limited number of colours on a white ground. Among them no finer specimen exists than the cup in the British Museum with Aphrodite riding on a goose; the design is entirely in brown outlines, and the drawing, if slightly archaic, full of grace and refinement.
|Fig. 31.—Funeral lekythos showing vases placed inside tomb.|
In the subjects on red-figured vases we do not find the same variety of choice as on the black-figured, but on the other hand there is infinitely greater freedom of treatment. The stereotyped form of composition is almost entirely discarded, and each painter forms his own conception of his subject. The class of slim amphorae, known as “Nolan” from the place where they were mostly found, are distinguished by having the design limited to one or at most two figures on each side, often on a large scale; these vases are also famous for the marvellous brilliance of their shining black (fig. 32).
Towards the middle of the 5th century the patriotism of the Athenian artist finds expression in the growing importance which he attaches to local legends, especially those of Theseus, the typical Attic hero. He seems to have been regarded as the typical Athenian athlete or ephebus, and his contests as analogous to episodes of the gymnasium. Hence the grouping on some vases of scenes from his labours are like so many groups of athletes (fig. 33), and hence, too, a general tendency of the red-figured vases, especially the cups, to become a sort of glorification of the Attic ephebus, the representations of whom in all sorts of occupations are out of all proportion to other subjects.
We find evidence of this, too, in another form. Many vases, especially the cups of the “severe” and “strong” periods, bear names of persons inscribed on the designs with the word καλός, “fair” or “noble,” attached; sometimes merely, “the boy is fair.” The exact meaning of this practice has been much discussed, but evidence seems to show that the persons celebrated must have been quite young at the time, and were probably youths famous for their beauty or athletic prowess. Some of the names are those of historical characters, such as Hipparchus, Miltiades or Alcibiades, and, though they cannot always be identified with these celebrated personages, enough evidence has been obtained to be of great value for the chronology of the vases, Further, the practice of the vase-painter of adopting his own particular favourite name or set of names has enabled us to increase our knowledge of the characteristics of individual artists by identifying unsigned vases with the work of particular schools.
|Fig. 32.—“Nolan” amphora by Euxitheus (c. 450 B.C.), figure of Briseis; the other side has Achilles.|
IV. Vases of the Decadence.—For all practical purposes the red-figure style at Athens came to an end with the fall of the city in 404 B.C. Painted vases did not then altogether cease to be made, as the Panathenaic prize vases and the funeral lekythoi testify, but at the same time a rapid decadence set in. The whole tendency of the 4th century B.C. in Greece was one of decentralization, and the art of vase-painting was no exception, for we find that there must have been a general migration of craftsmen from Athens, not only to the Crimea and to North Africa, but also to southern Italy, which now becomes the chief centre of vase production. Here there were many rich and flourishing Greek colonies or Grecianized towns, such as Tarentum, Paestum and Capua, ready to welcome the new art as an addition to their many luxuries. In the character of the vases of this period we see their tendencies reflected, especially in their splendid or showy aspect; the only aim being size and gaudy colouring.
The general method of painting remains that of the Athenian red-figure vases, but with entire loss of simplicity or refinement, either in the ornamentation, the choice of colours, or the drawing of the figures. Large masses of white are invariably employed, especially for the flesh of women or of Eros, the universally present god of Love, and for architectural details. Yellow is introduced for details of hair or features, and in attempts at shading, nor is a dull iron-purple uncommon. The reverses of the vases, when they have subjects, are devoid of all accessory colouring, and the figures are drawn with the greatest carelessness, as if not intended to be seen. There is throughout a lavish use of ornamental patterns such as palmettes, wreaths of leaves, or ornaments strewn over the field (a reversion to an old practice).
The drawing, having now become entirely free, errs in the opposite extreme; the forms are soft and the male figures often effeminate. The fanciful and richly-embroidered draperies of the figures and the frequent architectural settings seem to indicate that theatrical representations exercised much influence on the vase-painters. The great painters of the 4th century may also have contributed their share of inspiration, but rather perhaps in the subjects chosen than in regard to style; though the effect of many scenes on the larger vases is decidedly pictorial, they are chiefly remarkable for their emotional and dramatic themes.
The influence of the stage is twofold, for tragedy as well as comedy plays its part. Many subjects are taken directly, others indirectly, from the plays of Euripides, such as the Medea, Hecuba (Plate II. fig. 60), or Hercules Furens, and the arrangement of the scenes is essentially theatrical. The influence of