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The Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology

The evolution of Greek vase painting

A comparison of earlier pieces (from the Neolithic and early bronze age [2nd millennium BC]) show the improvements that the potters wheel brought to the fineness and shapes of the vessels. Bronze age examples (all dating before 1100 BC) from Cyprus, Crete (so-called 'Minoan' wares) and the Greek mainland (so-called 'Mycenaean') show a variety of coarse as well as fine wares, some made by hand and others made on the potter's wheel.

The interaction of Greeks and near easterners is suggested by similarities in these wares to those that their eastern neighbours used, and in the inclusion of 'Oriental' motifs such a lions, sphinxes, and lotuses, especially on Archaic vases (those made in the period from 700-480). 'Naucratite' wares (from Naucratis, a Greek trading post in Egypt) show the infusion of Greek styles in Egypt.

Artefact 29.11.3, Lekythos with chariot sceneIn the high Archaic period (7th-6th c. BCE) the Corinthians were the biggest producers of Greek decorated wares, and they pioneered in the development of the so-called black-figure style (black figures on a red background). The Athenians took over this style and with it became the preeminent producers of decorative wares in the 6th century BCE. They also experimented with more techniques, of which the most important became the red-figure style (red figures on a black background), which began to be produced in 530 BC.

After Athens lost its fortunes through the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) many of its artists sought markets abroad (e.g. the Kerch style was used for Athenian exports to the region of the Black Sea in the 4th c. BC). Some of these artists moved abroad and set up successful businesses in southern Italy - in the regions of Sicily, Apulia, Lucania, and Campania, and towns such as Gnathia (Egnazia) and Paestum - where they adapted the red figure style to local fabrics, shapes, and decorations. These and later Hellenistic styles took particular advantage of the use of added colour.

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File last modified: 27 Jul 2004