Ancient Greek Vase Painting

Ancient Greek vase-painting was an art form. Early pottery makers were a combination of artists, scientists, and factory workers.

Pottery in ancient Greece had to be useful, comfortable, and beautiful.

Ancient Greek vase-painting was an intricate piece of work that featured everything from wars to gods to everyday life.

Useful needs

The ancient Greeks made pottery for everything. Pottery was used for storing grain, food, collecting water, and burying people.

Plates, cups, and even cutlery were made of fired clay.

Each vase was intricately painted and expertly crafted depending on the period the pottery was made.

Painting a story

Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Athenian Vase Painting: Black- and Red-Figure Techniques.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2002)

Ancient Greek vase-painting has helped historians piece together many parts of the ancient Greek culture.

Vases contain paintings of dancing scenes, musicians, battles, gods, and animals from around the world.

Mythological animals and gods are depicted on much of the pottery in a variety of ways.

Studying ancient Greek vase-painting has allowed artists to understand the relationship between geometry and scale.

Ancient Greek vase-painters were masterful in painting proportional scenes.

Everything from humans to animals to geometric shapes was proportional on the pottery.

Ancient Greek vase-painters were also proud of their work and signed each vase when finished.

Significant stages of ancient Greek vase-painting

Ancient Greek vase-painting had four basic stages or periods.

The four basic periods were geometric, Corinthian, red figure, and black figure.

Geometric pattern styled pottery were vases that incorporated geometric shapes into the painting.

Shapes included squares, circles, triangles, and robust patterns that combined shapes into new geometric features.

These vases were painted with scenes of battle, mythological characters, and animals too.

The geometric pattern oftentimes surrounded a specific scene, animal, or person. Geometric vases date back to between 900-700 B.C.E.

Corinthian vase-painting featured an Asian style.

Many of the Corinthian vase-paintings show Asian motifs, especially with the animals.

New animals were introduced on the pottery such as sphinx, lions, and other non-mythological animals from Asia Minor.

Corinthian pottery also featured more developed human shapes. These vases date between 800-700 B.C.E.

Black-figure vase-painting was used on red pottery in the early days of ancient Greek pottery.

The figures were more developed and proportional than earlier human figures on geometric pottery.

Again, this type of pottery featured scenes from battles, everyday life and of the Olympic gods as well as animals.

These vases date between 700-500 B.C.E.

Red-figure vase-painting followed black-figure vase-painting and featured red figures on black pottery.

The red-figure painting was invented in Athens.

This type of vase-painting allowed for more detail by directly painting on the vases.

They featured humans in almost a perfect body form.

The vases during the Red-figure period featured everything from people playing musical instruments to dancing to gardening.

The vases also incorporated geometric shapes around the border. Red Figure vase-painting was between 500-300 B.C.E.

Facts about ancient Greek vase painting

  • Vases were used for almost everything from cups to storing grain to burying people.
  • Vases were made of fired and hardened clay.
  • Ancient Greek vase-paintings included scenes of dancing, musicians, and battles of the war.
  • Vases were signed by the artist when completed.
  • There were four significant periods of ancient Greek vase-painting.
  • Vases were constructed to be useful, comfortable to hold, and beautiful.
  • The most significant change in ancient Greek vase-painting took place during the red-figure period.
  • Ancient Greek vase-painters were masters at portraying a proportional human body.

What did you learn?

1. Along with the geometric, Corinthian, and red-figure periods of ancient Greek vase-painting what was the fourth significant period?

Black figure

2. The Corinthian period of ancient Greek vase-painting featured scenes from what area of the world?

Asia Minor

3. Ancient Greek vase-painters were masters at what painting technique?

Drawing the human body in the correct size

4. What was a common scene painted on vases in ancient Greece?

Dancing, Olympic gods, musicians or battles of war

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