the ornaments and compositions that decorate them is particularly laudable. Meticulously incised line combined with restrained use of accessory red and white creates a perfect balance between texture, glaze and color. They are the intrinsic characteristics of Exekias’s work that not only define his style, but also establish his artistic personality. His figures have enormous dignity, often expressing sensitive emotions in a restrained manner bold gestures are kept to a minimum movements are never exaggerated tragic situations are more poignant by being understated. Inscriptions not only identify figures, but are an integral part of the composition. Nearly every one of his vases offers something new. Unlike his contemporaries, Exekias often shunned the high point of a narrative and chose the moment before or after the greatest action. A good example is the Boulogne amphora (558: cat. no. 21, pl. 59, top) where Ajax prepares to commit suicide. The usual composition shows the hero fallen upon his sword and Greeks gesturing excitedly. Exekias focused on the loneliness of this destructive act and lets the viewer imagine its tragic aftermath. Some scenes are restful: a warrior grazes his horse, a quiet moment between man and beast (Philadelphia MS 4873: cat. no. 24, pl. 67, top) Oinopion offers wine to his father Dionysos (London 1836.2-24.127, ex B 209: cat. no. 31, pl. 75, lower). Exekias painted some memorable horses, e.g., Kastor’s noble horse on Vatican 344 (cat. 32, pl. 78, lower) the fallen and dying chariot horse on the amphora in a Swiss private collection (cat. no. 23, pl. 64, top). Exekias may have been the first Athenian artist to record ethnic differences, e.g., Memnon’s Ethiopian squires have distinct African features (Philadelphia MS 3442: cat. no. 27, pl. 70 top and London 1849.5-18.10, ex B 209: cat. no. 18, pls. 50, below, 51) the Oriental archer on the other side of the Philadelphia amphora wears colorful eastern dress (MS 4873: pl. 67, lower). These few examples merely hint at the richness and diversity, as well as the innovation and sensitivity of Exekias’s subjects. Thus, it is all the more surprising that there has been no detailed study of his work until now some painters with less talent and more vases to show for it were luckier. Mackay’s monograph on Exekias is not only an important contribution to the study of later sixth century Athenian vase painting but it will not be superseded by another study of this painter for a long time to come.

In the Introduction, Mackay sets out her main objectives: 1) to offer a full description and an analysis of each vase signed by or attributed to Exekias 2) to propose a relative chronology based on her analyses. Athenian potters and painters were bound by firmly established traditions in which innovation took place very slowly. Mackay shows that Exekias often used traditional elements but adapted or combined them in new and imaginative ways. Some of his scenes may even be unique, e.g., Dionysos in his boat (Munich 8729, ex 2044: cat. no. 20, pl. 55) or Ajax preparing to commit suicide on the Boulogne amphora. Mackay is particularly object-oriented and she is interested in the reception of Exekias’s work by his contemporaries within the context of sixth century Athens. This has been a leitmotif in her work (see p. 5, n. 35). Mackay admits this is a risky proposition, but well worth an investigation, even if the results can only be speculative owing to the dearth of hard facts and the relative lack of external evidence such as how long a vase remained in Athens after it left the kiln. Mackay is not interested in joining colleagues who prefer to apply modern critical theory to the ancient world rather than tackle the more difficult questions posed by the objects themselves or address the historical and cultural ambience in which the artists created their work.

The catalogue forms most of the book and the 32 vases are described and examined in the chronological arrangement Mackay established during the course of her research (see the chart on p. 359). Bibliographical references are kept to a minimum: Beazley, including the Archive, and LIMC. Mackay begins each entry with dimensions and condition, shape and ornament, as well as added color and inscriptions where applicable. Then comes a very careful description of each scene. Signatures by Exekias and inscriptions naming figures as well as those praising youths are discussed in the course of presentation. Mackay’s account of each vase focuses not only on the physical drawing and its subtlety, but also on how the artist’s figures ‘communicate’ with one another and with the viewer. The entries are written with great clarity and are full of new observations prompted by Mackay’s keen eye for detail and nuance as well as the patience required to look long and hard. She does not overlook even the tiniest detail and every observation is carefully incorporated into the text. The result is a long description of each scene, but well worth a close reading. My favorite among her new discoveries is the small grazing deer Exekias incised on the richly decorated chlamys worn by Achilles on the Vatican amphora (color plate Ic). To my knowledge, no one has ever observed this charming detail.

An analysis of the subject follows the description of each composition and forms the core of the book. Mackay not only investigates comparable representations of the scenes, but also includes references to pertinent literary sources and historical events that may be relevant. A few examples will illustrate the author’s approach to the iconography. Subjects with inscribed figures are unquestioned, e.g., Ajax and Achilles playing a board game on the Vatican amphora (pl. 78, top), but when there are no inscriptions or if Athena is not present in other playing scenes, Mackay challenges the assumption that the participants must be Ajax and Achilles. She suggests the contest with anonymous players might simply be a metaphor for conflict in battle. For scenes without inscribed figures, identification may be problematic. A good example is the reverse of Orvieto, Faina 2745, ex F 187 (cat. no. 17, pls.46 and 48). It looks like a standard chariot departure with accompanying attendants, including a child. But Mackay asks: who is the woman standing on the left hand side of the chariot holding up a well-crafted metal corselet for all to see? She wonders if this might be a subtle reference to the famous ruse pulled off by Peisistratos when he reinstated his tyranny by driving his chariot into Athens accompanied by Phye, a statuesque woman disguised as Athena (Herodotos I.60). Probably not, because Athena should wear an aegis, not a corselet, and Exekias’s scene may postdate the event by too much time to be relevant, but the idea is intriguing. The scene on the inside of the famous cup in Munich with Dionysos sailing his boat over the sea accompanied by dolphins looks straight forward (pl. 55). Many authors, including the reviewer, connected it with the Homeric Hymn to Dionysos where pirates kidnap the god who transformed them into dolphins. Mackay casts about for other interpretations and among them wonders if this might be a reference to Dionysos as wine-god sailing from Naxos to Athens where he would be celebrated annually at the Anthesteria. Mackay likes to play the devil’s advocate and occasionally I think she goes a little too far, e.g., the Philadelphia amphora (pls. 69-71). The reverse depicts the death of Antilochos (inscribed). In the left hand third of the obverse, Menelaos (inscribed) is about to kill one of Memnon’s Ethiopians (inscribed Amasos). The rest of the obverse depicts the rescue of an enormous corpse (inscribed above his outstretched legs: ]ΙΛΕΟΣ, retr. ). The subject has always been titled: Ajax lifting the body of Achilles (the far right part of the panel is lost and filled in with plaster). Mackay thinks the inscription names the rescuer, not the corpse: Achilles tries to confiscate the body of Memnon, whom he has slain. If so, the scenes on the vase would occur within a single time frame of the war. This is a little like bending the nail so one can hit it on the head. Achilles was slain in the same epic as Memnon, the Aithiopis. The inscription should name the corpse and the huge size of it and Ajax compared with the other figures on the vase argues for this interpretation they were, after all, the two most prominent Greeks at Troy. Ajax’s name would fit nicely in the upper right of the panel now missing.

These few examples of the author’s inclination to question the standard interpretation of a subject and identification of figures may stand for many and there is no way to prove these suggestions are correct or incorrect, but they urge us to look at the vases with an open mind. Far from being annoying and inconsequential, they are interesting and thought-provoking. It is also reassuring that Mackay never insists that her suggestions should be accepted without question she reminds us that interpretations often need to be reassessed. All of this is as rich and rewarding as one could hope for, if at times a bit daunting, but in the end the reader gains a fuller understanding of the complexity of Exekias’s work and acquires an enormous appreciation for his accomplishments.

One point of disagreement concerns the horse and rider on the obverse of Louvre F 206 (cat. no. 7, pl. 18 top). I do not think the rider is wounded because the hurled spear does not penetrate him—the contour of his lower back overlaps the shaft as it whizzes past him. His horse has stumbled to its knees and the rider tries to help it regain its balance. He faces outward if he were wounded, his head would be lowered and his torso slumped forward. This rider is in perfect control.

Mackay dis-attributes four vases (pp. 353-358, pls. 80-84): the Brauron pyxis (already questioned by Mommsen 2 ), the Agora calyx-krater, fragments of an amphora Type A in the collection of the late Herbert Cahn, and the Dublin neck-amphora. Beazley hesitated about attributing the pyxis and the neck-amphora he never knew the Cahn fragments. At the conference in Amsterdam in 1998, Mackay set out her reasons for rejecting the attribution of the calyx-krater to Exekias and proposed a painter in the workshop of the Lysippides Painter 3 in the present volume she suggests it might be by the Mastos Painter.

“Chronology” (pp. 360-371) is based on stylistic criteria discussed in the previous section and is prefaced by a handy schematic chronological table (p. 359). The vases appear in columns implying this is the order in which each was made. It would have been useful to bracket those grouped together when there is no compelling evidence for the sequence of production. General dates for each of the four chronological phases would have been useful. “Conclusions” (pp. 373-386) offers a concise summary of this study and is especially useful for it provides an excellent overview of the whole book. For newcomers to vase painting, I recommend reading this first.

The planar maps of complex scenes clarify the density of some of Exekias’s compositions, visible in photographs, but emphasized in ‘aerial view’ (Appendix C: pp. 395-398). An excellent bibliography and a short general index conclude the text.

The 78 black and white plates are for the most part of good quality, with some exceptions which have unfortunate glares. Just two color plates seem a bit stingy, given the ready availability of color digital photography. The six charts of comparative details of human and equine anatomy, as well as the four of ornament, are immensely useful.

Correction: The old accession number for the neck-amphora in the British Museum given in the captions to pls. 74-76 should be B 210, not B 209.

The major flaw of this book has nothing to do with the author or the book’s content. The book is printed on very good quality paper it is 426 pages plus 84 plates and 10 chronological charts that total 27 pages and it weighs nearly 4 pounds! Why then was this heavy book issued in paper back instead of hard cover? Even when carefully handled, the book falls apart in the hands of a serious reader who has to toggle between text, bibliography and plates and this is absolutely maddening.

Table of Contents List of Illustrations ix-x
Abbreviations xi
Preface and Acknowledgements xiii
Introduction 1-9
Catalogue of Vases 11-386
A. The methodology of determining Exekias’s chronology 387-393
B. Table of comparative measurements (amphorae) 394
C. Schematic planar ‘maps’ indicating depth of field in complex scenes 395-398
Bibliography 399-410
General index 411-413
Photographic plates
Chronological charts

1. Mackay omitted Exekias’s funerary plaques because these appeared in a splendid monograph by Heide Mommsen, Exekias I. Die Grabtafeln, Mainz/Rhein, 1997.

2. Heide Mommsen, “Siegreiche Gespannpferde,” Antike Kunst 45, 2002, p. 36.

3. E. Anne Mackay, “Exekias’s Calyx-krater Revisited. Reconsidering the Attribution of Agora AP 1044” in Proceedings of the XVth International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Amsterdam, July 12-17, 1998, Amsterdam, 1999, pp. 247-251.

British Museum

When I was at the British Museum a couple of weeks ago I did not have much time to look around, so I went straight to where I always go: The Parthenon sculptures. Here are a few pictures of my visit there (taken with an iPOD):

Figure of a guy that is probably Dionysus, or at least he certainly acts like him (east pediment of the Parthenon).

The amazingly intense look on one of the horses from Selene’s chariot, ready to leave the scene as the day starts (east frieze of the Parthenon).

Pallas chatting to Hephaistos (east frieze of the Parthenon). I wonder if this represents the time she went to him to have some weapons built, but had to flee instead since he tried to rape her.

Dionysus (probably half drunk) reclining on Hermes. The hat that Hermes has on his left leg is incredible, looks like something you could buy today from any store (east pediment). When Dionysus was a baby Hermes took take care of him, since Hera would have probably killed him (Dionysus was the product of yet another one of Zeus’s extramarital adventures)

A victorious Centaur holds a leopard skin, celebrating his victory over a Lapith (south methope).

Another Centaur, about to smash a jar against a Lapith (I believe this was on the south methope as well)

Not from the Parthenon anymore. My favorite rock-star, Alexander the Great

Last, a blurred image of a gold body chain from the Hoxne Hoard treasure. 1500 years ago the Roman Empire knew a thing or two about sensuality.


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Troy is the name of the Bronze Age city attacked in the Trojan War, a popular story in the mythology of ancient Greece, and the name given to the archaeological site in the north-west of Asia Minor (now Turkey) which has revealed a large and prosperous city occupied over millennia. There has been much scholarly debate as to whether mythical Troy actually existed and if so whether the archaeological site was the same city however, it is now almost universally accepted that the archaeological excavations have revealed the city of Homer’s Iliad. Other names for Troy include Hisarlik (Turkish), Ilios (Homer), Ilion (Greek) and Ilium (Roman).

Troy is the setting for Homer’s Iliad in which he recounts the final year of the Trojan War sometime in the 13th century BCE. The war was in fact a ten-year siege of the city by a coalition of Greek forces led by King Agamemnon of Mycenae. The purpose of the expedition was to reclaim Helen, wife of Menelaos, king of Sparta and brother of Agamemnon. Helen was abducted by the Trojan prince Paris and taken as his prize for choosing Aphrodite as the most beautiful goddess in a competition with Athena and Hera. The Trojan War is also told in other sources such as the Epic Cycle poems (of which only fragments survive) and is also briefly mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. Troy and the Trojan War later became a staple myth of Classical Greek and Roman literature.


Homer describes Troy as ‘well-founded’, ‘strong-built’ and ‘well-walled’ there are also several references to fine battlements, towers and ‘high’ and ‘steep’ walls. The walls must have been unusually strong in order to withstand a ten-year siege and in fact, Troy fell through the trickery of the Trojan horse ruse rather than any defensive failing. Indeed, in Greek mythology the walls were so impressive that they were said to have been built by Poseidon and Apollo who after an act of impiety were compelled by Zeus to serve the Trojan king Laomedon for one year. However, the fortifications did not help the king when Herakles sacked the city with an expedition of only six ships. The sacking was Herakles’ revenge for not being paid for his services to the king when he killed the sea-serpent sent by Poseidon. This episode was traditionally placed one generation before the Trojan War as the only male survivor was Laomedon’s youngest son Priam, the Trojan king in the later conflict.

Black-figured amphora (wine-jar) signed by Exekias as potter and attributed to him as painter

Black-figured amphora (wine-jar) signed by Exekias as potter and attributed to him as painter

Inhabited from the Early Bronze Age (3000 BCE) through to the 12th century CE the archaeological site which is now called Troy is 5 km from the coast but was once next to the sea. The site was situated in a bay created by the mouth of the river Skamanda and occupied a strategically important position between Aegean and Eastern civilizations by controlling the principal point of access to the Black Sea, Anatolia and the Balkans from both directions by land and sea. In particular, the difficulty in finding favourable winds to enter the Dardanelles may well have resulted in ancient sailing vessels standing by near Troy. Consequently, the site became the most important Bronze Age city in the North Aegean, reaching the height of its prosperity in the middle Bronze Age, contemporary with the Mycenaean civilization on the Greek mainland and the Hittite empire to the East.

Troy was first excavated by Frank Calvert in 1863 CE and visited by Heinrich Schliemann who continued excavations from 1870 CE until his death in 1890 CE in particular, he attacked the conspicuous 20 m high artificial mound which had been left untouched since antiquity. Initial finds by Schliemann of gold and silver jewellery and vessels seemed to vindicate his belief that the site was actually the Troy of Homer. However, these have now been dated to more than a thousand years before a probable date for the Trojan War and indicated that the history of the site was much more complex than previously considered. Indeed, perhaps unwittingly, Schliemann would add 2000 years to Western history, which had previously gone back only as far as the first Olympiad of 776 BCE.

Ceramic Web Page Tutorials [ 6 ] Ancient Greek Ceramics

If you just want to see the ceramics or make a quick survey of the images:

  1. Scroll down through this main text page, click on the thumbnail images that interest you a larger image will appear in the left frame.
  2. Click on the icon below to see all the larger images in sequence in the left frame.

6. Ancient Greek Ceramics The Greek City States - Classical Greece

001 The maps should help you with the sites and geography. Most reliable historical information can be found in the Encyclopedia Britannica. For an outline of the main sequence of events, I have provided you with a "Quick Find" Button (002)

The Wider Importance of Greek Pottery

The pottery of the ancient Greeks is of specific interest to us as Potters. We can study its stylistic origins and development of forms, slip decoration and technical expertise in making, decoration and firing. Almost all of their techniques are worth checking out as possibly relevant and useful in your work.

However, in the wider field of History of Art, Greek Pottery is also of considerable value for the light it sheds on the development of Greek pictorial art, which is in effect the beginning of European Drawing and Painting.

Painted Pottery is Main Source of Information

Because fired clay pottery is highly durable - and few or no Greek works in wood, textile, or wall painting have survived - the painted decoration of this pottery has become the main source of information about the process whereby Greek artists gradually solved the many problems of representing three dimensional objects and figures on a flat or curved surface.

Many Greek Pots Have Survived

The large number of surviving examples is also the result of a much wider reliance on pottery vessels in a period when other materials were expensive or unknown. The Greeks used pottery vessels for storage, transport or drinking. Smaller pots were used as drinking cups and very small ones made for perfumes and ointments.

The background above was made using images painted on a 5th Century BC funeral oil flask.
A dead woman(left) gazing on herself now a Muse in the Afterlife.

003 Click to see full painting on this pot.

The Origins of the Greeks, their Pottery & Figure Painting

From at least 1700BC the many Hellenic tribes had migrated southwards through what we now call Greece. They gradually came to dominate the Aegean region, led by the kings of Mycenae under a loose confederacy of lesser chieftains.

004 Mycenean Krater. ca.1395-1200BC BM.
On each side there is a stylised scene of warriors and a chariot amidst stylised flowers and marine motifs. It was found in a tomb in Kourion in Greece. Pots with warlike scenes like this were popular and often made for export.
004a Detail: Chariot.
This shows the simplistic style and the need to fill empty spaces with dotted or diamond shaped patterns

During this early period these Greek tribes derived much of their culture from the Minoans on Crete, but in 1400BC they overthrew the Minoan kingdom. A common Mycenaean-Minoan culture spread throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. But still more Hellenic people continued to press down from the North. The powerful Dorians were the last Greek tribe to sweep down the peninsula in the eleventh century BC.

005 Late Helladic III bowl with stylized drawings of a bull and a bird ca.1395-1200BC BM.
A well-made and slip decorated bowl. The striking qualities of these designs are the silhouette outlines of the two creatures which are then filled with inventive pattern designs. Notice the decorative technique used to emphasise eyes.

Epic Myths based on Actual Events

The Trojan War, celebrated in the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer, was probably an embroidered episode in this expansion or invasion by the Greeks into the islands and Asia Minor, probably about 1200-1150BC. But, about 1100BC, the Mycenean Kings were in turn overwhelmed by a final wave of tribal invaders from the north - the Dorians - formidable Greek warriors with superior swords made of iron. These Dorians slowly blotted out the old Minoan-Mycenaean-Helladic civilization of the Aegean.

The succession of wars and the turmoil which followed kept a once-flourishing civilization practically in caves. For at least half a century or more the pottery production in much of the mainland was reduced to rough, shoddily-made pottery. However, by the second half of the 11th century, improvements in pottery making suggest that life in some areas seems to have become more settled again. Pot makers gradually grew into artists once again. Eventually, a new Iron-Age farming culture began to evolve in Greece a culture with a common language. The Greek nation was born, and gradually a style of art and architecture developed.

In the 9th and 8th centuries, before written accounts, ballad singers wove the facts and legends of their early history into the Mythic Epic Stories of Gods and Heroes. Later they were written down or drawn as images on pots to become part of the foundation of Greek (or Hellenic) culture. The Art and architecture created was to inspire artists and designers for ages to come.

The Decorated Pottery of the Greeks

006 Early Geometric barrel jug ca.11th-10th century BC.
The existence of pots like this shows that the basic making, throwing and firing techniques recovered quickly after the turmoil. Simple geometric shapes and symbols soon began to reappear but often rearranged into a distinctly new style. Clearly the potter's wheel and probably a compass were needed to produce such regular banded lines and the perfect circles.

Early (or Proto)Geometric Pottery

This first Greek style of pottery decoration has been called the Geometric Style because the earliest examples show designs based on circles, arcs, triangles, and wavy lines. The earliest stage of simple geometric patterns is often called Early or "Proto"-Geometric and signals the reawakening of technical proficiency and a spirit of creativity amongst the Hellenic communities.

007 An Attic Proto-Geometric shoulder-handled amphora. ca.1000BC. ht:40cm BM.
The design elements are carefully placed in horizontal bands on significant parts of the vase, mainly at the shoulder or belly. The concentric circles were perhaps painted using a compass and multiple brushes. The lower portion of the jar was usually either left plain or painted in a solid black slip inherited from Bronze Age artists. (Notice that, by accident, part of the black band of slip has turned red(See Potters Notes, later on). Such pottery was now becoming better made, there is a new ability to discipline hand and eye. A new art is developing out of a ruined civilization.
Large Storage Jars of this amphora shape, with handles attached to the neck, were also used for the cremated remains of men and boys.

008 Attic Proto-geometric amphora. ca.950-900BC.Ht:41.5cm.
On this somewhat later pot there is more black slip and more decoration. There is a chequer band on the shoulder, zig-zag lines and then a broad wavy line lower down. As yet the patterns are quite abstract and simple. Other devices such as the meander(key pattern), triangle, herringbone, and swastika will soon begin to appear. Notice that this pot also shows the accidental change from black to red of a broad band of slip(See Potters Notes).

Large Jars of this shape, with the handles attached to the belly, were also used for the cremated remains of women and girls.

Geometric Style

009 Large Attic Geometric Amphora ht:69.5cm 9th century BC. NAM.
By about 900BC the Geometric style of decoration had become much more refined. The shapes are now more slender and the contours taut. Black bands increasingly dominate the surface but also frame alternate buff coloured areas crowded with rich and carefully drawn linear patterns. These patterns and motifs are more complex than the Proto-Geometric style and the overall effect is now much richer.
009a Detail: Middle band of decoration.
This zone around the belly between the two handles is the centre of attention divided into rectangular shapes and embellished with a variety of patterns. The simple circles have been replaced with much more complex forms, plus the zigzag, cross-hatched triangles and some new elements, the meander and swastika. These sharply linear patterns in dark paint upon light ground suggest designs beaten into copper or gold, but their origins are more closely akin to basketry. This impressive jar would have been a grave monument.

010 Attic Geometric Jug, late 9th century BC. BM
The subtle organisation of the pattern on this large jug is superb. No new patterns, but the scale is varied in each of the rows or registers, with larger blocks of pattern used to draw attention to and define the cylinder and bowl shapes. This gives structure and added interest to the object.
010a This Detail: Pattern decoration.
Notice the shading to give solidity to some patterns. The overall effect would have been less subtle if these large patterns had been filled with solid colour.

011 A Geometric Pyxis(lidded box) Athens ca.850-800BC.BM
The lid of this pot has an elaborate and finely modelled handle. It was a container used to keep some valuable jewellery or cosmetic materials.
011a Detail: Intricate decoration
The simple but intricate zig-zag patterned decoration echoes basketwork.

012 Attic Geometric Amphora Mid 8th Century BC. MSA
This is a large funeral monument. The decoration consists largely of bands of geometric patterns, particulatly the meander, chequer and triangles. With increasing trade with towns on the Palestine coast and Egypt, Greek potters looked eastward for new decorative ideas and here we can see a radical new idea in the Geometric style which enriches the bands of abstract pattern: bands of animals and birds probably inspired by the impressed ornament on Syrian metalware jugs and other vessels, but now lines of brush painted images full of character. Each row placed in a well-considered position to provide a point of emphasis.

012a Above the handles: Deer grazing
Painted just underneath the heavy rim, this row of gently grazing deer provides a lively contrast to the thick band of dark slip above and the regular meander pattern below.

012b Below the Handles: Deer grooming themselves
Positioned just alongside the root of the handles: This row provides a fluid, undulating rhythm along a line of deer grooming themselves. A very pleasant contrast to the patterns either side. The tiny filler pattern of double triangles adds to the charm they are like butterflies.

012c Towards the Bottom: Geese feeding This time the the pattern break is a rolling line of dark curved shapes: slowly moving geese, some feeding some squawking. The row is placed to mark the beginning of dark slip bands which give this tall jar a feeling of stability.

013 Attic Geometric Amphora.Mid 8th century BC. ht:1.55m
This grave monument is huge, over one and a half metres high. The animal friezes are now confined to the marginal zone of the very long neck. However, amongst the many dense rows of geometric patterns covering the body of this vessel, there is a new idea painted in a prime position: an impressive pictorial scene illustrating the grand theme of lamentation for the dead.

013a Lying-in-State Panel
The scene is placed at the jar's widest point, alongside the handles. It depicts the Lying-in-State of an important person flanked on either side by a row of mourners. All the figures are seen as the sum of geometrized parts - upper bodies becoming triangular, arms becoming straight or bent lines. Figures were invariably portrayed from the side, i.e., in profile, but front or side views used (whichever was the simplest or most characteristic) to complete the overall image.

013b Lying-in-State Centre of Panel
In this closer detail of the lying-in-state it is somewhat easier to follow the scene of mourning. The dead man is laid out on a funeral couch set on tall legs the pall is of chequer pattern on either side stand the mourners with upraised arms: beneath the couch are four figures, two kneeling and two seated on stools. A small figure on the right, perhaps a wife or child, stands in a pose of misery alongside the bier. Empty spaces continue to be filled with strips of zig-zag pattern, stars, circles or dots.

014 Attic Geometric Krater. Second half of 8th century BC ht:1.23m MMNY.
Gradually the pottery painters soften the angular figures of humans and animals. By the late 8th century BC the figure painting is beginning to become as or more important than the patterns and banding. Here figure painting dominates, framed and made more impressive by the intricate meander or key pattern around the rim above and the bold black banding and zigzag patterns below.

014a Detail of middle of bowl.
One's eye is drawn to the painting around the middle of the bowl: the top register depicts the funeral of the dead man. The lower register is a chariot procession - most likely "Funeral Games",in his honour.
014b Detail of Funeral Pyre.
This closer detail shows the schematic way each of the figures was portrayed: the dead man, the mourners(tearing their hair as a sign of grief), the widow and child(shown twice), and sacrificial ducks and goats ready to be burned. Though all are still angular silhouettes arranged symmetrically around the funeral table, compared with the previous example these figures are now more naturalistic.
014c Detail of Dead Man on Bier.
They drew what they believed was most important, not what they actually saw from a particular position. A simple profile view of the head only nose and eye "dot". To us, the body appears to lie on the edge of the table, but they did not "read" the scene as naturalistically as we do now. In all the figures the complex joining and rounded shape of hips and thighs is glossed over in order to arrive at two legs which can march in the same direction! As a general rule, in this early Hellenic style, the size of the figure usually denotes its importantance.
014d Detail of Mourners etc.
(2)The drawing of the chair and stool is brilliant, such a difficult idea to represent without a knowledge of perspective and foreshortening. The wife and child are shown twice, this may indicate different functions. Their lesser importance in the scene is emphasised by their smaller size. Traditional ways of representing things did change when the situation demanded it. Although of lesser importance still, the row of mourners needed, for design reasons, to be big enough to fill the height of the panel.(see full image) A row of tiny figures would not have seemed correct. As yet all these images are perhaps symbols rather than images. But changes were on the way. Notice the decorators still feel the need to fill empty spaces with various patterns and motifs. Sometimes called the "horror of the vacuum", this is common in many early cultures.

015 Proto-Attic 'Lions' Krater 700-675BC Diam:10.25in
In addition to the row of lions and a great deal of filler patterns there is a chariot procession in the row above. Although still very schematic, the figures and horses have more detail than before.
015a Detail of Charioteer, Chariot and Horse - Proto-Attic 'Lions' Krater 700-675BC
In this detail, we can see the man's great big eyes, an outline nose and a beard too. The horse's head and legs have been more carefully observed and drawn. So have the reins. But the chariot proved a more difficult challenge and is outlines only.

016 Protoattic Loutrophorus: Procession of dancers chariots and sphinxca. Analatos Painter. ht:80cm 700-680 BC. LP.
Such a vessel was often placed on the tomb of an unmarried person. We know the name of the painter - Analatos. This tells us that the painting is becoming important. On the neck is a scene of couples dancing to the double-flute above these, winged sphinxes. On the body of the vessel is the Funeral Parade of Chariots. This decoration shows how the new pictorial style is developing there is a lightness of touch and the picture friezes and pattern zones are spreading out.

017 Proto-attic amphora 700-680 BC.BM.
The painting on this funeral amphora shows a more open style with much more sketchy pattern, but, greater attention to the details, in the procession of chariots around the belly of the pot.

017a Detail: Procession of chariots.
Yet more careful observation of details is evident in these drawings. Notice particularly the naturalistic curve of the horse's tail, the hooves, chariot wheel spoke shapes, baton or riding whip and the way both shoulders, arms and elbows are portrayed. The pace of change is increasing.

Rhodes & East Greek Pottery (A Minoan Legacy)

Looking now across to the Eastern Seaboard of the Mediterranean and the islands nearby. During the turmoil of the previous centuries, many Cretan and Greek refugees had found sanctuary along this coast or on islands like Rhodes. As stability returned to the region, normal life and trading became possible. Colonies became established and pottery exports grew. The decoration on these "East Greek" pots shows the lasting influence of the Minoans.

018 A large storage jar(pithos). Probably made in Rhodes ca. 700-650BC.BM.
Pithoi were mainly used for storing agricultural produce such as olive oil, wine, olives, raisins or grain. In Rhodes, large pithoi like this one have been found in graves, serving as coffins for children and young adults. Such large jars as this must have been made in several sections and joined together before firing.
018a Detail: repeated scroll patterns.
The repeated scroll patterns made by rolling cylinder stamps around the soft clay surface. This type of pattern owes much to the Minoan-Mycenean heritage which survived here on the far side of the Aegean.

019 Rhodian Amphora 6th century BC.
Although the techniques of making pottery are similar all over the Greek world, on the eastern side of the Aegean world the pottery decoration was based more on the spirals, curvilinear patterns and lively drawing of the Minoans than the more regimented geometric style developing in mainland Greece.

020 Rhodian Amphora decorated with a partridge. Rhodes ca.540BC BM.
During the late 8th and early 7th centuries BC the Greeks found a growing market for their useful pottery in the coastal cities of Syria and Palestine and even into the interior of Western Asia. The Eygptians too bought Greek pots. Apart from any food and spices that came back to Greece from these eastern cities, fine jewellery, decorated metal vessels, ivory carvings and woven fabrics also were traded in return. The images of birds and animals on these Greek pots made in Rhodes were probably based on Syrian and Egyptian designs.

Trading and the "Orientalizing" Style of Decorating

021 This Jug is from Aegina, one of the Cycladic Islands, made during the first half of 7th century. It is 16in. high
This monstrous beak spout is based on Syrian metalwork jug designs. Much of the decoration is derived from Minoan and Egyptian decoration. Greek trade with the older cultures - coastal cities in Syria, Palestine and Egypt - was now considerable. They were quickly adapting their simple geometric patterns on their export pottery to the very different Eastern designs. This soon led to a growing Eastern influence on Greek pottery design and painting.
022 A Stemmed plate East Greek from Camirus Rhodes, ca. 625-600BC. BM
The decoration of this dish or plate stand is a mix of simple geometric motifs with the more sophisticated bird and flower shapes and patterns placed in the segments of concentric circles.
022a Detail: birds and patterns.
In the middle is a rosette motif very popular in much of Western Asia. The ducks feeding or preening their feathers are drawn with an eye to naturalistic detail.
022b Detail: Duck preening its feathers.
Look at the drawing of the legs and feet. Although worn, this plate shows the use of new painting colour: dull, dry,grape purple. The Corinthian Potters were to exploit this colour combination and make it their own. Animals, birds and mythical monsters on Syrian and Egyptian metal work and jewellery remain the most common source of inspiration.

Corinthian Pottery in the 7th and 6th century BC

This "Orientalizing" phase is taken up on the Mainland of Greece by the great trading city of Corinth during the early part of the 7th century BC. Quality decorated pottery was highly valued abroad and, with their eyes on this export market, the Corinthians manufactured very small decorated pots that were suitable for shipment in large quantities. Shipped to the new colonies in Italy, Greece and Asia Minor, as tiny bottles(aryballoi), they were used for oil, perfume or ointments.

023 An early Corinthian small bottle(aryballos) for pefumed oil ca.640 ht 6.8cm BM
Corinthian artists fell under the spell of these strange eastern decorative styles and were soon painting weird curling shapes and exotic animals, birds and flowers in the fashionable orientalizing style. This tiny bottle has a very un-Greek quality.
023a Detail: Lion head
The Lion-like head and the wavy line patterns suggesting a mane are new to Greek Art. Oil or scent would be poured from the fierce creature's mouth. Just beneath the neck is a band of decoration which has the curvilinear style characteristic of the earlier Minoan Age. These free, flamboyant designs, so different from the precise, geometric patterns, were still being used in the Eastern side of the Aegean.
023b Detail: Bottom
The foot has a ring of spiky forms imitating an Egyptian representation of a lotus flower. Above that a row of leaping animals, then a row of galloping horsemen in a fluid style.
023c Detail: Middle
The middle of the flask is covered with ringed vignettes of a variety of creatures many based on eastern motifs from decoration on imported jewellery, ivory boxes or fabrics.

024 Proto-Corinthian, an amphora ca.650-570BC. BM
During the 7th century oriental motifs eventually found their way onto all makes of Greek pots. Curvilinear and spiky patterns, supplant the older, rectilinear ones. New subjects appear, especially such monsters as the sphinx, siren, griffin, gorgon, and chimaera, as well as such exotic animals as the lion.

025 Corinthian cup ca.625-600BC ht.3.5in.
The local Corinthian clay was buff rather than red. Potters refined the existing dark slip painting technique using a local earthenware clay to produce a superior black slip glaze to paint the birds, lions, monsters, etc. They then enhanced these silhouette designs by cutting fine incised lines through to expose the lighter body. This scratched line technique to show detail became very sophisticated. Often to increase the colour range, a matt grape-purple iron slip was used - as in the reddish feathers of the bird on this cup.

The Characteristic Mature Corinthian Pottery

026 Pyxis(cosmetic box) Middle Corinthian ca.600-575BC. BM
These illustrations show the quality of decoration and finish achieved by Corinthian potters by the end of the 7th century BC. This little pot has friezes of animals including lions, panthers and bulls painted in shiny black or matt purple with lines of detail scratched through to the buff body.

027 Corinthian Amphora with lid 625-575 BC. Old Corinth Mus. This amphora is unusual in having a lid preserved. The two facing cockerels and the large centre motif and the rosettes are all Western Asian in origin. The spiky ring, marking the foot, comes from the shape of the Egyptian Lotus flower. The design could easily have been based on repoussé decoration on a metal jug exported from Palestine.

028 Corinthian oil or perfume flask - Alabastron. ca.600-575BC. BM A tiny perfume flask, just a few inches high, decorated in the typical orientalizing style.

028a Detail : Figure painting Here you can see the considerable detail added to the painting on this little perfume flask. Very fine lines were scratched through the black slip to the lighter clay of the body.

029 A perfume flask. Detail:Figure painting ca.600-575BC. BM
A detail from another perfume flask - showing a double bodied monster. This detail shows quite well the body and slip textures. The lustrous shine of the black slip is shown at the top right. The matt texture of the grape purple colour too can be seen well.

029a More Detail of Corinthian oil or perfume flask - Alabastron. showing painting. ca.600-575BC. BM
This even closer detail makes it possible to see the scraping effect of the needle-like scratches into the leather-hard clay. For example, notice the simple and effective way of defining the petals of the rosette. You can also see how the sharp scratch lines went on just a little bit beyond the edges of the rosette shapes.

The Greek Myths:Figure Painting of Gods and Heroes

Pottery painters in Attica were the first to paint narrative scenes from popular myths about their Gods and Heroes episodes from Homer's Epics, the Iliad and Odyssey, featuring such gods as Apollo or Dionysos and heroes such as Achilles or Herakles and his Twelve Labours or Exploits.

Unlike the strange deities of the Egyptians, Mesopotamians and Persians, the Greek Gods and Heroes were believed to be human in form though larger, more powerful and physically perfect etc. Images or paintings of Gods or Heroes could therefore be based on human models.

This is the key to why figure drawing, painting and sculpture in Greece improved so dramatically during the 6th and 5th centuries. The realism, life-like and three-dimensional qualities achieved were beyond that of any other civilization hitherto.

Competition between artists to achieve the most natural representation of a God or a Hero reached fever pitch by the early 5th century.

Proto-Attic Pottery

In the earlier examples of Attic pottery from the late 8th century onwards figure painting in Attica developed out of geometric symbols. Slowly the figure painting became more naturalistic and concerned with all things Greek rather than "Oriental". By the beginning of the 6th century the potteries of Athens were producing a range of decorated pots with increasingly complex and detailed narrative groups - funeral scenes, sea battles, dances, boxing matches, and exploits of popular heroes.

030 ProtoAttic Amphora from a Grave at Eleusis(Attica).Ht:1.42M ca.670BC.
Although there are a variety of figures and animals represented here, the most recognisable scene is around the neck. An incident from the Odyssey: The Blinding of the One-Eyed Giant Polyphemus by Odysseus and his companions.
030a Detail of Polyphemus.
The drawing technique is now a few steps away from the earlier stick-like Geometric figures. The bodies look a little more human. Ears, eyes, beards - and cup are all better observed. This well-known incident is well portrayed with its essential images clearly drawn: The sitting or dozing giant holding the cup of drugged wine, Odysseus and a companion hurling a spear into his single eye.

031 Athenian Jar:Grave in Attica ca.670BC. Herakles and Nessus Gorgons.
Painted in black slip on the body are the Gorgons - winged female monsters. However, these are not now very clear to see in detail. But, on the neck, a well-known Greek legend is illustrated the Hero Herakles is about to kill a troublesome Centaur (man-horse)called Nessus with a stab of his sword. Looking at this drawing we can see that Attic figure painting has greatly improved by the early sixth century BC. Potter-painters are adapting the Corinthian black-figure technique to their own figure painting.
031a Detail Herakles and Nessus.
In the detail these bodies appear more fleshy and muscular. The half-horse Centaur is believable at both ends and his hair, beard, nose and fingers are recognisable details. Although the arms are fixed a bit oddly, this decoration shows an enormous advance towards naturalism in figure painting. The two black figures are given much of their detail, form and life by the subtle fine lines drawn, or scratched, into the solid black slip silhouettes.

Attic Black-Figure Painting

032 Early Attic Black-figure jug, painted in black, purple and white on orange clay, ca. 600-575BC BM
Athenian painters copied this black-figure style from Corinth but, instead of the Oriental monsters, animals and birds motifs, preferred to develop further their own narrative style using Greek Gods, Heroes and monsters. The superior quality of their clay, pigment, and decoration and firing techniques quickly enabled the Athenian artists to overtake those of Corinth. This jug shows a rich black vitrified slip paint and also the matt grape red iron slip.
032a Detail Head of Gorgon
This detail of the head of the Medusan Gorgon shows how these Greek artists endowed their figures with mood and character by means of scratched lines in black slip. Monotony was avoided by the use of different poses, gestures, and expressions to render emotion and clarify the narrative action.

033 Part of a black-figured amphora.
The scene on this prize amphora shows a victorious athlete offering wine, and his thanks, to the God Dionysos.
033a Closer detail
This detail shows more clearly the painting of the hands and clothing of the god, illustrating the power of the scratched lines to provide so much naturalistic detail.

The Finest(Mature) Black-Figure Painting ca. 540-520BC.

034 Athenian Jar from Vulci(Etruria) ca.540-530BC ht:61cm. The heavenly Twins, the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux return home after some heroic exploit: hunting, fighting, carrying off women, and cattle rustling etc.There are many tales. The pot is signed by the Painter Exekias. Our particular interest is the quality of the slip painting.

034a Closer detail: The dog greets one of his masters.
The Athenians retained the Corinthian use of animal friezes for decoration until c. 550 BC, when the great Attic painters, among them Exekias and the Amasis Painter, developed a Greek narrative scene decoration and perfected the classical black-figure style. Corinth and Athens were the most important studios producing black-figure pottery but there were others in Sparta and some of the Greece colonies.

034b The other side of the amphora above.
Achilles and Ajax,the two great heroes and warriors in the Trojan War, are seen playing at dice, both in full armour ready for battle.
034c Closer detail:Achilles and Ajax
Inscribed on the picture, rather like the bubbles in a 20th century cartoon, are greek words, appearing from their mouths. They tell us that Achilles(left) has called 'four' and Ajax 'three'.
034d Detail:Head of Achilles
The fine detail of the helmet and armour can be seen here. All of this produced by scratched lines in a black slip.
This could provide ideas for many slip decorators, couldn't it?

035 Attic black figured Kylix 6th c. BC.
This is a typical drinking cup or disk - the kylix. Decorated both inside and outside with a variety of scenes. The foot and hollow stem can be seen and painted around the outside of the bowl are two winged monsters and a charioteer. Of particular interest here is the introduction of white slip in attic black-figure painting. It was not easy to use. If thick it often peeled off.(see Potter's Notes later on.)

035a Inside bowl decoration of Attic black figured Kylix 6th c.BC.
Inside the bowl of this drinking cup is this beautiful piece of black-figure decoration showing the God Dionysos sailing the Seas. Climbing around the mast is a grape vine - suitably fully laden for the God of Wine. The water is filled with a school of dolphins playing. The disposition of each object within the circular form has been well considered and carefully balanced. We know the name of the painter, Exekias, living in the mid-sixth century BC.
035b Detail of centre.
Here we can see the fine detail in the figure of the God. He is shown dressed and crowned like a king. The boat, dolphins, grapevine, and sail are each superbly delineated. Technically, there is perhaps one defect the poor fit of the matt white slip which originally covered the sail. Much has rubbed or flaked off. It appears to have been painted over the black vitreous slip. (Read potter's notes)

036 Attic Black-Figure Hydria: ca.520-500BC ht 22.5in.
A Hydria is the Greek name for a pot with three handles. Two for lifting and one for pouring. This pot was used for fetching water from the local fountain. The painting illustrates this. Under a portico, young women are filling their pots with water from these ornamental fountains. Athenian pottery of the 6th century BC often features such narrative scenes composed of black figures painted on a light red inset background panel, while the surrounding vase surface is a deep, lustrous black. As in the previous example, when white slip often tends to flake off.

036a Closer detail: showing a few problems
This detail shows up more clearly two defects most potters are aware of: (1.)The black slip was probably too dry when the lines were scratched through - the edges cracked and the lines are rough and (2.)White slip is flaking off - probably applied too thickly (see Potter's Notes later on).

037 Tiny funeral oil flask ca.500BC ht:11.5cm
This is typical of the vast mass-produced market for small( five inches high) lekythoi, that contained the oil used in a funeral ceremony. This one has lost the funnel mouth at the neck, but is otherwise complete. From a potter's point of view it has considerable interest. The rough basic hollow shape was thrown on a potter's wheel. Unlike a more prestigious item, where more time and care would be taken, this little pot was one of many being made and decorated at speed in a day or two. This is repetition pottery.

037a Centred hole in foot
When leather-hard, it was turned horizontally on a lathe(exactly like wood turning) to the required form. Underneath the centre of the foot is a small hole made by the centre spike of the lathe. Normally you can't see this in a museum. The black slip line banding was quickly brushed on whilst still on the lathe.
037b Detail of warrior painting.
This detail shows accidental "chattering" marks and scoring grooves from a worn turning tool or too dry a pot. Many finishing problems haven't changed over millenia!
037c Detail showing the top of pot. diam 5.2cm.
This view of the neck and top of the pot shows the squashed base of the little handle roughly joined to the shoulder with slip and bent over to be smoothed against the neck. The broken neck shows where the cup-like funnel would have been. The various motifs in the banding patterns around the shoulder show all the signs of haste and a need to simplify evidence of mass-production.
037d Detail of figure painting.
This group of two horses and a rider is less than 5 cm. high. A painter with some talent and probably years of repetition produced these lively images - at speed. The brush strokes and scratched outlines were made quickly with confidence.

038 Black figured amphora(jar) Made in Athens about 520-500BC. BM. Black figured amphora(jar) with Dionysos and two satyrs. Made in Athens about 520-500BC. Attributed to the painter Psiax and signed on the rim by Andokides as the potter. The body of this pot is covered with a deep black lustrous slip glaze. The only decoration is the painting on the neck.
038a Neck detail: Dionysos and two Satyrs
The god of wine holds a drinking horn in one hand and a vine branch in the other. Either side is a drunken dancing satyr.
038b Detail: Figure of Dionysos A closer view shows more clearly the crisp scratched patterns and lines. The small amount of purple plum colour for the beard, and decorative spots and bands gives extra life to the costume and figure. In this example, some edges of the black paint and also the delicately painted fingers of the satyr have slightly re-oxidized to red in the cooling kiln.

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