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Geometric, Orientalizing and Archaic Greek Pottery
|Geometric Period 1050 BCE - 700 BCE (700 BCE) |
Orientalizing Period 700 BCE - 600 BCE (600 BCE)
Archaic Period 600 BCE - 480 BCE (600 BCE)
Context: These diagrams are designed to provide you with a context for some of the vessels in this section. In the same way that we can identify a ketchup bottle from a wine bottle, the Greeks were trained from an early age to be able to identify the vessels they used and the purpose for them. The names linked with each vessel tell us something about them. For example, a hydria with the root of hydra sounds suspiciously like our words hydrate and hydrant, both of which deal with water. This vessel is then used for water.
A. Amphora from the Greek "To carry on both sides." was used for storage and was a large vessel.
B. Kylix "To roll out." (from use of potter's wheel) is used for drinking wine from.
C. Oinochoe "To poor out." is a serving vessel
Dipylon Amphora, c. 750 terra cotta 4'11" tall
found Dipylon Cemetery, Athens, Greece
National Archeological Institution, Athens, Greece
Geometric Period Form: This case is almost exactly the same in from as its counterpart above however slight differences in the shape and ornamentation are evidence that even in such a rigid and stylized form there is room for creativity and difference. Renown art historian Ernst Gombrich developed a theory to explain these changes and referred to it as schema and correction. If we were to look at one vase as the plan or schema, we can see how one artist might take this schema and update it in order to make the design more pleasing according to the artist's and clients' tastes. These changes are referred to as the correction.
Orientalizing Oinochoe (wine pitcher) c650BCE
from Rhodes, Orientalizing Period
Form: The ornamentation of the vase is organized into a series of registers or frets of almost equal size and this appears to be fairly common in black figure vases of the Orientalizing period. Each register is devoted to a scene which depicts mythological or real creatures. The ornamentation of the registers contains less geometricized and more naturalistic figures than the earlier geometric period's designs. The bottom most register has an organic papyrus(?) leaf pattern but others from this phase often have purely geometric forms in this register. The mythological animals, in this case a kind of griffin, is a composite creature consisting of an eagle head, lion's body and wings. Overall the design exhibits a similar horror vacui to the vases from Knossos in that every empty space on the vase has been filled with flower like rosettes or lozenge like forms. Developed initially in Corinth, the black-figure style in which the vase is decorated builds on the technology of earlier styles of decoration. The natural color of the clay is used as the back ground. Engobe is still used to create a silhouettes and touches of red purple gloss are applied here and there but the polychrome of the vase is supplemented by incising details with a sharp stylus or awl. This is sometime referred to as scraffito. Which means something along the order of scratched designs which is very similar to its cousin graffiti. (See Stokstad page 173, Technique, Greek Painted Vases) Iconography: The mythological monsters or animals, in this case a kind of griffin, is a composite creature consisting of an eagle head, lion's body and wings. The individual attributes of the griffin on this vase may represent an undefeatable carrion and predatory monster since it has the characteristics of two formidable animals. Creatures like this are usually the guardians of a sacred precinct that pose a threat or a challenge to a hero. For example, in the myth of Oedipus, Oedipus is confronted by an enigmatic monster with the head of a woman, the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle, called a Sphinx. This Sphinx put a stranglehold on the city of Thebes by closing off the main road to the city. When an individual attempted to pass, the Sphinx posed a life or death question, "What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and three in the evening?" If the traveler solved the riddle (which none did until Oedipus) he or she would be allowed to pass safely. If the traveler was unable to solve the riddle the Sphinx tore her or him apart. Oedipus was able to answer this riddle; "It is man who crawls as an infant, in adulthood walks on two and as old age with the aid of a cane." Context: This style represents a formal and iconographic correction of two earlier schemas. The formal correction is that the Corinthian artists who first developed the style took the existing technology and added the engraved scraffito. They also built on the initial designs of the geometric period and combined them with other culture's naturalistic manner of depicting animals and creatures. The subject matter changed from a simple funerary scene to a more decorative motif. Art historians believe that the griffin, and creatures like it, have an "eastern" or "oriental" or asian kind of feeling. Stokstad states, "the source of these motifs can be traced to the arts of the Near East, Asia Minor, and Egypt. The term "orientalized" although an accepted art historical term seems to have a rather Eurocentric meaning. The term seems to lump all the cultures east of Greece in this blanket term and therefore tends to generalize a bit too much.
Blinding of Polyphemus and Gorgons
also called the Ulysses Vase
or Eleusis Amphora
by Menaleus 675-650 B.C.E. 56" tall,
Archaeological Museum, Eleusis
Form: The ornamentation of this vase is organized into a series of registers or frets of almost equal size and this appears to be fairly common in black figure vases of the Orientalizing period. Each register is devoted to a scene which depicts mythological creatures or people. The ornamentation of the registers contains less geometricized and more naturalistic figures than the earlier geometric period's designs. Overall the design exhibits a similar horror vacui to the vases from Knossos in that every empty space on the vase has been filled with flower like rosettes or lozenge like forms. The figures are stylized curvilinear and cartoon like. The figures of the men in the top register are shown in a modified composite view whereas the Gorgons in the bottom most register are even more abstracted. Click on this link for more detailed views. Developed initially in Corinth, the black-figure style in which the vase is decorated builds on the technology of earlier styles of decoration. The natural color of the clay is used as the back ground. Engobe is still used to create a silhouettes and touches of red purple gloss are applied here and there but the polychrome of the vase is supplemented by incising details with a sharp awl. This is sometime referred to as scraffito. Which means something along the order of scratched designs which is very similar to its cousin graffiti. (See Stokstad page 173, Technique, Greek Painted Vases) The vase is signed "Menaleus made me." Iconography: The iconography of the vase deals with mythology and legend and outlines the adventures of two clever Greek heroes: Odysseus and Perseus. The top register depicts a scene out of Homer's "Odyssey" the Blinding of Polyphemus. (see MencherLiaisons 12-14 (The Blinding of Polythemus). Odysseus or Ulysses, conquers the single eyed inhospitable Cyclops through his intelligence and scheming and therefore secures the release and safe journey of his crew. The bottom most register depicts the three Gorgon sisters who had snakes for hair and were so hideous that if one looked upon them you would be transformed into stone. Medusa, committed and act of hubris or hybris (an act of disrespect, excessive pride or arrogance) by lying down with Poseiden in Athena's temple. In the tale of Perseus, he encounters the Gorgon Medusa, decapitates her and uses her head to freeze his enemies. The monsters' physical attributes depicted in these tales summarize their failings. For example, the Cyclops is short of vision and the Gorgons are ugly of spirit and the snakes represent their deceit. The heroes are idealized versions of soldiers. They instruct us to be clever, loyal and be a soldier. Context: This style represents a formal and iconographic correction of two earlier schemas. The formal correction is that the Corinthian artists who first developed the style took the existing technology and added the engraved scraffito. They also built on the initial designs of the geometric period and combined them with other culture's naturalistic manner of depicting animals and creatures. The subject matter changed from a simple funerary scene to a more decorative motif. Art historians believe that these vases have an "eastern" or "oriental" or asian kind of feeling. Stokstad states, "the source of these motifs can be traced to the arts of the Near East, Asia Minor, and Egypt. The term "orientalized" although an accepted art historical term seems to have a rather Eurocentric meaning. The term seems to lump all the cultures east of Greece in this blanket term and therefore tends to generalize a bit too much. Often you will see this vase referred to as a Proto-Attic amphora. The term Attic refers to its origins as Athenian. Proto- means early or before. This term is meant to demarcate the difference between vases made in the same orientalizing style in Corinth which are sometimes referred to as Proto-Corinthian . The status of the artist must have been on the rise in Athens as well because this is one of the first examples of artwork that has been signed.
Excerpts from Homer, Odyssey, IXThe end of the eighth century and the seventh century was marked in Greek culture by the process of colonization, when the Greek city states established colonies in other parts of the Mediterranean world. This period is also called the Orientalizing period. This label given by modern scholars is a reference to the Eastern or Oriental influences on Greek culture brought about by the contact the Greeks had with the Ancient Near Eastern cultures during this period of colonization. The Odyssey can be read from these perspectives. In the first part of this passage, Odysseus and his cohorts arrive on the island of the Cyclopes and they assess their environs. Note the colonist’s perspective here as they assess the adjacent island. The most famous part of Odyssey IX recounts Odysseus’s encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemos. In this context the Cyclopes can be read as the non-Greek, “barbarian.” It is also a good example of heroic “arete”. Try to articulate the values and priorities of Greek culture re-presented in these passages. The amphora above was found at an ancient graveyard at Eleusis. It was a gravemarker for a male's grave. It is an important monument in the development of narrative representations. On the belly of the vase is represented the story of the hero Perseus fleeing with the aid of Athena from the Gorgons after he had beheaded Medusa. This story was widely popular in the art of the 7th and 6th centuries. It is interesting to note the experimental nature of this narrative by observing the form of the gorgons that do not reflect the later canonical form. On the neck of this vase is represented the story of Odysseus Blinding Polyphemos: Compare this representation to the Homeric account that follows. Note the thematic connections of the stories shown on this vase.  “Thence we sailed on, grieved at heart, and we came to the land of the Cyclopes, an overweening and lawless folk, who, trusting in the immortal gods, plant nothing with their hands nor plough; but all these things spring up for them without sowing or ploughing,  wheat, and barley, and vines, which bear the rich clusters of wine, and the rain of Zeus gives them increase. Neither assemblies for council have they, nor appointed laws, but they dwell on the peaks of lofty mountains in hollow caves, and each one is lawgiver  to his children and his wives, and they reck nothing one of another. “Now there is a level isle that stretches aslant outside the harbor, neither close to the shore of the land of the Cyclopes, nor yet far off, a wooded isle. Therein live wild goats innumerable, for the tread of men scares them not away,  nor are hunters wont to come thither, men who endure toils in the woodland as they course over the peaks of the mountains. Neither with flocks is it held, nor with ploughed lands, but unsown and untilled all the days it knows naught of men, but feeds the bleating goats.  For the Cyclopes have at hand no ships with vermilion cheeks, nor are there ship-wrights in their land who might build them well-benched ships, which should perform all their wants, passing to the cities of other folk, as men often cross the sea in ships to visit one another —  craftsmen, who would have made of this isle also a fair settlement. For the isle is nowise poor, but would bear all things in season. In it are meadows by the shores of the grey sea, well-watered meadows and soft, where vines would never fail, and in it level ploughland, whence  they might reap from season to season harvests exceeding deep, so rich is the soil beneath; and in it, too, is a harbor giving safe anchorage, where there is no need of moorings, either to throw out anchor-stones or to make fast stern cables, but one may beach one's ship and wait until the sailors' minds bid them put out, and the breezes blow fair.  Now at the head of the harbor a spring of bright water flows forth from beneath a cave, and round about it poplars grow. Thither we sailed in, and some god guided us through the murky night; for there was no light to see, but a mist lay deep about the ships and the moon  showed no light from heaven, but was shut in by clouds. Then no man's eyes beheld that island, nor did we see the long waves rolling on the beach, until we ran our well-benched ships on shore. And when we had beached the ships we lowered all the sails  and ourselves went forth on the shore of the sea, and there we fell asleep and waited for the bright Dawn. “As soon as early Dawn appeared, the rosy-fingered, we roamed throughout the isle marvelling at it; and the nymphs, the daughters of Zeus who bears the aegis, roused  the mountain goats, that my comrades might have whereof to make their meal. Straightway we took from the ships our curved bows and long javelins, and arrayed in three bands we fell to smiting; and the god soon gave us game to satisfy our hearts. The ships that followed me were twelve, and to each  nine goats fell by lot, but for me alone they chose out ten.
“As soon as early Dawn appeared, the rosy-fingered, he [the cyclops Polyphemus] rekindled the fire and milked his goodly flocks all in turn, and beneath each dam placed her young.  Then, when he had busily performed his tasks, again he seized two men at once and made ready his meal. And when he had made his meal he drove his fat flocks forth from the cave, easily moving away the great door-stone; and then he put it in place again, as one might set the lid upon a quiver.  Then with loud whistling the Cyclops turned his fat flocks toward the mountain, and I was left there, devising evil in the deep of my heart, if in any way I might take vengeance on him, and Athena grant me glory. “Now this seemed to my mind the best plan. There lay beside a sheep-pen a great club of the Cyclops,  a staff of green olive-wood, which he had cut to carry with him when dry; and as we looked at it we thought it as large as is the mast of a black ship of twenty oars, a merchantman, broad of beam, which crosses over the great gulf; so huge it was in length and in breadth to look upon.  To this I came, and cut off therefrom about a fathom's length and handed it to my comrades, bidding them dress it down; and they made it smooth, and I, standing by, sharpened it at the point, and then straightway took it and hardened it in the blazing fire. Then I laid it carefully away, hiding it beneath the dung,  which lay in great heaps throughout the cave. And I bade my comrades cast lots among them, which of them should have the hardihood with me to lift the stake and grind it into his eye when sweet sleep should come upon him. And the lot fell upon those whom I myself would fain have chosen;  four they were, and I was numbered with them as the fifth. At even then he came, herding his flocks of goodly fleece, and straightway drove into the wide cave his fat flocks one and all, and left not one without in the deep court, either from some foreboding or because a god so bade him.  Then he lifted on high and set in place the great door-stone, and sitting down he milked the ewes and bleating goats all in turn, and beneath each dam he placed her young. But when he had busily performed his tasks, again he seized two men at once and made ready his supper.  Then I drew near and spoke to the Cyclops, holding in my hands an ivy bowl of the dark wine: “‘Cyclops, take and drink wine after thy meal of human flesh, that thou mayest know what manner of drink this is which our ship contained. It was to thee that I was bringing it as a drink offering, in the hope that, touched with pity,  thou mightest send me on my way home; but thou ragest in a way that is past all bearing. Cruel man, how shall any one of all the multitudes of men ever come to thee again hereafter, seeing that thou hast wrought lawlessness?’ “So I spoke, and he took the cup and drained it, and was wondrously pleased as he drank the sweet draught, and asked me for it again a second time:  “‘Give it me again with a ready heart, and tell me thy name straightway, that I may give thee a stranger's gift whereat thou mayest be glad. For among the Cyclopes the earth, the giver of grain, bears the rich clusters of wine, and the rain of Zeus gives them increase; but this is a streamlet of ambrosia and nectar.’  “So he spoke, and again I handed him the flaming wine. Thrice I brought and gave it him, and thrice he drained it in his folly. But when the wine had stolen about the wits of the Cyclops, then I spoke to him with gentle words: “‘Cyclops, thou askest me of my glorious name, and I  will tell it thee; and do thou give me a stranger's gift, even as thou didst promise. Noman is my name, Noman do they call me — my mother and my father, and all my comrades as well.’ “So I spoke, and he straightway answered me with pitiless heart: ‘Noman will I eat last among his comrades,  and the others before him; this shall be thy gift.’ “He spoke, and reeling fell upon his back, and lay there with his thick neck bent aslant, and sleep, that conquers all, laid hold on him. And from his gullet came forth wine and bits of human flesh, and he vomited in his drunken sleep.  Then verily I thrust in the stake under the deep ashes until it should grow hot, and heartened all my comrades with cheering words, that I might see no man flinch through fear. But when presently that stake of olive-wood was about to catch fire, green though it was, and began to glow terribly,  then verily I drew nigh, bringing the stake from the fire, and my comrades stood round me and a god breathed into us great courage. They took the stake of olive-wood, sharp at the point, and thrust it into his eye, while I, throwing my weight upon it from above, whirled it round, as when a man bores a ship's timber  with a drill, while those below keep it spinning with the thong, which they lay hold of by either end, and the drill runs around unceasingly. Even so we took the fiery-pointed stake and whirled it around in his eye, and the blood flowed around the heated thing. And his eyelids wholly and his brows round about did the flame singe  as the eyeball burned, and its roots crackled in the fire. And as when a smith dips a great axe or an adze in cold water amid loud hissing to temper it — for therefrom comes the strength of iron — even so did his eye hiss round the stake of olive-wood.  Terribly then did he cry aloud, and the rock rang around; and we, seized with terror, shrank back, while he wrenched from his eye the stake, all befouled with blood, and flung it from him, wildly waving his arms. Then he called aloud to the Cyclopes, who  dwelt round about him in caves among the windy heights, and they heard his cry and came thronging from every side, and standing around the cave asked him what ailed him: “‘What so sore distress is thine, Polyphemus, that thou criest out thus through the immortal night, and makest us sleepless?  Can it be that some mortal man is driving off thy flocks against thy will, or slaying thee thyself by guile or by might?’ “‘Then from out the cave the mighty Polyphemus answered them: ‘My friends, it is Noman that is slaying me by guile and not by force.’ “And they made answer and addressed him with winged words:  ‘If, then, no man does violence to thee in thy loneliness, sickness which comes from great Zeus thou mayest in no wise escape. Nay, do thou pray to our father, the lord Poseidon.’ “So they spoke and went their way; and my heart laughed within me that my name and cunning device had so beguiled.  But the Cyclops, groaning and travailing in anguish, groped with his hands and took away the stone from the door, and himself sat in the doorway with arms outstretched in the hope of catching anyone who sought to go forth with the sheep — so witless, forsooth, he thought in his heart to find me.  But I took counsel how all might be the very best, if I might haply find some way of escape from death for my comrades and for myself. And I wove all manner of wiles and counsel, as a man will in a matter of life and death; for great was the evil that was nigh us. And this seemed to my mind the best plan.  Rams there were, well-fed and thick of fleece, fine beasts and large, with wool dark as the violet. These I silently bound together with twisted withes on which the Cyclops, that monster with his heart set on lawlessness, was wont to sleep. Three at a time I took. The one in the middle in each case bore a man,  and the other two went, one on either side, saving my comrades. Thus every three sheep bore a man. But as for me — there was a ram, far the best of all the flock; him I grasped by the back, and curled beneath his shaggy belly, lay there face upwards  with steadfast heart, clinging fast with my hands to his wondrous fleece. So then, with wailing, we waited for the bright dawn. “As soon as early Dawn appeared, the rosy-fingered, then the males of the flock hastened forth to pasture and the females bleated unmilked about the pens,  for their udders were bursting. And their master, distressed with grievous pains, felt along the backs of all the sheep as they stood up before him, but in his folly he marked not this, that my men were bound beneath the breasts of his fleecy sheep. Last of all the flock the ram went forth,  burdened with the weight of his fleece and my cunning self. And mighty Polyphemus, as he felt along his back, spoke to him, saying: “‘Good ram, why pray is it that thou goest forth thus through the cave the last of the flock? Thou hast not heretofore been wont to lag behind the sheep, but wast ever far the first to feed on the tender bloom of the grass,  moving with long strides, and ever the first didst reach the streams of the river, and the first didst long to return to the fold at evening. But now thou art last of all. Surely thou art sorrowing for the eye of thy master, which an evil man blinded along with his miserable fellows, when he had overpowered my wits with wine,  even Noman, who, I tell thee, has not yet escaped destruction. If only thou couldst feel as I do, and couldst get thee power of speech to tell me where he skulks away from my wrath, then should his brains be dashed on the ground here and there throughout the cave, when I had smitten him, and my heart  should be lightened of the woes which good-for-naught Noman has brought me.’ “So saying, he sent the ram forth from him. And when we had gone a little way from the cave and the court, I first loosed myself from under the ram and set my comrades free. Speedily then we drove off those long-shanked sheep, rich with fat,  turning full often to look about until we came to the ship.
|Francois Vase |
by Kleitias (painter) and Ergotimos (potter)
Black figure volute krater
from Chiusis, Greece c570BCE
Now in the Museo Archeologico, Florence
|Form: The vase, signed twice by Kleitias (painter) and Ergotimos (potter) exhibits horror vacui but does not contain the rosettes and ornaments of the Orientalizing period. The ornamentation of this vase is organized into a series of registers or frets of almost equal size and this appears to be fairly common in black figure vases of the Orientalizing period. Each register is devoted to a scene which depicts mythological creatures or people. The ornamentation of these registers contains more than 200 naturalistic figures. These figures exhibit correction on the earlier Geometric or Orientalizing periods' designs by taking the the level of realism up a degree or two. Interlaced throughout the figures are the names of the character's on the vase. Iconography: The pot tells a story about Greek mythology, focusing on the exploits of Peleus and his son Achilles, the great hero of Homer's Iliad, and of Theseus, the legendary king of Athens. The detail scene depicts a centauromachy ( a battle between centaurs and humans). In this episode the Lapiths (whom Theseus aided) and and centaurs (half horse half man creatures) do battle after the wedding of Pirithous, king of the Lapiths. The centaurs, drunk after the celebration become unruly, and attempt to rape (in this case it means sexually and to abduct or steal them) the young boys and young girls. Apollo stops the battle and sends the centaurs home. Overall the mythological scenes on this vase are designed to instruct or indoctrinate the viewer into the ideologies and behaviors symbolized in the tales. More specifically, the centauromachy, whose main antagonists are half-man half-beast, represent the struggle against man's bestial nature. Gardner's "Art Through the Ages" makes the observation that although many cultures have composite creatures, centaurs are unique to Greek culture. see http://www.pantheon.org/articles/p/peleus.html for more on Peleus and Centaurs. Context: Found by an archeologist named Francois, often you will see this vase referred to as an "Attic" vase or Attic black figure vase. The term Attic refers to its origins as Athenian but this Attic vase was found in Italy. This demonstrates the importance of trade and the reverence for the quality of Athenian workmanship. Interlaced throughout the figures are the names of the character's on the vase and the vase is also signed. This indicates two things. The written word was at least in some circles fairly commonplace and that the status of the artist must have been on the rise in Athens as well because this is one of the first examples of artwork that has been signed. The indication that Kleitias was the painter and Ergotimos was the potter also gives us a clue into the fact that there was a refined division of labor.|
Ajax and Achilles playing a game.
by Exekias, c540-530 B.C.E.
Attic black-figured amphora found
in an Etruscan tomb in Vulci, Italy.
|Form: The overall design of this vessel demonstrates an evolution form the earlier horror vacui style to a more naturalistic and roomy style. The entire vase is not taken up by a series of registers. Instead a single scene, symmetrically laid out, dominates the center of the amphora. The figures are very naturalistically depicted with the exception of some distortions in anatomy and that the eyes on their profile faces are actually in a frontal view as in Egyptian art. The black figures' capes and clothing are complex delicately incised designs that were etched down into engobe glaze so that the red ground clay shows through. The incised designs of the cape depict some of the rosettes and design elements found in orientalized pottery. The engraving is supplemented by the addition of touches of white. Around and between the two figures are written words. (click here for detail view) Iconography: The scene on the vase represents Ajax and Achilles, heroes from Homer's "Iliad," playing a game of dice. Their shields are near and they hold their spears suggesting each man is ready for action at a moment's notice. The depiction of heroes in armor is meant to reference the ideal of the heroic male in the same way that we decorate children's lunch boxes and dishes with real and imaginary heroes. Since the Greeks believed that men were created in the image of the gods. The ancient Greeks began to depict their art work more realistically because they wanted their heroes to be more godlike. Here, myth and legend are combined. The myth of Perseus and the Gorgons is laid over the legends outlined in the "Iliad." The shields of the two characters contain a Gorgon like image that could be a reference to that myth and would also associate their prowess with the mythological Perseus. The shields then almost serve an apotropaic function. Context: This vase too was found in Italy and demonstrates the desire of Etruscans for goods from Greece. The writing on the vase shows the rise in literacy of a small elite group who could afford such luxury items and in fact the words are actually not who the characters are but rather what they are saying. According to Gardner, "Out of the lips of Achilles come the word tesara (four); Ajax calls out tria (three)."|
Schema and correction: A theory developed by Ernst Gombrich. Schema refers to the original plan or idea of something and correction refers to the changes that were made to that original plan. kalos The Greek term for beauty is kalos (calos). The term kalos can also be interchanged with and is synonymous with goodness. Therefore, to call someone or something beautiful also means that that thing is also "good."