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714
[GREEK
CERAMICS

examples occur from time to time, as in the beautiful rhyta or drinking-horns of the red-figure period (Plate II., fig. 58), or in smaller details such as are seen in handles enriched with heads in relief, a favourite practice of the potter Nicosthenes. In the 4th-century vases of southern Italy the handles are often much ornamented in this fashion, as in the large krateres, where they are adorned with masks in relief.

The system of moulding whole vases or ornamenting them with designs in relief taken from moulds really belongs to the decadence of the art, when imitations of metal were superseding the painted pottery. Even then it is rare to find whole vases produced from a mould, except in the case of those in the form of human figures or animals (Plate II., figs. 57 and 58), which almost come under the heading of terra-cotta figures, except for the fact that they are usually painted in the manner of the vases. But in southern Italy the tendency to imitate metal led to the popularity of ornaments made separately from moulds and attached or let in to vases otherwise plain. Vases of this period, with reeded bodies, must also have been made from moulds, as were a series of phialae or libation-bowls associated with Cales in Campania (Plate II., fig. 56), which are known to be direct imitations of metal.

All or nearly all of these vases are covered with a plain black glaze or varnish, and painted decoration is rare except in the case of those moulded in special forms or of a certain class made in Apulia with opaque colouring laid on the varnish. Some of these plain black vases of the 4th century are ornamented with stamped patterns made with a metal punch impressed in the moist clay. This decoration is confined to simple patterns.

After the vases had been made on the wheel they were dried in the sun and lightly baked, after which they were ready for varnishing and painting; it is also probable that the gloss was brought out by a process of polishing, the surface of the clay being smoothed with a piece of wood or hard leather. On a vase in Berlin a boy is seen applying a tool of some kind to an unfinished cup, probably for this purpose; the cup, being shown in red on the vase, has evidently not been varnished. Many vases are varnished black all over the exterior (whether decorated with designs or not) with the exception of the foot and lip.

EB1911 Ceramics Fig. 17.—Model of Kiln found in Essex.jpg
Fig. 17.—Model of Kiln found in Essex.

The process of baking was regarded as one of the most critical in the potter’s art. It was not indeed universal, as we read of sun-dried vessels for utilitarian purposes, but all the vases that have come down to us have been baked. The amount of heat required was regulated by the character of the ware, but was not very high. Many examples exist of discoloured vases which have been subjected to too much or too little heat, the varnish having acquired a greenish or reddish hue. Or again the red gloss is sometimes turned to an ashen-grey colour, the black remaining unimpaired. Other accidents were liable to occur in the baking, such as cracking under too great heat, or the damaging of the shape by vases knocking against one another and so being dented in or crushed. The form of the oven was of the simplest (fig. 17). No furnaces have been found in Greece, and only one or two in Italy, but we have a variety of evidence from vase-paintings. They were fed by fires from beneath, and the vases were inserted with a long shovel. They were heated with charcoal or wood fuel, and there are representations of men poking or raking the fires with long-handled implements. One vase-painting gives a bird’s-eye view, in horizontal section, of the interior of an oven full of jugs of various forms. Others have more complete presentations of potteries, with men engaged in the different processes of vase manufacture, modelling, painting or supplying the kilns with newly-made wares.

The Painting of Vases.—We may distinguish three principal classes of painted pottery, of Which two admit of subdivision.

1. Primitive Greek vases with simple painted ornaments, chiefly linear and geometrical, laid directly on the clay with the brush. The colour employed is usually a yellowish or brownish red passing into black. The execution varies, but is often extremely coarse.

2. Greek vases painted with figures. These may be subdivided as follows:—

(a) Vases with figures in shining black on a red glossy ground. (b) Vases with figures left in the glossy red on a ground of shining black.

3. Vases with polychrome decoration.

(a) Vases of various dates with designs in outline or washes in various colours on white ground (these range from the 6th to the 4th century B.C.).

(b) Vases of various dates with designs in opaque colour laid over a ground of shining black (ranging from the primitive period to the 3rd century B.C.).

Of these the second group is by far the largest and most important, including the majority of the finest specimens of Greek vase-painting, and the following account will deal mainly with the technical processes by which the most successful results were obtained. In both the classes (a) and (b) the colouring is almost confined to a contrasting of the glossy red ground and shining black.

This black varnish (?) is particularly deep and lustrous, but varies under different circumstances according to differences of locality, of manufacture or accidents of production. It is seen in its greatest perfection in the “Nolan” amphorae of the earlier red-figure period, at its worst in the Etruscan and Italian imitations of Greek vases. The gradations of quality may be partly due to the action of heat, i.e. stoving at a higher or lower temperature. It also varies in thickness. At present no certainty has been attained as to its composition—Brongniart’s oft-quoted analysis cannot be accepted —nor has any acid been found to have an effect upon it, though the chemical action of the earth sometimes causes it to disappear.

The method of its use forms the chief distinction between the black-figured and red-figured vases, but there is a class of the former which approaches near in treatment to the latter, the whole vase being covered with black except a framed panel which is left red to receive the figures. It is obvious that the transition to merely leaving the figures red is but a slight one. But in all black-figured vases the main principle is that the figures are painted in black silhouette on the red ground, the outlines being first roughly indicated by a pointed instrument making a faint line. The surface within these outlines being filled in with black, details of anatomy, dress, &c., were brought out by incising inner lines with a pointed tool. After a second baking or perhaps stoving had taken place, the designs were further enriched by the application of opaque purple and white pigments, which follow certain conventional principles in their respective use. After a third baking at a lower heat still to fix these colours the vase was complete.

EB1911 Ceramics Fig. 18.—Fragment of unfinished red-figured vase.jpg
(From a photo supplied by the Director of the Sèvres Museum)
Fig. 18.—Fragment of unfinished red-figured vase.

In the red-figured vases the shining black is used as a background. But before it is applied the outlines of the figures are indicated not by incised lines, but by drawing a thick line of black round their contours. Recent researches have attempted to show that the instrument with which this was achieved may have been a feather brush or pen, by which the lines were drawn separately, not concurrently. The other tools used for painting would be an ordinary metal or reed pen and a camel’s-hair brush, or at any rate something analogous. Thus the outlines of the figures were clearly marked, and the process is one of drawing rather than painting, but it was in draughtsmanship that the best vase-painters excelled. The next stage was to mark the inner details by very fine black lines or by masses of black for surfaces such as the hair; white and purple were also employed, but more sparingly than on the earlier vases. The main processes always remain the same down to the termination of vase-painting, though the tendency to polychromy, which came in about the end of the 5th century B.C., effected some modifications. The blacking of the whole exterior surface—a purely mechanical process—took place after the figures had been completed and protected from accidents by the thick black border of which we have spoken.

A fragment of an unfinished vase preserved in the Sèvres Museum gives a very clear idea of the process just described, the figures being completed, but the back ground not yet applied (fig. 18). There is also another vase in existence which gives the interior of a vase-painter’s studio, in which three artists are at work with their brushes, their paint-pots by their side.

In the class of vases (3 (a)), with polychrome figures on a white ground, the essential feature is the white slip or engobe with which the naturally pale clay is covered. In the archaic vases of the 7th and 6th centuries B.C., especially in the Ionian centres, as at Rhodes, Naucratis and Cyrene, this slip is frequently employed, but with this, difference, that the figures are painted in the ordinary black-figure method, the only additional colour being purple laid on the black. We first find polychrome decoration, whether in wash or outline, in a small class of fragments from Naucratis, of the 6th century B.C., which technically are of a very advanced character. The colours used either for outline or wash include purple, brown, yellow, crimson and rose-colour, but some, if not all, of these colours were not fired.

In the 5th century this practice was revived at Athens, chiefly in the class of lekythoi or oil-flasks devoted exclusively to sepulchral uses. Here the vases, after leaving the wheel and being fitted with handles, &c., were covered with a coating of white clay. A second coating of black was applied to the parts not required for decoration, and the white was then finely polished, acquiring a dull gloss, and finally fired at a low temperature. The decoration was achieved as follows: a preliminary sketch was made with fine grey lines, ignoring draperies, &c., and not always followed when the colours were laid on. This was done when the first lines were dry, the colour