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Greek Vase Painting

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Greek Vase Painting

In modern society, Greek pottery is considered an art which is regarded as much for its aesthetic splendor as its historical significance. However, the role of pottery in ancient Greek culture was far more functional as its primary use was for the transportation and storage of such liquids as water and wine (Encyclopedia Britannica). Due to the durability of the fired clay material, Greek pottery is the only remaining art form that allows us to explore the evolution of this ancient culture. Through that examination, three distinct stylistic periods have been unveiled: Geometric, Orientalizing and Archaic. This analysis will detail these distinct periods as well as three design techniques prevalently used: black figure, red figure and white ground

The first definable period of Greek pottery, Geometric (c. 900-700 BCE), accounts for the majority of ancient vase painting still in existence today; and as such, affords us the broadest view into this art form. The period attributes its name to the geometric forms that artists used to detail their vessels. The primary decorative motifs that distinguish the period include parallel lines, concentric

(Metropolitan Museum of Art)

rituals as depicted in this Krater from 750 BCE which is characteristic of this era.

The primary scene that occupies the widest portion of this particular vase depicts

a deceased body placed on its side on a funeral bier surrounded by family

members and mourners. The secondary zone below details a procession of

horse drawn chariots and soldiers carrying hourglass shields. The illustration of

people and animals is both abstract and two-dimensional as artists of the

Geometric era regularly used triangular torsos and long thin arms and legs

(Stokstad, 160).

The second distinct period which originated in Corinth in 700 BCE and spanned one hundred years is now known as the Orientalizing period. This period gets its name from the introduction of Egyptian and Eastern influences on Greek pottery during this time. The impact of foreign styles lead to the introduction of the black-figure technique that has come to epitomize the era. In Black-figure painting, figures and ornaments were drawn in silhouette on the natural clay surface of the vase in a black pigment before being fired in a kiln. Then, using a sharp tool called a stylus the detail was incised into the vessel removing the black pigment leaving behind the original color.

The new style was a stark contrast to the dense designs of the Geometric period that allowed for more open composition built around larger scale images. Processions of animals, both real and legendary (sphinxes, griffins, and sirens), would typically serve as the focal point in the main frieze of an Orientalizing piece (Chamoux, 21-24). While artists took inspiration from more natural resources such as lotus flowers, palmettes, and rosettes and incorporated them into surrounding images of their work to create a serene background.

(The British Museum, London)

In contrast to the previous vase from the Geometric period, this pitcher has much more curvilinear elements and more negative space, two elements prominent to the Orientalizing period.

The third and final period, the Archaic period (c. 600-480 BCE), exemplifies the contrast of the art of that time and the art of the following period (Classical). During the Archaic period, Athens became the center for pottery manufacturing and trade in Greece. Artists were now commissioned to produce fine pottery and vessels which lead to the now common practice of an artist signing their name on their works (Stokestad, 152 -172). Throughout the evolution of Greek pottery, the number of bands on the vases decreased until only one large central image was depicted; this is a key design element of the Archaic period.

(Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Red-figure pottery was invented in Athens in the latter part of this period in 530

BCE and is the inverse of black-figure, in which a red figure appears light

against the black background. The details are then painted on in black with

a brush allowing for more subtle characterization than with in incising tool

(Encyclopedia Britannica). The red figure technique created the most

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