Black-figure pottery

Black-figure pottery


Athena wearing the aegis, Attic black-figured hydria by the potter Panphaios (signed) and the Euphiletos Painter, c. 540 BC. Found in Toscanella, Cabinet des Médailles, BNF (Paris), De Ridder n°254] The black-figure pottery (Greek, 'μελανόμορφα,melanomorpha) technique is a style of ancient Greek pottery painting in which the decoration appears as black silhouettes on a red background. Originating in Corinth during the early 7th century BC, it was introduced into Attica about a generation later. Other notable black-figure potteries existed at Sparta, Athens, and in eastern Greece. The technique flourished until being practically replaced by the more advanced red-figure pottery technique in 530 BC, although later examples do exist.

Manufacturing techniques

Attic vases were made of a pale iron-rich clay which turned a reddish-orange colour when fired, Corinthian and other fabrics had a creamy-white reserve colour. The design was sketched in outline, then filled in using refined clay as paint. Details would be added with an engraving tool, scratching through the paint layer to the clay below. The vessel would then be fired in a kiln at a temperature of about 800°C, with the resultant oxidization turning the vase to a reddish-orange colour. The temperature was then raised to about 950°C with the kiln's vents closed and green wood being added to remove the oxygen. The vessel then turned an overall black. The final stage required the vents to be re-opened to allow oxygen into the kiln, which was allowed to cool down. The vessel then returned to its reddish-orange colour due to renewed oxidization, while the now-sintered painted layer remained the glossy black colour created in the second stage.

Apart from black, other colours could be used by modifying the characteristics of the clay used to paint the vase. The most common was a yellowish-white derived from a purified iron-free clay, and a purplish-red derived from the same refined clay used to produce the black areas mixed with ochre (red iron oxide) and water.

tyles and subjects

The Corinthians originally used black-figure pottery to depict animal friezes until the mid-6th century BC, when the Athenian painters developed a sophisticated style of narrative decoration depicting subjects such as battle scenes, mythical beings and legendary episodes.

Black-figure pottery typically depicted figures in silhouette, but it was somewhat limited in artistic scope due to the limitations of engraving tools. Only a few painters are known by name, though many black-figure vases have been grouped on the basis of painting style and appear to be the work of distinct individuals or workshops. The most famous named painter is Exekias, a vase painter of the 6th century BC who is best known for his battle scenes.

ee also

* List of Greek Vase Painters#Black Figure Period
* Pottery of Ancient Greece
* Red-Figure Pottery


* [ J.D.Beazley "The Development of Attic Black-Figure]
* J.D. Beazley, "Attic Black-figure vase painters", London, 1956
* John Boardman, "Athenian Black Figure Vases", London, 1974
* D. Williams, "Greek Vases", London, 1985
* P. Arias, M. Hirmer, "History of Greek Vase Painting", 1962.
* J. D. Beazley, "Potter and Painter in Ancient Athens", 1944.
* J. D.Beazley, "Paralipomena", 1971.
* H. Payne, "Necrocorinthia", 1931.
* D. A. Amyx, "Corinthian Vase Painting of the Archaic Period", 3 vols, 1988.
* Joseph Veach Noble: "The Techniques of Painted Attic Pottery". New York 1965.

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