Techniques used in making and decorating Greek vases
A wide variety of techniques were used by Greek potters and painters to decorate their wares.
The simplest form of decoration (found especially in Egyptian, Cypriote, Minoan and Mycenaean fabrics) was the addition of a slip (red or white) or the use of burnishing to provide a shiny surface that would look like the surface of stone vases. Variants of dark-on-light ware and light-on-dark ware were favoured by different societies at different times through the bronze age period and even later (see Attic geometric examples from the eighth century BC) and attest the longstanding tradition that the basic designs used on the surfaces would be a contrast of the underlying (buff or reddish-pink) colour of the terracotta fabric with a darker terracotta slip applied to the surface. This principle lends itself to the 'black-and-the-red'-the famous red figure and black figure techniques that dominated Attic/Athenian production in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. (Sometimes the clay that burned to black was not applied thickly enough and the surface would misfire to red, or look streaky as on [ REDMG:1926.99.59 ]. Also the red colours would sometimes turn gray if the vase was accidentally burned later: see [ 29.11.3 ]).
Other techniques employed as part of the black figure technique include:
- Six's technique, whereby red or white clay was applied directly on the black figured surface and after incision the dark surface beneath would reveal itself;
- polychromy (added red or white, especially for the flesh of females or children) and
Techniques used as part of red figure include:
- employment of the relief line for drapery and musculature;
- relief dots for texture;
- the use of red wash to effect dappled animal skins and metallic surfaces;
- experiments with ground lines and 3/4-views ([ 22.3.33 ]);
- the use of added white lines, spots, and writing.
While added gold was employed occasionally in the Classical period, late Classical (primarily South Italian) painters used yellow wash on white to suggest gold and red wash (cinnabar or miltos) on the reserved fabric of the clay to give it a richer colour, closer to that of Attic vases. Later decorative styles that employed some of these techniques include the Gnathian style and West Slope ware.
Throughout the Classical (480-323 BCE) and especially Hellenistic (323-31 BCE) periods some ceramics imitated metal, especially silver, prototypes, and were thus given lustrous black surfaces [REDMG:1951.133.1], [ REDMG:1953.25.41 ], and [ REDMG:1951.132.1]).
Ribbing ([ 25.9.3 ]) and other relief decoration ([ REDMG:1951.132.1 ] and [ 28.6.5 ]) would also suggest likeness to metal prototypes. Others that suggested metal prototypes were decorated with incised and/or stamped patterns [ 39.8.1 ].