into prominence, new deities such as Eros (Love), and Nikē (Victory) appear for the first time, and, generally speaking, the later subjects are characterized by a sentimentality or tendency to emotion which is entirely foreign to the conventional stereotyped compositions of the 6th century artist.
A remarkable feature of the subjects on black-figured vases is that a stereotyped form of composition is invariably adopted at least for the principal figures, but minor variations are generally to be found, as, for instance, in the number of bystanders; and it is almost an impossibility to find any two vase-paintings which are exact duplicates. The form of the composition, was partly determined by the field available for the design; when this took the form of a long frieze the space was filled up with a series of spectators or the repetition of typical groups, but when the design is on a framed panel or confined by ornamental borders the method of treatment is adapted from that of a sculptured metope, and the figures limited to two or three. In many cases it is difficult to decide, in the absence of inscriptions, whether or no a scene has mythological signification; the mythological types are over and over again adopted for scenes of ordinary life, even to the divine attributes or poses of certain figures.
|Vase by Andocides. Black figures on obverse.||Vase by Andocides. Red figures on reverse.|
Among the artists of the period who have left their names on the vases, besides those already mentioned, the most conspicuous is Nicosthenes, a potter of some originality, from whose hand we have over seventy examples, a few being in the red-figure method. He is supposed to have introduced at Athens a revival of the Ionic fashion of painting on a cream-coloured ground instead of on red, of which some very effective examples have been preserved. He was always a potter rather than a painter, and most of his vases are remarkable for their forms—introducing plastic imitations of metal vases—rather than for their painted decoration. Most of the artists of this period, as in the succeeding one, have left their signatures on cups (kylikes), but this form did not receive so much attention from the painter as at a later period, and many of these examples bear only inscriptions and no painted decoration.
III. Red-figured Vases.—The sudden reversal of technical method involved in the change from black figures on a red ground to red figures on black is not at first sight easy of explanation. Some artists, like Nicosthenes and Andocides, used both methods, sometimes on the same vase, and there is no doubt that the two went on for some years concurrently. As, however, no intermediate stage is possible, there is no question of development or transition. The new style was in fact a bold and ingenious innovation. It may possibly have been suggested by a small class of vases in which the figures are painted in the black-figure method, but have the converse appearance, that is to say they are painted in a thick red pigment on a ground of shining black. It may therefore have occurred to the artist that he could obtain the same effect merely by leaving the figures unpainted on the red clay and surrounding them with the black. The change, must, however, be closely associated with the career of the artist Andocides, who not only produced vases in each method, but also several in which the two are combined (fig. 27). In two or three cases the subject is actually the same on each side, almost every detail being repeated, except that the colouring is reversed.
The date at which the change took place was formerly placed well on in the 5th century, on account of the great advance in drawing which most of the red-figured vases show, as compared with the black. They were thus regarded as contemporary with the painter Polygnotus, if not with Pheidias. But the excavations on the Acropolis of Athens yielded so many fragments in the advanced red-figured style which must be earlier than 480 B.C., that it has become necessary to find an earlier date for its appearance. This is now usually placed at about 520 B.C., overlapping with the preceding period.
The red-figure period is usually subdivided into four, marking the chief stages of development, and known respectively as the “severe,” “strong,” “fine,” and “late fine” periods. Their principal characteristics and representative painters may be briefly enumerated.
In the severe period there is no marked advance on the black-figured vases as regards style. The figures are still more or less stiff and conventional, and some vases even show signs of an analogous decadence. The real development is partly technical, partly in the introduction of new subjects. Although the change of style probably had its actual origin in the amphora, as treated by Andocides, the new developments are best seen in the kylix, a form of vase which now sprang into popularity and called forth the chief efforts of the principal artists. Its curved surface gave ample scope for skilful effects of drawing and decorative arrangement, and the earlier painters devoted all their attention to perfecting it as a work of decorative art. For other shapes, such as the hydria, and lekythos, the old method was for a time preferred.
The most typical artist of the period was Epictetus, and other famous cup-painters were Pamphaeus, Cachrylion and Phintias. The earliest cups are decorated in a quite simple fashion like those of the black-figure period, often with a single figure each side between two large “symbolical” eyes, and a single figure in a circle in the interior. To the latter the artist at first devoted his chief efforts, though even here his scope was at first limited. But although he had not yet attained to skill in composition, he did discover that the circular space was well adapted for exhibiting his newly-acquired abilities as a draughtsman and for disposing figures in ingeniously conceived attitudes. In all cases the object was to fill the space as far as possible, a characteristic of all the best Greek art. By degrees more attention was paid to the designs on the exterior, and the single figures were replaced by groups, but regular compositions in the form of friezes telling some story were not introduced until quite the end of this period. Epictetus was throughout his career a thoroughly “archaic” artist, but a considerable advance was