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The Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology

Making Greek Vases

The chronological development of Greek vase painting, from the early bronze age through the absorption of Greece into the Roman empire, is well documented by many vases and fragments in the Museum collection: such fragments are on display in the Museum's timeline. They show changes, some slow and others sudden, in decorative styles, techniques, and even shapes.

Read more about this in the evolution of Greek Vase painting.

In the potter's workshop

picThe Greeks made pots out of terracotta (which means 'cooked earth). Terracotta is made of clay and other minerals, which potters collected from old river beds near their homes. By studying the clay from these river beds, archaeologists have worked out which pots were made in which places. The reddish-orange coloured clay of Athenian pots matches the clay found in river beds in Athens.

Potters formed wet clay into shapes. The round parts, e.g. the bowl of a kylix, were turned on the spinning potters' wheel. Handles, some mouths and other parts were moulded and added by hand. Once the clay had dried out a little, the potter might burnish (smooth) the surface with a stone or rag.

After the pot was left to dry it was decorated. The painter added a design in fine slip (watered-down clay). When it was fired a certain way the design turned black. Firing the pot also made it hard and waterproof.

Workmen stacked the pots in a kiln (oven), which they heated up to 900 degrees Celsius. Modern scientists have discovered that the Greeks shut the oxygen out of the kiln in the middle of firing, to turn the decoration black. Red patches or streaks on black glaze might have been firing mistakes but sometimes make interesting patterns.

See further sections on shapes and decorative techniques involved in making Greek vases.

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File last modified: 20 Sep 2017