Pottery of ancient Greece

Ancient Greek pottery, due to its relative durability, comprises a large part of the archaeological record of ancient Greece, and since there is so much of it (over 100,000 painted vases are recorded in the Corpus vasorum antiquorum),[1] it has exerted a disproportionately large influence on our understanding of Greek society. The shards of pots discarded or buried in the 1st millennium BC are still the best guide available to understand the customary life and mind of the ancient Greeks. There were several vessels produced locally for everyday and kitchen use, yet finer pottery from regions such as Attica was imported by other civilizations throughout the Mediterranean, such as the Etruscans in Italy.[2] There were various specific regional varieties, such as the South Italian ancient Greek pottery.

Throughout these places, various types and shapes of vases were used. Not all were purely utilitarian; large Geometric amphorae were used as grave markers, kraters in Apulia served as tomb offerings and Panathenaic Amphorae seem to have been looked on partly as objets d’art, as were later terracotta figurines. Some were highly decorative and meant for elite consumption and domestic beautification as much as serving a storage or other function, such as the krater with its usual use in diluting wine.

Earlier Greek styles of pottery, called "Aegean" rather than "Ancient Greek", include Minoan pottery, very sophisticated by its final stages, Cycladic pottery, Minyan ware and then Mycenaean pottery in the Bronze Age, followed by the cultural disruption of the Greek Dark Age. As the culture recovered Sub-Mycenaean pottery finally blended into the Protogeometric style, which begins Ancient Greek pottery proper.

The rise of vase painting saw increasing decoration. Geometric art in Greek pottery was contiguous with the late Dark Age and early Archaic Greece, which saw the rise of the Orientalizing period. The pottery produced in Archaic and Classical Greece included at first black-figure pottery, yet other styles emerged such as red-figure pottery and the white ground technique. Styles such as West Slope Ware were characteristic of the subsequent Hellenistic period, which saw vase painting's decline.

Amphorae stacking
Amphorae designed for marine transport, taken from shipwrecks of the Bronze Age
Hirschfeld Workshop Terracotta Krater ca 750-735 bce by alkalisoaps on flickr
The Hirschfeld Krater, mid-8th century BC, from the late Geometric period, depicting ekphora, the act of carrying a body to its grave. National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

Rediscovery and scholarship

DSC00276 - Processione di donne - 570-550 a.C. - Foto G. Dall'Orto
Disjecta membra (a fragment of ancient Greek pottery)

Interest in Greek art lagged behind the revival of classical scholarship during the Renaissance and revived in the academic circle round Nicholas Poussin in Rome in the 1630s. Though modest collections of vases recovered from ancient tombs in Italy were made in the 15th and 16th centuries these were regarded as Etruscan. It is possible that Lorenzo de Medici bought several Attic vases directly from Greece;[3] however the connection between them and the examples excavated in central Italy was not made until much later. Winckelmann's Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums of 1764 first refuted the Etruscan origin of what we now know to be Greek pottery[4] yet Sir William Hamilton's two collections, one lost at sea the other now in the British Museum, were still published as "Etruscan vases"; it would take until 1837 with Stackelberg's Gräber der Hellenen to conclusively end the controversy.[5]

Much of the early study of Greek vases took the form of production of albums of the images they depict, however neither D'Hancarville's nor Tischbein's folios record the shapes or attempt to supply a date and are therefore unreliable as an archaeological record. Serious attempts at scholary study made steady progress over the 19th century starting with the founding of the Instituto di Corrispondenza in Rome in 1828 (later the German Archaeological Institute), followed by Eduard Gerhard's pioneering study Auserlesene Griechische Vasenbilder (1840 to 1858), the establishment of the journal Archaeologische Zeitung in 1843 and the Ecole d'Athens 1846. It was Gerhard who first outlined the chronology we now use, namely: Orientalizing (Geometric, Archaic), Black Figure, Red Figure, Polychromatic (Hellenistic).

Neoclassical "Black Basalt" Ware vase by Wedgwood, c. 1815 AD

Finally it was Otto Jahn's 1854 catalogue Vasensammlung of the Pinakothek, Munich, that set the standard for the scientific description of Greek pottery, recording the shapes and inscriptions with a previously unseen fastidousness. Jahn's study was the standard textbook on the history and chronology of Greek pottery for many years, yet in common with Gerhard he dated the introduction of the red figure technique to a century later than was in fact the case. This error was corrected when the Aρχαιολογικη 'Εταιρεια undertook the excavation of the Acropolis in 1885 and discovered the so-called "Persian debris" of red figure pots destroyed by Persian invaders in 480 BC. With a more soundly established chronology it was possible for Adolf Furtwängler and his students in the 1880s and 90s to date the strata of his archaeological digs by the nature of the pottery found within them, a method of seriation Flinders Petrie was later to apply to unpainted Egyptian pottery.

Where the 19th century was a period of Greek discovery and the laying out of first principles, the 20th century has been one of consolidation and intellectual industry. Efforts to record and publish the totality of public collections of vases began with the creation of the Corpus vasorum antiquorum under Edmond Pottier and the Beazley archive of John Beazley.

Beazley and others following him have also studied fragments of Greek pottery in institutional collections, and have attributed many painted pieces to individual artists. Scholars have called these fragments disjecta membra (Latin for "scattered parts") and in a number of instances have been able to identify fragments now in different collections that belong to the same vase.[6]

Uses and types

Attic Volute kraters-en
Diagram of the parts of a typical Athenian vase, in this case a volute krater

The names we use for Greek vase shapes are often a matter of convention rather than historical fact, a few do illustrate their own use or are labeled with their original names, others are the result of early archaeologists attempt to reconcile the physical object with a known name from Greek literature – not always successfully. To understand the relationship between form and function Greek pottery may be divided in four broad categories, given here with common types:[2][7][8]

Some vase shapes were especially associated with rituals, others with athletics and the gymnasium.[9] Within each category the forms are roughly the same in scale and whether open or closed, where there is uncertainty we can make good proximate guesses of what use a piece would have served. Some have a purely ritual function, for example white ground lekythoi contained the oil used as funerary offerings and appear to have been made solely with that object in mind. Many examples have a concealed second cup inside them to give the impression of being full of oil, as such they would have served no other useful gain. Some vessels were designed as grave markers.

There was an international market for Greek pottery since the 8th century BC, which Athens and Corinth dominated down to the end of the 4th century BC.[10] An idea of the extent of this trade can be gleaned from plotting the find maps of these vases outside of Greece, though this could not account for gifts or immigration. Only the existence of a second hand market could account for the number of panathenaics found in Etruscan tombs. South Italian wares came to dominate the export trade in the Western Mediterranean as Athens declined in political importance during the Hellenistic period.


The process of making a pot and firing it is fairly simple. The first thing a potter needs is clay. Attica's high-iron clay gave its pots an orange color.[11]


External video
1075 - Keramikos Museum, Athens - 5th century BC psykter - Photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto, Nov 12 2009
Making Greek Vases, produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum hosted at Smarthistory[12]
Exekias, Attic black figure amphora with Ajax and Achilles playing a game
Mixing Vessel with Odysseus Escaping from the Cyclops' Cave all hosted at Smarthistory[12]


When clay is first dug out of the ground it is full of rocks and shells and other useless items that need to be removed. To do this the potter mixes the clay with water and lets all the impurities sink to the bottom. This is called levigation or elutriation. This process can be done many times. The more times this is done, the smoother clay becomes.


The clay is then kneaded by the potter and placed on a wheel. Once the clay is on the wheel the potter can shape it into any of the many shapes shown below, or anything else he desires. Wheel made pottery dates back to roughly 2500 BC where before the coil method of building the walls of the pot was employed. Most Greek vases were wheel-made, though as with the Rhyton mould-made pieces (so-called "plastic" pieces) are also found and decorative elements either hand formed or by mould were added to thrown pots. More complex pieces were made in parts then assembled when it was leather hard by means of joining with a slip, where the potter returned to the wheel for the final shaping, or turning. Sometimes, a young man helped turn the wheel.[13][14]


The pots were usually made in sections such as the body and feet and spout. Even the body, if it were larger than 20 centimeters, might be made in separate sections and glued together later with a thin watery clay called slip. After the pot is made then the potter paints it with a very pure black slip made from a specially prepared clay [15] using brushes made from a single hair.[16] It was thus slipped and then incised ready for the kiln.


Plaque Penteskouphia MNB2858
A potter's workshop. Side B from a Corinthian black-figure pinax, ca. 575–550

Previously it was believed that Greek pottery, unlike today's pottery, was only fired once, but that firing had three stages. New studies instead provide material evidence that the pottery was made with two or more separate firings [17] in which the pottery is subjected to multiple firing stages. The most commonly described sequence of firing stages is one in which the pottery is stacked inside the kiln the potter heats the kiln up to around 800 °C with all the vents on the sides open to let air in. This turns the pottery and the paint red all over. Once the kiln reaches 800 °C the vents are closed and the temperature is raised to 950 °C and then allowed to drop back to 900 °C. This turns the pottery and the paint all black. The potter then starts the third and final phase by opening the vents and allowing the kiln to cool all the way down. This last phase leaves the slip black but turns the pottery back to red. This happens because when the clay is given air it turns red, but when the black slip is heated to 950 °C it no longer allows air in. Thus, the slipped area stays black while the bare areas stay red. While the description of a single firing with three stages may seem economical and efficient, it is equally possible that each of these stages was confined to separate firings.

The striking black slip with a metallic sheen, so characteristic of Greek pottery, was a fine suspension (colloidal fraction) of an illitic clay with very low calcium oxide content which was rich in iron oxides and hydroxides, differentiating from that used for the body of the vase in terms of the calcium content, the exact mineral composition and the particle size. This clay suspension was most probably collected in situ from illitic clay beds and was then processed through levigation. To aid in the levigation step, it is likely that the Attic black slip was treated with deflocculants as indicated by trace levels of contaminants to the clay, such as Zn associated with vitriol.[15] This clay suspension was thickened by concentration to a paste and was used for the decoration of the surface of the vase. The paint was applied on the areas intended to become black after firing.

The black color effect was achieved by means of changing the amount of oxygen present during firing. This was done in a process known as three-phase firing and was likely accomplished with multiple firings of the pottery. First, the kiln was heated to around 920–950 °C, with all vents open bringing oxygen into the firing chamber and turning both pot and slip a reddish-brown (oxidising conditions) due to the formation of hematite (Fe2O3) in both the paint and the clay body. Then the vent was closed and green wood introduced, creating carbon monoxide which turns the red hematite to black magnetite (Fe3O4); at this stage the temperature decreases due to incomplete combustion. In a final reoxidizing phase (at about 800–850 °C) the kiln was opened and oxygen reintroduced causing the unslipped reserved clay to go back to orange-red. In the previous phase, chemical composition of the slipped surface had been altered, so it could no longer be oxidized and remained black. The technique which is mostly known as the "iron reduction technique" was decoded with the contribution of scholars, ceramists and scientists since the mid 18th century onwards to the end of the 20th century, i.e. Comte de Caylus (1752), Durand-Greville (1891), Binns and Fraser (1925), Schumann (1942), Winter (1959), Bimson (1956), Noble (1960, 1965), Hofmann (1962), Oberlies (1968), Pavicevic (1974), Aloupi (1993), Walton (2009), Walton (2014).[18]

Vase painting

Akhilleus Aias MGEt 16757
Niobid Painter - Red-Figure Amphora with Musical Scene - Walters 482712 - Side A
Athena Herakles Staatliche Antikensammlungen 2301 A full
Apollo black bird AM Delphi 8140

The most familiar aspect of ancient Greek pottery is painted vessels of fine quality. These were not the everyday pottery used by most people but were sufficiently cheap to be accessible to a wide range of the population.

Few examples of ancient Greek painting have survived so modern scholars have to trace the development of ancient Greek art partly through ancient Greek vase-painting, which survives in large quantities and is also, with Ancient Greek literature, the best guide we have to the customary life and mind of the ancient Greeks.

Development of pottery painting

Fine painting on Greek pottery goes back to the Minoan pottery and Mycenaean pottery of the Bronze Age, some later examples of which show the ambitious figurative painting that was to become highly developed and typical.

After many centuries dominated by styles of geometric decoration, becoming increasingly complex, figurative elements returned in force in the 8th century. From the late 7th century to about 300 BC evolving styles of figure-led painting were at their peak of production and quality and were widely exported.

During the Greek Dark Age, spanning the 11th to 8th centuries BC, the prevalent early style was that of the protogeometric art, predominantly utilizing circular and wavy decorative patterns. This was succeeded in mainland Greece, the Aegean, Anatolia, and Italy by the style of pottery known as geometric art, which employed neat rows of geometric shapes.[19]

The period of Archaic Greece, beginning in the 8th century BC and lasting until the late 5th century BC, saw the birth of Orientalizing period, led largely by ancient Corinth, where the previous stick-figures of the geometric pottery become fleshed out amid motifs that replaced the geometric patterns.[10]

Classical ceramic decor is dominated mostly by Attic vase painting. Attic production was the first to resume after the Greek Dark Age and influenced the rest of Greece, especially Boeotia, Corinth, the Cyclades (in particular Naxos) and the Ionian colonies in the east Aegean.[20] Production of vases was largely the prerogative of Athens – it is well attested that in Corinth, Boeotia, Argos, Crete and Cyclades, the painters and potters were satisfied to follow the Attic style. By the end of the Archaic period the styles of black-figure pottery, red-figure pottery and the white ground technique had become fully established and would continue in use during the era of Classical Greece, from the early 5th to late 4th centuries BC. Corinth was eclipsed by Athenian trends since Athens was the progenitor of both the red-figure and white ground styles.[10]

Amphora protogeometric BM A1123
Protogeometric amphora, BM

Vases of the protogeometrical period (c. 1050–900 BC) represent the return of craft production after the collapse of the Mycenaean Palace culture and the ensuing Greek dark ages. It is one of the few modes of artistic expression besides jewelry in this period since the sculpture, monumental architecture and mural painting of this era are unknown to us. By 1050 BC life in the Greek peninsula seems to have become sufficiently settled to allow a marked improvement in the production of earthenware. The style is confined to the rendering of circles, triangles, wavy lines and arcs, but placed with evident consideration and notable dexterity, probably aided by compass' and multiple brushes.[21] The site of Lefkandi is one of our most important sources of ceramics from this period where a cache of grave goods has been found giving evidence of a distinctive Euboian protogeometric style which lasted into the early 8th century.[22]

Hydria Boeotia Louvre A574
Boeotian Geometric Hydria lamp, Louvre

Geometric art flourished in the 9th and 8th centuries BC. It was characterized by new motifs, breaking with the representation of the Minoan and Mycenaean periods: meanders, triangles and other geometrical decoration (hence the name of the style) as distinct from the predominantly circular figures of the previous style. However, our chronology for this new art form comes from exported wares found in datable contexts overseas.

Dypilon vase 1
The Dipylon Amphora, mid-8th century BC, with human figures for scale. The vase was used as a grave marker.[23] National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

With the early geometrical style (approximately 900–850 BC) one finds only abstract motifs, in what is called the "Black Dipylon" style, which is characterized by an extensive use of black varnish, with the Middle Geometrical (approx. 850–770 BC), figurative decoration makes its appearance: they are initially identical bands of animals such as horses, stags, goats, geese, etc. which alternate with the geometrical bands. In parallel, the decoration becomes complicated and becomes increasingly ornate; the painter feels reluctant to leave empty spaces and fills them with meanders or swastikas. This phase is named horror vacui (fear of the empty) and will not cease until the end of geometrical period.

In the middle of the century there begin to appear human figures, the best known representations of which are those of the vases found in Dipylon, one of the cemeteries of Athens. The fragments of these large funerary vases show mainly processions of chariots or warriors or of the funerary scenes: πρόθεσις / prothesis (exposure and lamentation of dead) or ἐκφορά / ekphora (transport of the coffin to the cemetery). The bodies are represented in a geometrical way except for the calves, which are rather protuberant. In the case of soldiers, a shield in form of a diabolo, called “dipylon shield” because of its characteristic drawing, covers the central part of the body. The legs and the necks of the horses, the wheels of the chariots are represented one beside the other without perspective. The hand of this painter, so called in the absence of signature, is the Dipylon Master, could be identified on several pieces, in particular monumental amphorae.[24]

At the end of the period there appear representations of mythology, probably at the moment when Homer codifies the traditions of Trojan cycle in the Iliad and the Odyssey. Here however the interpretation constitutes a risk for the modern observer: a confrontation between two warriors can be a Homeric duel or simple combat; a failed boat can represent the shipwreck of Odysseus or any hapless sailor.

Lastly, are the local schools that appear in Greece. Production of vases was largely the prerogative of Athens – it is well attested that as in the proto-geometrical period, in Corinth, Boeotia, Argos, Crete and Cyclades, the painters and potters were satisfied to follow the Attic style. From about the 8th century BC on, they created their own styles, Argos specializing in the figurative scenes, Crete remaining attached to a more strict abstraction.[25]

Skyphos genius animals Louvre MNB2030
Protocorinthian skyphos, c. 625 BC, Louvre

The orientalizing style was the product of cultural ferment in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean of the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Fostered by trade links with the city-states of Asia Minor, the artifacts of the East influenced a highly stylized yet recognizable representational art. Ivories, pottery and metalwork from the Neo-Hittite principalities of northern Syria and Phoenicia found their way to Greece, as did goods from Anatolian Urartu and Phrygia, yet there was little contact with the cultural centers of Egypt or Assyria. The new idiom developed initially in Corinth (as Proto-Corinthian) and later in Athens between 725 BC and 625 BC (as Proto-Attic).[26]

Olpe sphinx Louvre Cp10475
Proto-Corinthian olpe with registers of lions, bulls, ibex and sphinxes, c. 640–630 BC, Louvre

It was characterized by an expanded vocabulary of motifs: sphinx, griffin, lions, etc., as well as a repertory of non-mythological animals arranged in friezes across the belly of the vase. In these friezes, painters also began to apply lotuses or palmettes. Depictions of humans were relatively rare. Those that have been found are figures in silhouette with some incised detail, perhaps the origin of the incised silhouette figures of the black-figure period. There is sufficient detail on these figures to allow scholars to discern a number of different artists' hands. Geometrical features remained in the style called proto-Corinthian that embraced these orientalizing experiments, yet which coexisted with a conservative sub-geometric style.

The ceramics of Corinth were exported all over Greece, and their technique arrived in Athens, prompting the development of a less markedly Eastern idiom there. During this time described as Proto-Attic, the orientalizing motifs appear but the features remain not very realistic. The painters show a preference for the typical scenes of the Geometrical Period, like processions of chariots. However, they adopt the principle of line drawing to replace the silhouette. In the middle of the 7th century BC, there appears the black and white style: black figures on a white zone, accompanied by polychromy to render the color of the flesh or clothing. Clay used in Athens was much more orange than that of Corinth, and so did not lend itself as easily to the representation of flesh. Attic Orientalising Painters include the Analatos Painter, the Mesogeia Painter and the Polyphemos Painter.

Crete, and especially the islands of the Cyclades, are characterized by their attraction to the vases known as “plastic”, i.e. those whose paunch or collar is moulded in the shape of head of an animal or a man. At Aegina, the most popular form of the plastic vase is the head of the griffin. The Melanesian amphoras, manufactured at Paros, exhibit little knowledge of Corinthian developments. They present a marked taste for the epic composition and a horror vacui, which is expressed in an abundance of swastikas and meanders.

Finally one can identify the last major style of the period, that of Wild Goat Style, allotted traditionally to Rhodes because of an important discovery within the necropolis of Kameiros. In fact, it is widespread over all of Asia Minor, with centers of production at Miletos and Chios. Two forms prevail oenochoes, which copied bronze models, and dishes, with or without feet. The decoration is organized in superimposed registers in which stylized animals, in particular of feral goats (from whence the name) pursue each other in friezes. Many decorative motifs (floral triangles, swastikas, etc.) fill the empty spaces.

Achilles Penthesileia BM B209
Achilles and Penthesileia by Exekias, c. 540 BC, BM. London.

Black-figure is the most commonly imagined when one thinks about Greek pottery. It was a popular style in ancient Greece for many years. The black-figure period coincides approximately with the era designated by Winckelmann as the middle to late Archaic, from c. 620 to 480 BC. The technique of incising silhouetted figures with enlivening detail which we now call the black-figure method was a Corinthian invention of the 7th century[27] and spread from there to other city states and regions including Sparta,[28] Boeotia,[29] Euboea,[30] the east Greek islands[31] and Athens.

The Corinthian fabric, extensively studied by Humfry Payne[32] and Darrell Amyx,[33] can be traced though the parallel treatment of animal and human figures. The animal motifs have greater prominence on the vase and show the greatest experimentation in the early phase of Corinthian black-figure. As Corinthian artists gained in confidence in their rendering of the human figure the animal frieze declined in size relative to the human scene during the middle to late phase. By the mid-6th century BC, the quality of Corinthian ware had fallen away significantly to the extent that some Corinthian potters would disguise their pots with a red slip in imitation of superior Athenian ware.

At Athens researchers have found the earliest known examples of vase painters signing their work, the first being a dinos by Sophilos (illus. below, BM c. 580), this perhaps indicative of their increasing ambition as artists in producing the monumental work demanded as grave markers, as for example with Kleitias's François Vase. Many scholars consider the finest work in the style to belong Exekias and the Amasis Painter, who are noted for their feeling for composition and narrative.

Circa 520 BC the red-figure technique was developed and was gradually introduced in the form of the bilingual vase by the Andokides Painter, Oltos and Psiax.[34] Red-figure quickly eclipsed black-figure, yet in the unique form of the Panathanaic Amphora, black-figure continued to be utilised well into the 4th century BC.

Reveller courtesan BM E44
Reveller and courtesan by Euphronios, c. 500 BC, BM E 44

The innovation of the red-figure technique was an Athenian invention of the late 6th century. It was quite the opposite of black-figure which had a red background. The ability to render detail by direct painting rather than incision offered new expressive possibilities to artists such as three-quarter profiles, greater anatomical detail and the representation of perspective.

The first generation of red-figure painters worked in both red- and black-figure as well as other methods including Six's technique and white-ground; the latter was developed at the same time as red-figure. However, within twenty years, experimentation had given way to specialization as seen in the vases of the Pioneer Group, whose figural work was exclusively in red-figure, though they retained the use of black-figure for some early floral ornamentation. The shared values and goals of The Pioneers such as Euphronios and Euthymides signal that they were something approaching a self-conscious movement, though they left behind no testament other than their own work. John Boardman said of the research on their work that "the reconstruction of their careers, common purpose, even rivalries, can be taken as an archaeological triumph"[35]

Sotades Painter - Red-Figure Rhyton - Walters 482050 - Side B
This rhyton — used for drinking wine — is shaped like a donkey's head on one side of its body and a ram's on the other. ca. 450 BC. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

The next generation of late Archaic vase painters (c. 500 to 480 BC) brought an increasing naturalism to the style as seen in the gradual change of the profile eye. This phase also sees the specialization of painters into pot and cup painters, with the Berlin and Kleophrades Painters notable in the former category and Douris and Onesimos in the latter.

Hoplitodromia Louvre CA214
Neck amphora depicting an athlete running the hoplitodromos by the Berlin Painter, c. 480 BC, Louvre

By the early to high classical era of red-figure painting (c. 480–425 BC), a number of distinct schools had evolved. The mannerists associated with the workshop of Myson and exemplified by the Pan Painter hold to the archaic features of stiff drapery and awkward poses and combine that with exaggerated gestures. By contrast, the school of the Berlin Painter in the form of the Achilles Painter and his peers (who may have been the Berlin Painter’s pupils) favoured a naturalistic pose usually of a single figure against a solid black background or of restrained white-ground lekythoi. Polygnotos and the Kleophon Painter can be included in the school of the Niobid Painter, as their work indicates something of the influence of the Parthenon sculptures both in theme (e.g., Polygnotos’s centauromachy, Brussels, Musées Royaux A. & Hist., A 134) and in feeling for composition.

Toward the end of the century, the "Rich" style of Attic sculpture as seen in the Nike Balustrade is reflected in contemporary vase painting with an ever-greater attention to incidental detail, such as hair and jewellery. The Meidias Painter is usually most closely identified with this style.

Vase production in Athens stopped around 330–320 BC possibly due to Alexander the Great's control of the city, and had been in slow decline over the 4th century along with the political fortunes of Athens itself. However, vase production continued in the 4th and 3rd centuries in the Greek colonies of southern Italy where five regional styles may be distinguished. These are the Apulian, Lucanian, Sicilian, Campanian and Paestan. Red-figure work flourished there with the distinctive addition of polychromatic painting and in the case of the Black Sea colony of Panticapeum the gilded work of the Kerch Style. Several noteworthy artists' work comes down to us including the Darius Painter and the Underworld Painter, both active in the late 4th century, whose crowded polychromatic scenes often essay a complexity of emotion not attempted by earlier painters. Their work represents a late mannerist phase to the achievement of Greek vase painting.

Mainade Staatliche Antikensammlungen 2645
Raging maenad by the Brygos Painter - she holds a thyrsos in her right hand, her left is swinging a leopard through the air, and a snake is winding through the diadem in her hair - Tondo of a kylix, 490–480 BC, Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlungen

The white-ground technique was developed at the end of the 6th century BC. Unlike the better-known black-figure and red-figure techniques, its coloration was not achieved through the application and firing of slips but through the use of paints and gilding on a surface of white clay. It allowed for a higher level of polychromy than the other techniques, although the vases end up less visually striking. The technique gained great importance during the 5th and 4th centuries, especially in the form of small lekythoi that became typical grave offerings. Important representatives include its inventor, the Achilles Painter, as well as Psiax, the Pistoxenos Painter, and the Thanatos Painter.

Satyr kantharos Met 27.122.9
Janus-faced attic red-figure plastic kantharos with heads of a satyr and a woman, c. 420

Relief and plastic vases became particularly popular in the 4th century BC and continued being manufactured in the Hellenistic period. They were inspired by the so-called "rich style" developed mainly in Attica after 420 BC. The main features were the multi-figured compositions with use of added colours (pink/reddish, blue, green, gold)and an emphasis on female mythological figures. Theatre and performing constituted yet one more source of inspiration.

Delphi Archaeological Museum has some particularly good examples of this style, including a vase with Aphrodite and Eros. The base is round, cylindrical, and its handle vertical, with bands, covered with black colour. The female figure (Aphrodite) is depicted seated, wearing an himation. Next to her stands a male figure, naked and winged. Both figures wear wreaths made of leaves and their hair preserve traces of golden paint. The features of their faces are stylized. The vase has a white ground and maintains in several parts the traces of bluish, greenish and reddish paint. It dates to the 4th century BC.

In the same room is kept a small lekythos with a plastic decoration, depicting a winged dancer. The figure wears a Persian head cover and an oriental dress, indicating that already in that period oriental dancers, possibly slaves, had become quite fashionable. The figure is also covered with a white colour. The total height of the vase is 18 centimeters and it dates to the 4th century BC.

The Hellenistic period, ushered in by the conquests of Alexander the Great, saw the virtual disappearance of black and red-figure pottery yet also the emergence of new styles such as West Slope Ware in the east, the Centuripe Ware in Sicily, and the Gnathia vases to the west.[36] Outside of mainland Greece other regional Greek traditions developed, such as those in Magna Graecia with the various styles in South Italy, including Apulian, Lucanian, Paestan, Campanian, and Sicilian.[10]


Eos Memnon Louvre G115
The so-called "Memnon pieta", Ancient Greek Attic red-figure cup, c. 490 – 480 BC, from Capua. Inscriptions on the left: (ΕΕΝΕΜΕΚΝΕRINE (meaning unclear), HERMOΓΕΝΕS KALOS ("Hermogenes kalos" – "Hermogenes is beautiful"). Inscriptions on the right: HEOS ("Eos"), ΔΟRIS EΓRAΦSEN ("Doris Egraphsen" – Do(u)ris painted it). Inscription on the right: MEMNON ("Memnon"), KALIAΔES EΠOIESEN ("Kaliades epoiesen" – Kaliades made it). Musée du Louvre, G 155.

Inscriptions on Greek pottery are of two kinds; the incised (the earliest of which are contemporary with the beginnings of the Greek alphabet in the 8th century BC), and the painted, which only begin to appear a century later. Both forms are relatively common on painted vases until the Hellenistic period when the practice of inscribing pots seems to die out. They are by far most frequently found on Attic pottery.

Sophilos me grafsen inscription Lebes BM 1971.11-1.1
Signature (written retrograde) SOΦΙLOS MEΓΡΑΦSEN ("Sophilos megraphsen" – Sophilos drew me), c. 570 BC, British Museum, GR 1971.11–1.1

A number of sub-classes of inscription can be distinguished. Potters and painters occasionally signed their works with epoiesen and egraphsen respectively. Trademarks are found from the start of the 6th century on Corinthian pieces; these may have belonged to an exporting merchant rather than the pottery workfield and this remains a matter of conjecture.) Patrons' names are also sometimes recorded, as are the names of characters and objects depicted. At times we may find a snatch of dialogue to accompany a scene, as in ‘Dysniketos’s horse has won’, announces a herald on a Panathenaic amphora (BM, B 144). More puzzling, however, are the kalos and kalee inscriptions, which might have formed part of courtship ritual in Athenian high society, yet are found on a wide variety of vases not necessarily associated with a social setting. Finally there are abecedaria and nonsense inscriptions, though these are largely confined to black-figure pots.[37]


Greek terracotta figurines were another important type of pottery, initially mostly religious, but increasingly representing purely decorative subjects. The so-called Tanagra figurines, in fact made elsewhere as well, are one of the most important types. Earlier figurines were usually votive offerings at temples.

Relationship to metalwork and other materials

Several clay vases owed their inspiration to metalwork forms in bronze, silver and sometimes gold. These were increasingly used by the elite when dining, but were not placed in graves, where they would have been robbed, and were often treated as a store of value to be traded as bullion when needed. Very few metal vessels have survived as at some point they were melted down and the metal reused.

In recent decades many scholars have questioned the conventional relationship between the two materials, seeing much more production of painted vases than was formerly thought as made to be placed in graves, as a cheaper substitute for metalware in both Greece and Etruria. The painting itself may also copy that on metal vessels more closely than was thought.[38]

The Derveni Krater, from near Thessaloniki, is a large bronze volute krater from about 320 BC, weighing 40 kilograms, and finely decorated with a 32-centimetre-tall frieze of figures in relief representing Dionysus surrounded by Ariadne and her procession of satyrs and maenads.

The alabastron's name suggests alabaster, stone.[39] Glass was also used, mostly for fancy small perfume bottles, though some Hellenistic glass rivalled metalwork in quality and probably price.

See also

References and sources

  1. ^ "The Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum ('Corpus of Ancient Vases') is the oldest research project of the Union Académique Internationale". Corpus vasorum antiquorum. University of Oxford. Union Académique Internationale. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  2. ^ a b John H. Oakley (2012). "Greek Art and Architecture, Classical: Classical Greek Pottery," in Neil Asher Silberman et. al. (eds), The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, Vol 1: Ache-Hoho, Second Edition, 641–644. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-973578-5, p. 641.
  3. ^ A letter of 1491 to Lorenzo from Angelo Poliziano made an offer of 3 vases as an addition to an implied existing collection
  4. ^ Though the first conjecture belongs to A.S Mazochius, In regii herculanensis musaei tabulas hercleenes commentarii, 1754-8, however Winckelmann had access to greater resources including the first plates of the Hamilton collection. See D. von Bothmer, Greek vase-painting in Paper on the Amasis Painter and his World, 1987
  5. ^ Thanks to the ability of scholars to compare Greek finds with Italian ones following the Greek War of Independence, however the textual analysis in g. Kramer, Uber den Styl und die Herunft der bemalten griechischen Thongefasse 1837 and Otto Jahn's catalogue of the Vulci finds contributed to the changing consensus. See Cook, Greek Painted Pottery, 1997, p.283
  6. ^ Aaron J. Paul, Fragments of Antiquity: Drawing Upon Greek Vases, Harvard University Art Museums Bulletin, Vol. V, No. 2 (Spring 1997), pp.. 4, 10.
  7. ^ Woodford, 12–14
  8. ^ "Shapes". Beazley Archive. Oxford: Classical Art Research Centre. 22 October 2012. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  9. ^ Woodford, Susan, An Introduction To Greek Art, 1986, Duckworth, ISBN 978-0801419942, p. 12
  10. ^ a b c d John H. Oakley (2012). "Greek Art and Architecture, Classical: Classical Greek Pottery," in Neil Asher Silberman et. al. (eds), The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, Vol 1: Ache-Hoho, Second Edition, 641–644. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-973578-5, p. 642.
  11. ^ "Greek Pottery". Archived from the original on 2016-10-22.
  12. ^ a b "Making Greek Vases". Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Archived from the original on January 3, 2014. Retrieved January 2, 2014.
  13. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-10-19. Retrieved 2016-10-18.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "ancient greek pottery". Archived from the original on 2016-10-21.
  15. ^ a b Walton, M., Trentelman, K., Cianchetta, I., Maish, J., Saunders, D., Foran, B., Mehta, A. (2014), Zn in Athenian Black Gloss Ceramic Slips: A Trace Element Marker for Fabrication Technology. Journal of the American Ceramic Society. doi: 10.1111/jace.13337
  16. ^ Artal-Isbrand, Paula, and Philip Klausmeyer. "Evaluation of the relief line and the contour line on Greek red-figure vases using reflectance transformation imaging and three-dimensional laser scanning confocal microscopy." Studies in Conservation 58.4 (2013): 338–359.
  17. ^ Walton, M., Trentelman, K., Cummings, M., Poretti, G., Maish, J., Saunders, D., Foran, B., Brodie, M., Mehta, A. (2013), Material Evidence for Multiple Firings of Ancient Athenian Red-Figure Pottery. Journal of the American Ceramic Society, 96: 2031–2035. doi: 10.1111/jace.12395
  18. ^ For an extended review on the studies of Attic black slip and research published by several authors see R.E. Jones 1985, Tite M.S., M. Bimson and I. Freestone, An examination of the high Gloss Surface Finishes on Greek Attic and roman Samian Ware, Archaeometry 24.2(1982):117-26, Aloupi-Siotis E., Recovery and Revival of Attic Vase-Decoration Techniques: What can they offer Archaeological Research?, in Papers on Special Techniques in Athenian Vases 2008: 113–128, Walton, M., Trentelman, K., Cummings, M., Poretti, G., Maish, J., Saunders, D., Foran, B., Brodie, M., Mehta, A. (2013), Material Evidence for Multiple Firings of Ancient Athenian Red-Figure Pottery. Journal of the American Ceramic Society, 96: 2031–2035., and WALTON, M. S., DOEHNE, E., TRENTELMAN, K., CHIARI, G., MAISH, J. and BUXBAUM, A. (2009), CHARACTERIZATION OF CORAL RED SLIPS ON GREEK ATTIC POTTERY. Archaeometry, 51: 383–396. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4754.2008.00413.x
  19. ^ John H. Oakley (2012). "Greek Art and Architecture, Classical: Classical Greek Pottery," in Neil Asher Silberman et. al. (eds), The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, Vol 1: Ache-Hoho, Second Edition, 641–644. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-973578-5, p. 641-642.
  20. ^ The diffusion of protogemetric pottery is a complex subject best summerized by V. Desborough, Protogeometric Pottery, 1952. The picture is further complicated with the presence of a lingering sub-Mycenaean style in some Greek centres during this period, see Desborough (1964). The Last Mycenaeans and their Successors: An Archaeological Survey, c. 1200 – c. 1000 B.C.
  21. ^ Papadopoulos, John K.; Vedder, James F.; Schreiber, Toby (1998). "Drawing Circles: Experimental Archaeology and the Pivoted Multiple Brush". American Journal of Archaeology. 102 (3): 507–529. JSTOR 506399.
  22. ^ Snodgrass, Anthony M. (2001). The Dark Age of Greece. New York: Routledge. p. 102. ISBN 0415936357. See also Popham, Sackett, Excavations at Lefkandi, Euboea 1968
  23. ^ Woodford, Susan. (1982) The Art of Greece and Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 40. ISBN 0521298733
  24. ^ The relationship between the iconography of grave markers and social change is essayed in James Whitley Style and Society in Dark Age Greece, 1991. See also Gudrun Ahlberg, Gudrun Ahlberg-Cornell, Prothesis and Ekphora in Greek Geometric Art, 1971.
  25. ^ Diffusion of the style is detailed in John Nicolas Coldstream, Greek Geometric Pottery: A Survey of Ten Local Styles and Their Chronology, 1968
  26. ^ Robert Manuel Cook, Greek Painted Pottery, Routledge, 1997, p. 43.
  27. ^ The terminus ante quem of the late Corinthian black-figure style was established by M. T. Campbell A Well of the Black-figured Period at Corinth, Hesperia, vii (1938), pp. 557–611.
  28. ^ C. M. Stibbe Lakonische Vasenmaler des sechsten Jahrhunderts v.chr., 2 vols, 1972. M. Pipili Laconian Iconography of the Sixth Century BC, 1987
  29. ^ K. Kilinski II Boiotian Black Figure Vase Painting of the Archaic Period, 1990
  30. ^ J. Boardman Pottery from Eretria, Annu. Brit. Sch. Athens, xlvii, 1952, pp. 1–48
  31. ^ R. M. Cook and P. Dupont East Greek Pottery, 1998
  32. ^ H. G. G. Payne Necrocorinthia: A Study of Corinthian Art in the Archaic Period, 1931.
  33. ^ D. A. Amyx, Corinthian Vase-painting of the Archaic Period, 3 vols, 1991
  34. ^ However, the earliest red-figure vase was not a bilingual, see Beth Cohen, The Colors of Clay, p.21
  35. ^ J. Boardman: Athenian Red Figure Vases: The Archaic Period, 1975, p29.
  36. ^ John H. Oakley (2012). "Greek Art and Architecture, Classical: Classical Greek Pottery," in Neil Asher Silberman et. al. (eds), The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, Vol 1: Ache-Hoho, Second Edition, 641–644. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-973578-5, p. 642-643.
  37. ^ Henry R. Immerwahr, Aspects of Literacy in the Athenian Ceramicus
  38. ^ Preface to Ancient Greek Pottery (Ashmolean Handbooks) by Michael Vickers (1991)
  39. ^ Sparkes, p. 70

Further reading

  • Aulsebrook, S. (2018) Rethinking Standardization: the Social Meanings of Mycenaean Metal Cups. Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 25 January 2018, doi: 10.1111/ojoa.12134.
  • Beazley, John. Attic Red-Figure Vase Painters. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1942.
  • --. The Development of Attic Black-Figure. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951.
  • --. Attic Black-Figure Vase Painters. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956.
  • --. Paralipomena. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.
  • Boardman, John. Athenian Black Figure Vases. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.
  • --. Athenian Red Figure Vases: The Archaic Period: A Handbook. London: Thames and Hudson, 1975.
  • --. Athenian Red Figure Vases: The Classical Period: A Handbook. London: Thames and Hudson, 1989.
  • --. Early Greek Vase Painting: 11th-6th Centuries BC: A Handbook. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998.
  • Bundrick, Sheramy D. Music and Image In Classical Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Cohen, Beth. The Colors of Clay: Special Techniques In Athenian Vases. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2006.
  • Coldstream, J. N. Geometric Greece: 900-700 BC. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2003.
  • Herford, Mary Antonie Beatrice. A Handbook of Greek Vase Painting. Sparks, NV: Falcon Hill Press, 1995.
  • Mitchell, Alexandre G. Greek Vase-Painting and the Origins of Visual Humour. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  • Noble, Joseph Veach. The Techniques of Painted Attic Pottery. New York: Watson-Guptill, 1965.
  • Oakley, John Howard. The Greek Vase: Art of the Storyteller. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2013.
  • Pollitt, J. J. The Cambridge History of Painting In the Classical World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
  • Robertson, Martin. The Art of Vase-Painting In Classical Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Steiner, Ann. Reading Greek Vases. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Trendall, A. D. Red Figure Vases of South Italy and Sicily: A Handbook. London: Thames & Hudson, 1989.
  • Vickers, Michael J. Ancient Greek Pottery. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1999.
  • Von Bothmer, Dietrich. Greek Vase Painting. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987.
  • Winter, Adam. Die Antike Glanztonkeramik: Praktische Versuche. Mainz am Rhein: P. von Zabern, 1978.
  • Yatromanolakis, Dimitrios. An Archaeology of Representations: Ancient Greek Vase-Painting and Contemporary Methodologies. Athens: Institut du Livre, A. Kardamitsa, 2009.
  • --. Epigraphy of Art: Ancient Greek Vase-Inscriptions and Vase-Paintings. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2016.

External links

Berlin Painter

The Berlin Painter (active c. 490–460s BCE) is the conventional name given to an Attic Greek vase-painter who is widely regarded as a rival to the Kleophrades Painter, among the most talented vase painters of the early 5th century BCE (see Pottery of Ancient Greece).

The Berlin Painter along with the Kleophrades Painter was educated by a member of the Pioneer Group, who introduced red-figure painting.

Centuripe ware

Centuripe ware, or East Sicilian polychrome ware, or the Centuripe Class of vase, is a type of polychrome Sicilian vase painting from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. It is rare, with only some 50 examples known. They have been described as "smothered in ornamental colors and shaped too elaborately", an example of Hellenistic "Middle-class taste [that] was often cloying and hideous, sometimes appealing."The class is named after its first and main find location, Centuripe in Sicily; most other finds are also in Sicily, especially at Morgantina. There were probably a number of workshops in eastern Sicily making such wares. The painted vases were usually pyxides, lebetes and lekanes in their shapes. Centuripe wares are among the very last vases with significant figurative painting in the long tradition of the pottery of Ancient Greece.

Charles Dugas

Charles Dugas (22 October 1885, in Alès – 4 October 1957, in Montpellier) was a 20th-century French archaeologist, specialized in the study of pottery of ancient Greece, a member of the French School at Athens and dean of the Faculté des lettres de Lyon.


In the typology of ancient Greek pottery, the dinos (plural dinoi) is a mixing bowl or cauldron. Dinos means "drinking cup," but in modern typology is used (wrongly) for the same shape as a lebes, that is, a bowl with a spherical body meant to sit on a stand. It has no handles and no feet.The Dinos Painter, one of the ancient Greek artists known for vase painting, takes his name from the type of vase characteristic of his work.Dinos were used for mixing water and wine, as it was considered rude to drink straight out of the goblet, at the time.

Droop cup

Droop cups (pronounced: Drope) are a type of Little-master cup in the pottery of ancient Greece, produced about 550 to 510 BC, probably mostly in Laconia. A few examples date to the fifth century BC. They are named after John Percival Droop, an English archaeologist, who first recognised the type.

Droop cups have black concave lips, more clearly distinguished from the lower vase body than on other types of Little-master cup. The feet are high; at the upper end they bear a ridge in natural base clay colour and a similar band just below, sometimes slashed. The edge of the base is painted black. The interior of the hollow foot has a broad black band of paint. On the base interior, the black slip is usually interrupted by a stripe deep below the rim; at times a circle at the bottom is also left free of black.

The cups of this type date to about 550 BC. The earliest specimens are completely black, a type that remains in production throughout later developments. Some early examples bear rows of bud-like decorations in the handle area. From c. 540 BC, decoration changes in so far that now the entire vase exterior below the lip and above the foot is decorated with bands, palmettes, leaves, dots, rays, or animal silhouettes. Figural decoration is rare.

Details of the post-540 decorative style are so similar to cups from Laconia that a connection must be assumed. It is likely that both regions used the same East Greek examples as inspiration. Later, decorative schemes were directly adopted from Sparta. The type goes mostly out of use around 510 BC, although black-slipped cups continue to be made for longer.

Face jug

A face jug is a jug pottery that depicts a face. There are examples in the pottery of ancient Greece, and that of Pre-Colombian America. Early European examples date from the 13th century, and the German stoneware Bartmann jug was a popular later medieval and Renaissance form. Later, the British Toby Jug was a popular form, that became mass-produced. Especially in America, a number of modern craft potters make pieces, mostly continuing the 19th-century African-American slave folk art tradition.

The Jug in the Form of a Head, Self-Portrait (1899) by Paul Gauguin is a rare fine art example.

Henri Metzger

Henri Metzger (19 August 1912 – 2 October 2007) was a French archaeologist and Hellenist, a member of the Institut de France. He specialized in pottery of ancient Greece, particularly from Athens, and archaeology in Anatolia, specifically in Lycia.

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A hydria (Greek: ὑδρία; plural hydriai) is a type of water-carrying vessel in the metalwork and pottery of Ancient Greece. The hydria has three handles. Two horizontal handles on either side of the body of the pot were used for lifting and carrying the pot. The third handle, a vertical one, located in the center of the other two handles, was used when pouring water. If the third handle is missing, the type is called a kalpis. This water vessel can be found in both red- and black-figure technique. They often depicted scenes of Greek mythology that reflected moral and social obligations. As well as holding water hydriai could be used for holding ashes in burials and collecting ballots in elections.By the mid-5th century BC, Greek artisans were also creating hydria from bronze, some of which were elaborately decorated with finely detailed figures. A 6th-century example is in the Historisches Museum, Berne. Such vessels were also known from Minoan pottery.

Regina Vasorum ("Queen of Vases") is a famous late (4th century BC) hydria in the Hermitage Museum, found in Italy.


A kantharos (Ancient Greek: κάνθαρος) or cantharus is a type of ancient Greek cup used for drinking. Although almost all surviving examples are in Greek pottery, the shape, like many Greek vessel types, probably originates in metalwork. In its iconic "Type A" form, it is characterized by its deep bowl, tall pedestal foot, and pair of high-swung handles which extend above the lip of the pot. The Greek words kotylos (κότῦλος, masculine) and kotyle (κοτύλη, feminine) are other ancient names for this same shape.The kantharos is a cup used to hold wine, possibly for drinking or for ritual use or offerings. The kantharos seems to be an attribute of Dionysos, the god of wine, who was associated with vegetation and fertility.As well as a banqueting cup, they could be used in pagan rituals as a symbol of rebirth or resurrection, the immortality offered by wine, "removing in moments of ecstasy the burden of self-consciousness and elevating man to the rank of deity."


In the pottery of ancient Greece, a kylix ( KY-liks, KIL-iks; Ancient Greek: κύλιξ, pl. κύλικες; also spelled cylix; pl.: kylikes KY-li-keez, KIL-i-keez) is the most common type of wine-drinking cup. It has a broad, relatively shallow, body raised on a stem from a foot and usually two horizontal handles disposed symmetrically. The main alternative wine-cup shape was the kantharos, with a narrower and deeper cup and high vertical handles.

The almost flat interior circle of the base of the cup, called the tondo, was generally the primary surface for painted decoration in the black-figure or red-figure pottery styles of the 6th and 5th century BC, and the outside was also often painted. As the representations would be covered with wine, the scenes would only be revealed in stages as the wine was drained. They were often designed with this in mind, with scenes created so that they would surprise or titillate the drinker as they were revealed.

The word comes from the Greek kylix "cup," which is cognate with Latin calix, the source of the English word "chalice" but not related to the similar Greek word calyx which means "husk" or "pod". The term seems to have been rather more generally used in ancient Greece. Individual examples and the many named sub-varieties of kylix are often called names just using "cup". Like all other types of Greek pottery vessels, they are also covered by the general term of "vase".

List of Greek vase painters

The following is a list of ancient Greek vase painters who have been identified either by name or by style. Because of the research of academics like John Davidson Beazley, Arthur Dale Trendall, Robert Manuel Cook, Darrell A. Amyx and Conrad Stibbe more than 2800 individual painters are known.

Meander (art)

A meander or meandros (Greek: Μαίανδρος) is a decorative border constructed from a continuous line, shaped into a repeated motif. Such a design is also called the Greek fret or Greek key design, although these are modern designations.

On the one hand, the name "meander" recalls the twisting and turning path of the Maeander River in Asia Minor, and on the other hand, as Karl Kerenyi pointed out, "the meander is the figure of a labyrinth in linear form". Among some Italians, these patterns are known as Greek Lines. Usually the term is used for motifs with straight lines and right angles; the many versions with rounded shapes are called running scrolls.

Meanders are common decorative elements in Greek and Roman art. In ancient Greece they appear in many architectural friezes, and in bands on the pottery of ancient Greece from the Geometric Period onwards. The design is common to the present-day in classicizing architecture. The meander is a fundamental design motif in regions far from a Hellenic orbit: labyrinthine meanders ("thunder" pattern) appear in bands and as infill on Shang bronzes, and many traditional buildings in and around China still bear geometric designs almost identical to meanders.

They were among the most important symbols in ancient Greece; and perhaps symbolized infinity and unity; many ancient Greek temples incorporated the sign of the meander. Greek vases, especially during their Geometric Period, were probably the main reason for the widespread use of meanders; alternatively, very ocean-like patterns of waves also appeared in the same format as meanders, which can also be thought of as the guilloche pattern. The shield of Philip II of Macedon, conserved in the museum of Vergina, is decorated with multiple symbols of the meander. Meanders are also prevalent on the pavement mosaics found in Roman villas throughout the Roman empire. A good example is at the Chedworth Roman Villa in England, leading many historians to believe that the pattern was part of the original inspiration for the Latin "G" character.

Meanders and their generalizations are used with increasing frequency in various domains of contemporary art. The painter Yang Liu, for example, has incorporated smooth versions of the traditional Greek Key (also called Sona drawing, Sand drawing, and Kolam) in many of her paintings.

Mesogeia Painter

The Mesogeia Painter, also Mesogaia Painter, was an Early Proto-Attic vase painter.

His conventional name is derived from his name vases, several hydriai decorated by him and discovered in the Mesogeia. This Early Proto-Attic artist was a contemporary of the Analatos Painter, active in the first quarter of the seventh century BC. It has been suggested that he was a pupil of the Late Geometric Statathou Painter, and the teacher of the High Proto-Attic Polyphemos Painter.


The naiskos (pl.: naiskoi; Greek: ναΐσκος, diminutive of ναός "temple") is a small temple in classical order with columns or pillars and pediment. Often applied as an artificial motif, it is common in ancient art. It also found in the funeral architecture of the ancient Attic Cemeteries as grave reliefs or shrines with statues for example the stele of Aristonautes from Kerameikos in Athens and in the black-figured and red-figured pottery of Ancient Greece at the Loutrophoros and the Lekythos and the red-figured wares of Apulia in South Italy. There also exist naiskos-type figurines or other types of temples formed in terracotta; examples abound at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The form of thenaiskos suggests a religious context, relating especially to Greek funerary cult. Some of the Hellenistic inscriptions found in the Bay of Grama are placed inside a naiskos, and in this case the religious context is an invocation of Castor and Pollux (Dioskouroi) for a safe passage across the Adriatic, rather than funerary. A similar style, called the Aedicula, is observed in Roman art.

Susan I. Rotroff

Susan Irene Rotroff is an American classical archaeologist, classicist, and academic, specialising in the art, archaeology, and pottery of Ancient Greece. She was Jarvis Thurston and Mona Van Duyn Professor in the Humanities, at Washington University in St. Louis.

Theodor Panofka

Theodor Sigismund Panofka (25 February 1800, Breslau – 20 June 1858, Berlin) was one of the first scholars to make a systematic study of the pottery of Ancient Greece, and one of the founders of the institution later to become the German Archaeological Institute (Deutsches archäologisches Institut).

Typology of Greek vase shapes

The pottery of ancient Greece has a long history and the form of Greek vase shapes has had a continuous evolution from Minoan pottery down to the Hellenistic era. As Gisela Richter puts it, the forms of these vases find their "happiest expression" in the 5th and 6th centuries BC, yet it has been possible to date vases thanks to the variation in a form’s shape over time, a fact particularly useful when dating unpainted or plain black-gloss ware.

The task of naming Greek vase shapes is by no means a straightforward one (by convention the term "vase" has a very broad meaning in the field, covering anything that is a vessel of some sort). The endeavour by archaeologists to match vase forms with those names that have come down to us from Greek literature began with Panofka’s 1829 book Recherches sur les veritables noms des vases grecs, whose confident assertion that he had rediscovered the ancient nomenclature was quickly disputed by Gerhard and Letronne.

A few surviving vases were labelled with their names in antiquity; these included a hydria depicted on the François Vase and a kylix that declares, “I am the decorated kylix of lovely Phito” (BM, B450). Vases in use are sometimes depicted in paintings on vases, which can help scholars interpret written descriptions. Much of our written information about Greek pots comes from such late writers as Athenaios and Pollux and other lexicographers who described vases unknown to them, and their accounts are often contradictory or confused. With those caveats, the names of Greek vases are fairly well settled, even if such names are a matter of convention rather than historical fact.

The following vases are mostly Attic, from the 5th and 6th centuries, and follow the Beazley naming convention. Many shapes derive from metal vessels, especially in silver, which survive in far smaller numbers. Some pottery vases were probably intended as cheaper substitutes for these, either for use or to be placed as grave goods. Some terms, especially among the types of kylix or drinking cup, combine a shape and a type or location of decoration, as in the band cup, eye cup and others. Some terms are defined by function as much as shape, such as the aryballos, which later potters turned into all sorts of fancy novelty shapes.


A vase (, , or ) is an open container. It can be made from a number of materials, such as ceramics , glass, non-rusting metals, such as aluminium, brass, bronze, or stainless steel. Even wood has been used to make vases, either by using tree species that naturally resist rot, such as teak, or by applying a protective coating to conventional wood. Vases are often decorated, and they are often used to hold cut flowers. Vases come in different sizes to support whatever flower its holding or keeping in place.

Vases generally have a similar shape. The foot or the base may be bulbous, flat, carinate, or another shape. The body forms the main portion of the piece. Some vases have a shoulder, where the body curves inward, a neck, which gives height, and a lip, where the vase flares back out at the top. Some vases are also given handles.

Various styles and types of vases have been developed around the world in different time periods, such as Chinese ceramics and Native American pottery. In the pottery of ancient Greece "vase-painting" is the traditional term covering the famous fine painted pottery, often with many figures in scenes from Greek mythology. Such pieces may be referred to as vases regardless of their shape; most were in fact used for holding or serving liquids, and many would more naturally be called cups, jugs and so on. In 2003, Grayson Perry won the Turner Prize for his ceramics, typically in vase form.

Pottery of ancient Greece
Ancient Greece proper
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Ancient Greek vase painting
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