Greece and Rome
NOW begin your DRAWING. There were three distinct design periods in Greek vase paintings, and you can decorate your vase in any of these styles. They're listed chronologically. Need an idea? The Greeks loved to show athletes in a sporting event. Or how about a scene from band, chorus, drama class, or even the lunchroom. Yes, take the design seriously...but the topic can be light or lyrical. Wanna be comical or outrageous? Go for it. Your classroom teacher may suggest ways to finish your vase: watercolor, tempera, chalk, crayon resist, collage...just to name a few.
Geometric Period (1000-7000 BC)
Painters of this period used precisely drawn, simple geometric forms. The entire surface was covered in bands, meanders (maze patterns), checkers, zigzags. The vase was divided in registers or parallel bars that recall the Narmer Palette. There is careful attention to proportion and composition. Animals and humans are simplified and stylized. Humans have triangular torsos, pinched waists, geometric figures. Typical subject : a funeral ritual, with all of it components-mourners, processional, feasting and games. Color: natural pottery with incised designs.
Orientalizing Period (7000-600 BC)
Trade links with the Near East (especially Egypt, Phoenicia, Persia) put a new spin on pottery design. Figures became more important, organic elements, such as lotuses, palmettos, and rosettes appeared. Fantastic animals like sphinxes or those seen Mesopotamian Art are part of the design. Typical subject: repeated bands of exotic animals and floral designs. Color: purplish brown, reddish brown, red and black on a lighter background.
Archaic Period (600-408 BC)
This was the era of the Discus Thrower and was a high point in the sculpture, architecture, and pottery of Greece. Abstraction was out, realism was in. Greek artists were creating narrative scenes in The Black Figure Style--black figures on the natural red clay background. Detail was created by scraping away parts of the background. (You may have experimented with a resist technique like this.) Later the Black Figure Style became passé and was replaced by its reverse--the Red Figure Style. In this style, the background around the figures is painted black, and details are brushed in, which allows for even more realism. Decorative bands appear above and below. Typical subject: a scene from a myth; a scene from The Iliad or Odyssey. Color: Black and reddish clay.
Greek vase-makers couldn't order their clay from Cheap Joe's. They collected clay from the shore, dried it, broke it into clods, and removed the rubbish.
Next the clay was thinned with water and washed clean of all impurities such as sand roots. This process was repeated several times and then the clay was dried to a thick paste. This was stored in a humid room till it became just sticky enough to work with.
Most Greek vases were made using the potter's wheel. (Remember that the wheel was probably invented long before by the Mesopotamians.) Some pieces such as feet and neck were attached next. When the vase was dry, handles were attached. Finished pottery was smoothed and polished by a pebble or a wooden tool.
Figures were sketched on the leather-dried surface by a stick of charcoal or lead.
Later, when the black-figure technique emerged, painting became more detailed. At first, the outline of the figure was drawn, then the inside of it was painted. Subordinate colors such as white and blown-red were applied. Details were drawn by a pointed tool.
Red-figure is a reversed technique of black-figure. The outlines of the figure was drawn and details were painted by a brush or other tools. Then outside was painted over. This new technique enabled painters to create more realistic details. So like Greek sculpture, painting progressed from stylized, abstract forms to more lifelike representations.
The first pottery was fired in a kiln with the chimney open. A reddish color occurred when iron in the clay combined with oxygen to become iron oxide.
When the hole of the chimney was closed, the atmosphere of the kiln was dominantly carbon dioxide. So the whole surface turned black.
In a last process, the chimney was opened again and the atmosphere once more filled with oxygen. Reserved clay turned red again, though the painted part remained black,. Experiments revealed that an exact process, control of temperature and timing to open and close the chimney, was needed to produce the desired color.
Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Museum of Fine Art, Boston
Red Figure SKYPHOS
by Euthymidex, Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich
Greek Vase Project, at archeological.org
Greece and Rome
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