The pottery of ancient Greece is one of the most tangible and iconic elements of ancient Greek art. The colorful vases and pots of the ancient Greeks have survived in large numbers and are today highly prized as collectors items.
Ancient Greeks made pottery for everyday use, not for display, the trophies won at games such as the Panathenaic amphorae (used for storage), are the exception. Most surviving pottery consists of drinking vessels such as amphorae, kraters (bowls for mixing wine and water), hydria (water jars), libation bowls, jugs and cups. Painted funeral urns have also been found. Miniatures were also produced in large numbers, mainly for use as offerings at temples. In the Hellenistic period a wider range of pottery was produced, but most of it is of little artistic importance.
In earlier periods event quite small Greek city-states produced pottery for their own locale. These varied widely in style and standards. Distinctive pottery that ranks as art was produced on some of the Aegean islands, in Crete, and in the wealthy Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily. By the later Archaic and early Classical period, however, the two great commercial powers, Corinth and Athens, came to dominate. Their pottery was exported all over the Greek world, driving out the local varieties. Pots from Corinth and Athens are found as far a field as Spain and Ukraine, and are so common in Italy that they were first collected in the 18th century as "Etruscan vases". Many of these pots are mass produced products of low quality. In fact, by the 5th century BC, pottery had become an industry and pottery painting ceased to be an important art form of ancient Greece.
The history of ancient Greek pottery is divided stylistically into periods: The Protogeometric from about 1050 BC. The Geometric from about 900 BC. The Archaic from about 750 BC. The Black figure from the early 7th century BC. The Red figure from about 530 BC.
The range of colors which could be used on pots was restricted by the technology of firing: black, white, red and yellow were the most common. In the three earlier periods, the pots were left their natural light color, and were decorated with slip that turned black in the kiln.
The fully mature black-figure technique, with added red and white details and incising for outlines and details, originated in Corinth during the early 7th century BC and was introduced into Attica about a generation later; it flourished until the end of the 6th century BC. The red-figure technique, invented in about 530 BC, reversed this tradition, with the pots being painted black and the figures painted in red. Red-figure vases slowly replaced the black-figure style. Sometimes larger vessels were engraved as well as painted.
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Ancient Greek pottery can be purchased at our online antiquities store
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