Materials & Techniques

Greek Ceramics

The history of Greek ceramics goes back to the Mycenean period (2nd millennium B.C.E), when trade items between Greece and other Mediterranean lands included much ceramic ware. At this time, Greek potters were already throwing vessels on the wheel. After the downfall of the Mycenean kingdoms, the ceramic tradition continued, though in a more modest way. Funerary vessels of the Geometric period (1000-700 B.C.E.) were the first great expression of Greek form in art. The expansive period of trade and colonization that followed led to the development of ceramic wares produced for trade. The city-state of Corinth was a leader in this art form during the 7th century B.C.E., but by the 6th century B.C.E Athens had replaced it in the art of finely painted ceramics.

From the Black Sea to South Italy, Athenian black-figure wares set a standard for craftsmanship and artistic innovation in design. In the black-figure technique, the figurative scenes were painted on the body of the vase with a slip that turned dark during firing. The figures then appeared against the natural red background of the clay. Ornamental details might be added in other colors of slip. While the scenes on black-figure vases are primarily mythological, they contain a great deal of pictorial information about life in ancient Athens since gods, heroes, and mythic figures were shown in contemporary human form.

Excerpted from

DMA Gallery text, Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Classical Galleries, transcribed November 3, 2016.