Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

the background and avoid the vacant spaces which the Greek artist abhorred. The system of decoration has been thought to owe much to Assyrian textile fabrics.

One of the best though most advanced examples of early Ionic pottery is a pinax or plate from Rhodes in the British Museum, on which is represented the combat of Menelaus and Hector over the body of Euphorbus (fig. 25); their names are inscribed over the figures, and this is almost the earliest known instance of a mythological subject, the date of the painting being not later than 600 B.C. To a slightly later date belongs another remarkable group of cups with figures on a white ground, probably made at Cyrene in North Africa. Of these the most famous has a painting in the interior, of Arcesilaus II., king of Cyrene from 580 to 550 B.C., weighing goods for export in a ship. Others have mythological subjects, such as Zeus, Atlas and Prometheus, Cadmus and Pelops.

But these vases, though still retaining the older technique, really belong to the second class, that of black-figured vases, and they belong to a time when in all Ionian centres this method was being superseded by the new technique which Corinth had introduced and Athens perfected, to the consideration of which we must return.

EB1911 Ceramics Fig. 25.—Early inscribed pinax from Rhodes, with contest of Menelaus and Hector.jpg
Fig. 25.—Early inscribed pinax from Rhodes, with contest of
 Menelaus and Hector over the body of Euphorbus.

For some 150 years Corinth almost monopolized the industry of pottery on the west of the Aegean. Large numbers of examples have been found in or near the city itself, many bearing inscriptions in the peculiar local alphabet. They show a continuous progress from the simplest ornamentation to fully-developed black-figured wares. In the earliest (Plate I. fig. 52) oriental influence is very marked, the surface being so covered with the figures and patterns that the background disappears and the designs are at times almost unintelligible. The general effect is thus that of a rich oriental tapestry, and the subjects are largely chosen from the fantastic and monstrous creations of Assyrian art, such as the sphinx and gryphon. The vases are mostly small, the ground varies from cream to yellow, and the figures are painted in black and purple.

Both in Ionia and at Corinth during the early part of the 6th century the same tendencies are seen to be at work, tending to a unification of styles under the growing influence of Athens. In Ionia (see above) figure subjects become more common, and the technique approaches gradually nearer to the black-figure method. Similarly at Corinth the ground ornaments diminish and disappear, the friezes of animals are restricted to the borders of the designs, and human figures are introduced, first singly, then in friezes or groups, and finally engaged in some definite action such as combats or hunting scenes. In the last stages Greek myths and legends are freely employed. A new development, traditionally associated with the painter Eumarus of Athens, was the distinguishing of female figures by the use of white for flesh tints. A somewhat similar development was in progress at Athens, though represented by comparatively few vases. Here the adoption of Corinthian and Ionian technical improvements evolved by the middle of the 6th century the fully developed black-figure style which by degrees supplanted or assimilated all other schools.

II. Black-figured Vases.—At the head of this new development stands the famous Francois vase at Florence, found at Chiusi in 1844 (Plate I. fig. 53). Its shape is that of a krater or mixing-bowl, and it bears the signatures of its maker and decorator in the form “Ergotimos made me, Klitias painted me.” It might be described as a Greek mythology in miniature, with its numerous subjects and groups of figures all from legendary sources such as the stories of Peleus, Theseus and Meleager, or the return of Hephaestus to heaven. All the figures have their names inscribed.

The general technique of the black-figured vases has already been described. It may be noted as a chronological guide that the use of purple for details is much commoner in the earlier vases, white in the later, but towards the end of the century when the new fashion of red figures was gaining ground, both colours were almost entirely dropped. The drawing of the figures is, as might be expected, somewhat stiff and conventional, though it advanced considerably in freedom before the style went out of fashion. Many vases, otherwise carefully and delicately executed, are marred by an excess of mannerism and affectation, as in the works of the artists Amasis and Exekias (Plate I. fig. 54). The treatment of drapery is a good indication of date, ranging from flat masses of colour to oblique flowing lines of angular falling folds.

EB1911 Ceramics Fig. 26.—Panathenaic amphora.jpg
Fig. 26.—Panathenaic amphora.

The shapes most commonly employed by the Athenian potters of this period are the amphora, hydria, kylix, oinochoe and lekythos, the first-named being the most popular. A special class of amphorae is formed by the Panathenaic vases, which were given as prizes in the Athenian games, and were adorned with a figure of the patron goddess Athena on one side and a representation of the contest in which they were won on the other (fig. 26). They usually bear the inscription τῶν Άθηνῆθεν ἄθλων εἰμί “I am (a prize) from the games at Athens.” Some of these can be dated by the names of Athenian archons which they bear, as late as the 4th century, the old method of painting in black figures with a stiff conventional pose for the goddess being retained for religious reasons.

The chief interest of the black-figured vases is really derived from their subjects, which range over every conceivable field, the proportion of myth and legend to scenes from daily life being much greater than in the succeeding period. They include groups of Olympian and other deities, and the various scenes in which they take part, such as the battle of the gods and giants, or the birth of Athena (treated in a very conventional manner, as on a fine amphora in the British Museum); Dionysus and his attendant satyrs and maenads, the labours and exploits of Heracles and other heroes, subjects taken from the tale of Troy and other less familiar legends; and scenes from daily life, battle scenes, athletics, the chase and so on. The same classification of course holds good for the later periods of vase-painting, with some exceptions. The proportion of genre-scenes subsequently becomes greater, and some myths disappear, others rise