GREEK POTTERY

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Greek pottery is a gift of classical art that has survived to the present day. Fortunately, we have preserved many pieces, some in perfect condition, and there are more than 20,000 in the archaeological museum of Athens alone!

Throughout this article you can see the different styles, the decorative motifs they used and many curiosities.

And if you are in love with these classical Greek pottery pieces and would like to have one in your home, it is possible! Luckily there are artisans who amazingly replicate the styles and pieces of this art, keeping the tradition alive. We show you some of their works.

Ancient Greek pottery

ORIGINS OF GREEK CERAMICS

Greek pottery is as old as the first settlers in the area. Historians claim that as early as 5,000 years ago they used the potter’s wheel, which was introduced from Asia. In the second millennium BC a certain common style is already known in what is now Greece, which would evolve over time, later we explain what different forms it was taking.

This Hellenistic art is one of the best known pottery styles of all time. In fact the term ceramic comes from the Latinization of the Greek word Kerameikos, which was an area around a square in Athens, known as that of the Kerameis or potters, this name comes from the word kéramos, which means clay or pottery clay.

Of the existing types of ceramics, this area of art has been part of its history since the 6th century BC. The craftsmen of the Athens region made beautiful works that are still visible in many private collections around the world.

The first pieces actually consisted of small pots and earthenware vessels painted red to represent the sun. The colors changed slightly over the centuries to make way for a more durable glaze and other types of pigments.

Pottery continued to improve in Greece over the centuries and was used to decorate temples, homes and tombs. In fact, the use of pottery in the home eventually took on a life of its own and was adopted by many cultures as their own form of interior design. The Greeks used this material in many of their buildings, including wall art, tableware, vases, amphorae and bowls.

Ancient Greek artisans used this clay art as a means to express themselves, creating unique masterpieces that were very popular with the general public and helped cement the power of the potter in the Greek community. Some of his pieces had designs depicting scenes about deities or other religious figures. Others simply contained symbols used to represent such things as relationships, numbers, animals and geometric shapes, as in the case of the style called, because of this, geometric. This style was used in other forms of Greek art, as in architecture. Architraves, columns, dedications, plaques, wall paintings and sculptures often contained a geometric style, usually in the form of straight lines, angles and repetition.

Greek terracotta pottery

Piece of 625 B.C., terracotta.

TYPES OF ANCIENT GREECE POTTERY

 

As part of the world’s most famous art forms, the different types of Greek pottery are highly prized. They were produced between the 10th century B.C. and the 1st century A.D. and form a major part of all classical art. BC to the 1st century AD and form a major part of all classical art. At first they were born with a more functional purpose, but over time, pottery became a more decorative art form.

Thus, ceramic art, increasingly in demand, helped the economy of ancient Greece to flourish.

Greek pottery masters developed different styles during the Hellenistic period, but it should be noted that many of them had common themes, such as animals, human forms and floral patterns.

The best known types of Greek pottery are the Minoan and Mycenaean styles, during the latter pottery was no longer simply the creation of pieces used for cooking, it was also being used to decorate homes.

Then came the protogeometric and geometric styles, whose decorative motifs gave them that name. Later came the so-called black-figure and red-figure types…

Discover their differences and beautiful features.

GREEK POTTERY IN THE MINOAN STYLE

 

When we think of Greek pottery, we often imagine red and black terracotta vessels. However, the Greeks also experimented with other colors and styles, as evidenced by pieces from the period. This style developed on the island of Crete around 3000 BC and is characterized by striking designs and colorful patterns. They often depict scenes from daily life or geometric motifs. The shapes of the vessels were sometimes very different from what we are used to, with a wide variety of shapes and sizes including bowls, vases and jars with handles in the shape of animals or people.

Within this period we can distinguish the Ancient Minoan (up to 2000 BC) and the Middle Minoan, also called Kamares, the latter using more advanced techniques.

Greek Minoan vase

Vase handmade and hand painted according to the original Minoan style. Handmade by Aghios Nicolaos of Greekartshop.

MYCENAEAN STYLE

 

Developed in mainland Greece around 1600 BC, it was a continuation of the Minoan style. However, it is characterized by its more sober and monochromatic designs, often depicting battle scenes or hunting animals. The shapes of the vessels were simpler, although with a wide variety of sizes.

SUB-MYCENAEAN STYLE

 

It is considered a transition that took place between 1100 and 900 BC and combines elements of the Mycenaean style with Middle Eastern influences. The vessels of this style are characterized by intricate geometric designs and the use of enamels and bright colors. The forms used are somewhat more refined than in the Mycenaean style.

GEOMETRIC PATTERN STYLES

Protogeometric Greek pottery

Protogeometric Greek pottery piece

Here we refer more precisely to three styles: the protogeometric style originated around 1050 BC, the geometric style in 900 BC and the archaic or late geometric style from 750 BC.

Originating in Athens, typical were the ceramic amphorae, vases, vessels and different pieces in which triangular, zig zag and diamond motifs were used, forming a beautiful framework that decorated the works. As a curiosity, a recurring figure in this type of Greek ceramics was the swastika. Its origin more than seven thousand years ago in Asia is increasingly known, as well as its discovery also in pre-Columbian cultures, however this, in its origin, auspicious symbol, will remain for a long time linked to the terrible events that occurred in the second half of the twentieth century.

This style is also called Attica pottery, which is the name of a peripheral area in southern Greece.

From the so-called Dark Ages (approximately between the 12th century B.C. and 8th century B.C.), the creation of pieces (mostly vases) created in Athens with a more differentiated style was called geometric.

ORIENTALIZING GREEK POTTERY

Orientalizing Greek ceramics

Plain Orientalizing pottery plate from Rhodes with the rim trimmed like the edge of a shield. Circa 600 B.C. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This type of pottery lasted from the end of the 8th century B.C. until the end of the 7th century B.C., after the geometric style.

Geometric motifs were used less and less, abandoning the more detailed and intricate designs used previously. This was due to trade with other peoples such as the Syrian or Egyptian, and their artistic influence. This change was also motivated by the reaction to the new style of the people of Cyprus, who possessed the most advanced ceramic technology at the time. On the other hand there has been endless debate as to how far Celtic art influenced ancient Greek pottery. It is generally accepted that the two cultures borrowed some aspects of each other’s styles.

Regardless of its origin, the characteristic of this Greek pottery style is that it begins to include icons and diverse representations beyond geometry. These representations take the form of the gods and other elements and creatures of the rich Greek mythology, such as the griffin (lion with an eagle’s beak, wings and rabbit ears), the gorgon (woman also with wings and wild boar tusks), chimeras, etc.

Another notable development in the decorative patterns of Greek pottery was the introduction of monochrome into ceramic styles. Unlike unpainted and unpolished forms, monochrome ceramics began to use shades of gray to produce a highly unique effect. By combining the use of different colors with the artistic skills developed by the ceramic artists of the time, this technique became an important factor in almost all types of Greek pottery (even greater innovations would come later, such as the introduction of opaque and transparent ceramic products).

BLACK FIGURES CERAMICS

BLACK FIGURES POTTERY

Did you know that the figures on Greek pottery were mostly black? This may seem strange to you, but they were, these black shapes that we see on pots were created by artists living during the early periods of Hellenic culture. These black figures were created as abstract paintings on ceramic cups, bowls and other similar pieces. The earliest figures in Hellenistic art bore a striking resemblance to ancient Egyptian and Babylonian statues, even though they were from different eras.

Artists used their imagination to create portraits of gods and demigods. This type of pieces appeared in the 6th century BC, having its splendor in the 5th century BC. The use of black on Greek vases extended throughout the Hellenistic period until the fall of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century AD. At this time, the development of metalworking skills in Europe began to give way to the production of metals for uses such as weaponry.

This black shade was the result of mixing copper and tin. Tin was used because it could be easily melted. Copper, on the other hand, was used because it was extremely malleable.

This type of black-figure pottery pieces, often representing deities of the Greek pantheon are often found in Mycenaean art, at the end of the Bronze Age.

Greek ceramic amphora black figures pottery II.
Greek ceramic amphora black figures pottery II.

Two images with two faces of a Greek amphora from around 550-500 BC. black-figure piece from the late Archaic era of Ancient Greece.

GREEK RED-FIGURE POTTERY

 

Red-figure pottery refers to the ancient or archaic period style where the figure is painted red on a dark background, lasting well into the classical period. This type of painting is attributed to the artist Andócides, between 535 and 515 B.C. and was later adopted by many others.

Vases, vases and other pieces with red figures have been found in private collections around the world. The best quality examples come from Athens, the site of the earliest known works of this style. Some of these ceramic pieces were produced for public consumption, and gained great popularity due to their attractive shapes and colors.

The main objective of the potters was to obtain large bowls made of ceramic and other types of vessels, which would not break easily and would be easier to transport. But they also wanted to achieve a better variety of colors and shapes, so that people could choose from a wide range of options. To accomplish this task, they adopted a wide range of techniques. For example, some used double kiln techniques, or “pinching.”

Greek red-figure pottery

Red-figure pottery painted by the artist Deepdene, 470-460 B.C. Depicting Achilles receiving armor made by Hephaestus, the god of forging and fire.

THE SPECIAL BEAUTY OF ATHENS CERAMICS

 

Athenian pottery has a long and rich history dating back to the geometric period (9th and 8th centuries BC). At that time, it was characterized by its simplicity and geometry. During the Archaic period (7th and 6th centuries BC), Athenian pottery became more refined and began to depict human and animal figures. During the Classical period (5th and 4th centuries BC), it reached its peak.

At the time, Athenian potters produced some of the most beautiful and elaborate pieces in all of Greece, being recognized as some of the best and highly respected in Greek society. They were experts in the use of techniques such as relief and incising, which allowed them to create more elaborate and detailed pieces. Their amphorae, craters and vessels were highly valued and used in everyday life as well as in religious ceremonies and social events.

TYPES OF GREEK VESSELS

 

Vessels were key pieces of Greek art and culture.
Thanks to their decorations, we have also learned a lot about the history and mythology of the Greek people.

A large number of works, some in very good condition, have been found in burial tombs since they were used as funerary offerings that would help in the afterlife.

Although all the Greek vessels found today are priceless, some were already born as luxury objects and were used as gifts and trophies in the sporting and artistic competitions of the time.

Potters worked with techniques that had been perfected over centuries of tradition, creating works of different shapes, uses and decorations. We explain some of the most important types of pieces:

Amphorae:

The Greek amphora was a type of large vase used to store liquids, such as oil, wine or water. It had a stylized shape, with a wide base and a tall oval body that tapered at the neck.

The decoration of amphorae had an educational and narrative function, depicting scenes from Greek mythology and history, such as the Trojan War or the Argonauts’ expedition. Potters often used the relief technique to create different figures and motifs on the surface.

Greek amphora

Reproduction made by Greekartgallery Shop of the amphora painted by Exiquias representing Achilles killing the Amazonian queen Penthesilea (original in the Museum of London).

Krater:

It was a large vessel used to mix wine and water at symposiums or banquets. It had two vertical handles and rested on a wide foot. At the top it had an opening that allowed the introduction of liquids. The craters were often decorated with banquet scenes, festive music and dance motifs, including animal figures.

Bell-shaped Kraters:

Similar to normal craters, with the difference of having a wider base and a lower body. These pieces were used to mix wine and water, and were often decorated with battle or sports scenes.

Ancient Greek Krater vase with gods

Handmade krater by Greek Art Shop

Kylix:

It was a type of cup used for drinking wine. It had a tall foot and a wide body with two handles on the sides.

Kylix cup or Greek chalice

Hydria:

It was a large jug, sometimes with three handles that was used for carrying and pouring water. The shape of the three handles allowed the weight of the water to be distributed equally, making it easy to carry.

 

Jug-ceramic-griega-Hydria

Lebes:

The lebes was a vessel used to contain water or to mix wine and water in religious ceremonies. It had a wide base to give it stability. It was usually decorated with scenes of processions, offerings and other religious motifs.

 

Lebes Greek vessel

Work by Greek Art Shop

BUY GREEK POTTERY

 

Did you know that you can buy these impressive works?

No, not at a collector’s price, as in the case of an original piece, most of which logically cannot leave a museum.

There are craftsmen who make exact replicas of the most famous pieces. So you can buy archaeological reproductions of archaic Greek pottery. Representing in their vessels the characters that were portrayed at the time, the Greek heroes and gods.

These artists are from Greece and replicate the works of the Hellenistic period using the same ceramic techniques applied by their predecessors, thus keeping the tradition alive.

The ceramic pieces that you can buy are unique, handmade and the artisan explains on his page the meaning of what they represent and who they represent. Some of them are customizable upon request.

It seems to us a beautiful way to maintain the art of ancient Greek pottery, one of the most famous and valued today, and also to make it accessible to the public.

GALLERY

You can see below some magnificent works by Divine Greek Art

Greek amphora of Exequias
Greek-ceramic cup-Pitagoras
Ancient Krater greek pottery

These other handcrafted pieces below are from Greek Art Shop.

Ancient Greek Krater vase with gods
Greek red-figure vase
Greek ceramic cup

VIDEO

 

Puedes ver a continuación la interesante conferencia sobre cerámica griega, impartida por Carmen Sánchez, profesora de Arte Antiguo de la Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

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As a summary, here are some frequently asked questions:

How did they make pottery in ancient Greece?

First, the clay was kneaded to prepare it and eliminate the air. Then, it was shaped by modeling, also using the potter’s wheel, which had already arrived from the East. It was then left to dry in the sun before being fired in a kiln at high temperatures. Once fired, it was decorated with paints and baked again to fix the decoration. This is how simple (or complicated) it was to make this pottery.

What was depicted on Greek vessels?

From mythological and everyday scenes to geometric and floral patterns. The depictions on ceramic pieces were a way of telling stories and conveying messages, such as the importance of virtue or victory in warfare. Sometimes the message was especially important because in addition to their functional use, they were used in religious ceremonies. Each vessel had its own story to tell!

What colors did the Greeks use in their pottery?

They used a wide range of colors to decorate their pieces, from classic red and black to more vibrant tones such as white, yellow, orange and blue. The colors were applied to the piece and fired at high temperatures to fix them in the pottery. The choice of colors depended on the period, style and purpose of the piece, the most well-known tones today are the ones we quickly associate with red and black figures.

How did they achieve those colors in their ceramics?

Sometimes using natural pigments applied with water. On the other hand, the use of slip was the most common way to decorate the pieces. The color was fixed in the pottery by firing in a kiln at high temperatures, which made the pigments melt with the clay. The characteristic red color of Greek pieces was achieved by adding iron oxide to the clay, while the black color was obtained by firing in an oxygen-free environment. The Greeks also used layering and thinning techniques to create shading and textural effects on their pieces.

What types of Greek pottery are there?
In a very summarized way they are: the oldest, the Minoan and Mycenaean styles. Then come the protogeometric and geometric styles, in which this type of decoration of linear and circular patterns, etc. predominates. After them there is a period called orientalizing due to the artistic influence of the East where the representation of historical scenes, gods and myths resurfaces. The later and best known are, alluding to the predominant colors: Those of black figures and red figures.

Note: This article contains affiliate links that lead to the artists’ stores outside of the Ateologic website. If you buy something from them, we will receive a small commission that will help us to continue our site and in turn continue to support those artists. This of course does not affect the selling price.