Greek Pottery

Ancient Greek pottery, due to its relative durability, comprises a large part of the archaeological record of Ancient Greece.

Heracles and Athena, black-figure side of a belly amphora, c. 520-510 BC.

The rise of vase painting saw increasing decoration. Geometric art was seen in the early Archaic period. The pottery produced in Archaic and Classical Greece included at first black-figure pottery, yet other styles emerged such as red-figure pottery. Styles such as West Slope Ware were characteristic of the subsequent Hellenistic period, which saw the decline of vase painting.


Geometric art flourished in the 9th-8th c. BC.

The Hirschfeld Krater, mid-8th c. BC, depicting ekphora, the act of carrying a body to its grave. Athens National Archaeological Museum. (c) Mary & Jon Hirschfeld

The Early Geometrical style (c. 900–850 BC) there are only abstract motifs, in what is called the ‘Black Dipylon’ style, which is characterized by an extensive use of black varnish. The Middle Geometrical (c. 850–770 BC), figurative decoration makes its appearance: initially, identical bands of animals such as horses, stags, goats and geese, which alternate with the geometrical bands. In parallel, the decoration becomes complicated and becomes increasingly ornate.

In the middle of the century there begin to appear human figures. At the end of the period there appear representations of mythology, probably at the moment when Homer codifies the traditions of Trojan cycle in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Orientalizing Style

The Orientalizing style occured as Ancient Greece fostered new trade links with cities in the East. It developed initially in Corinth (as Proto-Corinthian) and later in Athens between 725-625 BC (as Proto-Attic). It was characterized by an expanded vocabulary of motifs: sphinx, griffin, lions, etc., as well as a repertory of non-mythological animals arranged in friezes across the belly of the vase. In these friezes, painters also began to apply lotuses or palmettes. Depictions of humans were relatively rare. 


 It was especially common between the 7th-5th c. BC, although there are specimens dating as late as the 2nd c. BC.

Heracles and Geryon, Attic black-figure amphora, c. 540 BC. Munich State Collection of Antiquities.

Figures and ornaments were painted on the body of the vessel using shapes and colours reminiscent of silhouettes. Delicate contours were incised into the paint before firing, and details could be reinforced and highlighted with opaque colours, usually white and red. It was the first style to give rise to a significant number of identifiable artists.


It developed in Athens c. 520 BC and remained in use until the late 3rd c. BC. It replaced the previously dominant style of black-figure within a few decades.

Procession of men, red-figure kylixc. 480 BC. Louvre.

Its modern name is based on the figural depictions in red colour on a black background, in contrast to the preceding black-figure style with black figures on a red background.

White Ground

It developed in the region of Attica, dated to c. 500 BC.

Maenad, tondo of a kylix, c. 490-480 BC. Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich.

It was especially associated with vases made for ritual and funerary use, if only because the painted surface was more fragile than in the other main techniques of black-figure and red-figure vase painting.

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