Attic Pottery

Ancient Greek pottery is an integral part of archeology, since, due to its uninterrupted presence throughout the ages, it is an important tool for dating and an inexhaustible source of information for modern scholars. Despite their humble material, ancient vessels are better preserved than other products of human activity, either intact or – more often – in shreds (ostraca), thus allowing us to examine directly the remains of a civilization. In Greece the centers of pottery production were numerous, however, every epoch had some workshops distinguished from the rest and became particularly popular either due to innovative shapes or techniques of decoration. Pottery distribution was directly related to demand and mainly to intended use (eg burial, symposium, warehouse), while the interest in content (eg. liquid or nonliquid food, perfumes), as well as the commercial network were also decisive. Therefore, it’s not accidental that during the seventh century BCE, for instance, a time of Corinth’s omnipotence, Corinthian perfume vessels were exported to the entire Mediterranean, whilst, by late sixth century BCE, they were replaced by Attic symposium vessels, since the city of Athens becomes gradually regulator of the political, economic and artistic activity, especially after the end of the Persian Wars.

Among the greatest achievements of ancient Greek pottery is the invention of the black-figured and red-figured techniques. Specifically, the black-figured technique was invented in ancient Corinth at the beginning of the seventh century BCE, but it was fully developed by the Athenian painters, who adopted it around 630 BCE and had a catalytic role in it’s spread during the following century.

The process of making a black-figured vessel begins with the grinding of its surface and the application of a thin coating, made of clean fine clay, in order to achieve an even, smooth finish. When the vase became dry, the vase-painter made a draft of the composition he wanted to paint using charcoal or a sharp tool. He covered the areas he wanted to "color" with black "paint" using a viscous mixture of clay and alkali or potash, while the details were rendered using engraving and two added clay colors, white and violet. The final changeover of the clay-colors would appear after the firing of the vessel.

The stages of making a red-figured vase are the identical to those of the black-figured technique, apart from the fact that, whenever the painter wants a figure to be “colored” in red, he applies alkali or potash to the rest of the vase (background), leaving the figure in its natural color of clay. Moreover, the details are rendered with added black clay. More specifically, using special tools, vase painters can now design “relief” and “flat lines” and apply different clay solutions of varying fluidity, in order to represent shading, volume, motion and color gradation in their compositions. Thus, in the first phase of firing (oxidative) the vase remains red, in the second phase (reductive) the whole surface becomes black, while in the third oxidative phase things change again: unlike the black-figured technique, the figures regain their red color, while the background and details remain black due to the glassy coating created during the second stage of firing.

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