been found bearing representations of the digging of clay for pottery.
|Fig. 15.—Shapes of Greek Vases.|
The improved manipulation of the clays, and the increasing knowledge that the colour of a clay could be modified by admixture of other substances such as ruddle and ochre, really paved the way for what is known as the glaze of the Greek painted vases. This delicate gloss, so thin as to defy analysis, has been commonly called glaze, but it cannot be a glaze in the sense of a separate coating of finely-ground glass superimposed upon the clay. In all probability, as the Greek potter used finer and finer clays and so was enabled to perfect his shapes, he found that after a vase had been “thrown” he could get a closer texture on it by dipping it in a slip of still finer clay material and then smoothing it down and polishing it on the wheel when sufficiently dry. But the mixtures he would use for such a purpose—of very siliceous clay and ochre—would, when they were burnt in the Greek kiln, not only fire to a beautifully bright colour, but also to a glossy surface, especially where the flames had freely played about them; and it is more in accordance with our knowledge to believe that the exquisitely thin gloss of the finest Greek red vases was produced in this way, for it seems impossible that it can have been a coating of any special glaze.
In any case we may state broadly that the body of Greek vases is always fine in grain, fired hard enough to give forth a dull metallic sound when it is struck, but seldom fired above a temperature of about 900° C., which a modern potter would consider very low. When broken the inside is generally found to be duller in colour, and is often yellow or grey, even where the external surface is red. The material is exceedingly porous, and allows water to ooze through it (another proof that it was not glazed). Numerous analyses of the material of Greek vases have been published, but they tell us nothing of the secrets of the Greek potter. The results of a great number of these analyses may be summed up as follows: silica, 52-60 parts; alumina, 13-19 parts; lime, 5-10 parts; magnesia, 1-3 parts; oxide of iron, 12-19 parts. Analyses of a thousand ordinary simple red burning clays would give a similar result. It is to the glory of the Greek potter that with such ordinary materials, by the exercise of selection, patience and skill, he achieved the fine artistic results we see. He did as much as can be done with natural clay materials, but the glory of painted colour and glaze, like the later Persian or Chinese, was not for him.
|Fig. 16.—Votive tablet from Corinth; a potter applying|
painted bands while the vessel revolves on the wheel.
Manufacture of Vases.—The earliest Greek pottery is, like all primitive pottery, hand-made. The introduction of the potter’s wheel into Greece was the subject of various ancient traditions, but we now know that it can be easily traced by a study of the primitive pottery of Crete, Cyprus or Troy. In Cyprus, for instance, the Bronze age tombs of 2500–1500 B.C. contain only hand-made pottery, but in the next period (1500–1000 B.C.) we find hand-made and coarse vases side by side with a more developed kind of painted pottery—the “Mycenaean”—obviously made on the wheel. It seems probable, therefore, that the wheel was introduced into Greece about 1500 B.C.; it was certainly known to Homer, as a familiar allusion shows (Il. xviii. 600). It was still a low circular table turned with the hand, not the foot; representations of its use are seen on several vases of the archaic period (fig. 16), and they further prove that the vase was replaced on the wheel for the subsequent processes of painting, polishing and adding separately modelled parts, as well as for the original shaping or “throwing.”
The method of shaping the vase on the wheel, which is the same as that still in use, need not be described in detail; the feet, necks, mouths and handles were modelled separately or shaped in moulds, and attached while the clay was moist, as is also indicated on a vase. Large and coarse vases, such as wine casks (πίθοι), were always modelled by hand on a kind of hooped mould (κάνναβος).
Parts of vases were modelled by hand at all periods by way of decoration. Even in the geometrical period we find horses modelled in the round on the covers of vases and later on handles enriched with moulded figures of serpents twining round them. Such embellishments are frequently, if not always, deliberate imitations of metal forms, but the plastic principle is one which obtained in Greek pottery from the very first, as for instance in the primitive pottery of Troy, in which the vases are often modelled in human or animal forms; and the same principle is involved in the common practice of speaking of the “neck,” “shoulder” or “foot” of a vessel. In the best period the practice of adding moulded ornaments or of modelling vases in natural forms took a subsidiary place, but