Eras of Greek Art: Pottery Edition

The Different Eras of Greek Pottery

When you first think of ancient Greece, what do you think of?  Do you think of great mythological stories of wondrous adventures as told through intricate pottery depicting these great scenes?  Greek art is incredibly fascinating and is something that many coveted, both in ancient times (we are looking at you, Romans) and modern-day. Well, Greek pottery wasn’t always so grand and detailed.  The earliest Greek pottery derives from the Geometric period. During this period, pottery was primarily influenced by traditional Mycenean decorations. Abstract patterns and geometric shapes were the most common.

The Geometric Period

            The Geometric period displayed various patterns full of decorative lines, linear patterns, including a mixture of many different shapes.  With all the linear shapes and lines, it’s no wonder they call it the Geometric period!  This period was between roughly 1000 and 700 BC.  The designs eventually evolved into crude and abstract human and animal shapes. Again mainly linear and stiff lines and shapes with a lack of movement.  Then, in Athens, the Greek cultural center, there came the adoption of the black figure technique style of painting, calling for great depictions of heroic ventures and stories. 

Greek Krater
Terracotta Krater from the Geometric Period on display at the Met

The Archaic Period

            The Archaic period was during the 6th century BC while the artistic hub, Athens, was rising with its pottery market.  This era was the start of the rise of black-figure painters. They were mainly based in Corinth, and held a monopoly on the design until the early 6th century.  That was when Athens rose to the top.  Designs in the Archaic period became much less rigid and more natural than they were in the previous eras.  Human figures and incredible epics were often portrayed in black-figure during this time, with more attention on anatomic proportions making things more life-like. 

Archaic Amphora
The Antimenes Painter: Herakles and the Erymanthian boar amphora. On display at The British Museum

The Orientalizing Period of Greek Pottery

            The Orientalizing period and the Archaic period overlap within the 6th century, Orientalizing period occurring during the Archaic.  But the Orientalizing period was a time in which the arts were heavily influenced by Eastern trade and designs.  Hence the name, Orientalizing refers to the culture and the arts of Eastern Asia.  Geometric style designs were replaced with outlined figures. The black-figure pottery firing techniques became prevalent.  Animalistic figures were quite prominent within Near East designs, so the Greeks started incorporating that within their pottery including various floral elements. 

Orientalizing Amphora
“Proto Attic (Oriental) Analatos” Amphora on display at the Louvre

The Classical Period

            The Classical period took place around the 5th and 4th centuries BC and had a continued steady love for black-figured pottery. But, there was also the introduction of the red-figure pottery, which happened late archaic, early classical period.  The pottery of this time conveys the vitality of life. There are more realistic-looking people and animals, even some in motion.  But the people drawn on pottery had severe facial expressions, present in both the pottery and the sculptures of this period.  There was a great innovation in pottery with the use of space and having multiple groundlines, better-looking drapery for clothing, and no more reduction in the size of figures, allowing for no optical effects and creating distance.  By the end of the Classical period though, red-figure pottery decreased in popularity.

Greek pottery: Classical Krater
Terracotta volute-krater displayed at the Met

The Hellenistic Period

            The Hellenistic period took place during the 4th century BC.  Athens is still the leading pottery center and endured no disruption from the Peloponnesian War.  Mid-4th-century was the last great red-figure movement, then its popularity dissipated.  It was the time of Magna Graecia, or Great Greece, and was a time of very ornate style pottery.  Artists also incorporated color into their pottery, using various whites, blues, and golds.  After learning more about the use of space in the Classical period, Hellenistic artists did not like a lot of empty space. They used the area they had to the fullest in order to showcase their designs the way they wanted.

Greek pottery: Hellenistic Gamikos
Lebes Gamikos displayed at The British Museum

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