Ancient Greek potters plied their craft from roughly 1000 BCE until the ascendancy of the Roman empire around 31 BCE. However, as "Art Encyclopedia" says, the origins of Greek pottery go all the way back to the Stone Age, 7,000 years before the Christian era.
The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History begins with the Geometric period (900 - 700 BCE) and identifies three more after that: the Archaic (700 - 480 BCE), the Classical (480 - 323 BCE) and the Hellenistic (323 - 31 BCE). Greek pottery dating from the century before the Geometric period is called Protogeometric.
Art historians also identify Greek pottery along a more specific timeline of evolving styles, beginning again with the Geometric style (900 - 725 BCE). The Oriental style (725 - 600 BCE) is followed by the Black-Figure style (600 - 480 BCE). The Red-Figure style emerged around 530 BCE and continued alongside the Black-Figure style. After that, the evolution of pottery styles corresponds to the final two broad categories mentioned above: the Classical and the Hellenistic.
Form Follows Function
Greek pottery was meant to be utilitarian. The way each piece of pottery is shaped, and the way it is decorated, reflects the particular use to which that piece was put. The scenes and figures depicted on Greek pottery also convey information about mythology, historic events and cultural traditions. Knowing something about Greek history, culture, religious beliefs and customs helps people understand the decorative aspects of the pottery, but it's also true that close study of the people, activities and events depicted on the pottery has greatly aided understanding of ancient Greece as a society.
The Beazley Archive
The Beazley Archive -- part of the Classical Art Research Centre in Oxford, England -- is the complete archive of Sir John Beazley, a professor of classical archaeology in the early part of the 20th century and one of the foremost historical experts on Greek and Roman art. The Beazley Archive houses a large collection of ancient Greek pottery, and on its website provides details of other famous archaeological finds from museum collections around the world. Ten are listed below.
10 Famous Pieces
The Francois vase is one of the earliest known Athenian clay bowls. This bowl, called a krater, is a black-figure piece depicting a wedding procession. Also inscribed on the piece, which is housed at the Museo Archeologico in Florence, Italy, are the names of the potter (Ergotimos) and the painter (Kleitias).
Tieson's Little Master cup is another black-figure piece. It is inscribed "Tleson ho Nearcho epoisen," which means "Tieson, son of Nearchos, made this." The piece is housed at the former Castle Ashby (now a museum) in Northamptonshire, England.
Amasis Painter's black-figure "vintaging amphora" is a type of vase used to hold wine. The scenes of satyrs and the god of wine, Dionysos, in a vineyard celebrating and dancing identify this piece's use at the time. This amphora is housed in Basel, Switzerland, at the Antikensammlungen.
The Lysippides Painter amphora shows the god Heracles taking a bull to be sacrificed. This piece, which is housed at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, was intended both for storage and display.
The Antaios krater was painted by Euphronios. The potter's name is Ezekias. Antaios was a mythological giant. He appears as a character in works by the Greek poet Pindar and also in one or more tragic plays by Phrynichos -- both of whom were contemporaries of Euphronios. The Antaios krater is a red-figure piece executed in a style called "Pioneer," which used anatomical principles to depict physical movement. It is housed at the Louvre in Paris.
The Berlin Painter's name vase is a red-figure amphora meant for both storage and display. It is executed, according to its description at the Beazley Archive, in "a careful and highly structured style that leads on to the classical Achilles and Phiale Painters." It is housed at the Staatliche Museen in Berlin, Germany.
Kleophrades Painter "Sack of Troy" hydria is a red-figure water pot housed at the Museo Nazionale Archeologico in Naples, Italy. A hydria is a three-handled water jar. Two of the handles are used to carry the jar; the third is used to pour. Hydriai were also used as repositories for voting ballots and for cremation ashes.
The Achilles Painter name vase is a red-figure amphora intended for storage and display. It is an example of the Classical style and is housed at the Vatican.
The Eretria Painter name vase is another piece in the Classical style. It is a red-figure piece with a "moulded female head" and decorated with feminine motifs such as images of a bride, and wedding scenes. It is housed at the National Archeological Museum in Athens, Greece.
The Meidias Painter name vase is a red-figure piece in the Classical style. It depicts scenes and figures from Greek mythology. Its purpose is uncertain, although it may have been used for display. The painter's name (Meidias) is inscribed on the vase's shoulder. The piece is housed at the British Museum in London.
Kathy Kattenburg has been a writer for more than 30 years. Her articles have been published in "N.J. Jewish News" and "Suburban Essex," and she is a contributing writer and full partner at Not the Singularity. Kattenburg has a BA in English literature from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.