The Evolution of Greek Painting Styles

The resilient composition of Ancient Greek pottery has allowed it to survive for thousands of years.  The scenes depicted on pottery, whether intact or fragmented, are valuable tools in the study of everyday life in Greece as well as mythology. The intricately painted scenes on Greek pottery is the result of hundreds of years of stylized evolution that occurred after the collapse of the Mycenaean Palace culture (ca. 1050 BCE).  This exhibition showcases the evolution of the painting styles used on pottery from the Proto-Geometric period (ca. 1050 BCE) to the late Hellenistic period (late 4th century BCE).  The artifacts chosen for this exhibition show the progression of simplistic painted designs to the elaborate scenes of everyday life and mythology that the Greeks are known for.

The Proto-Geometric period (1050-900 BCE) is characterized by abstract elements such as triangles, wavy lines, circles, and broad bands created with a simple paint made from alkali potash (or soda) and black ferrous oxide of iron.
Geometric period (9th – 8th century BCE). This period is categorized by the extensive use of black varnish as well as the introduction of figurative motifs. There is very little empty space with this style.
The figurative motifs of this style are merely silhouettes and lack the detail of the later styles.
Orientalizing (or Proto-Corinthian) period (8th – 7th century BCE). This style was heavily influence by Eastern cultures. New motifs such as sphinxes, griffins, and lions were common as well as new flora and faunal motifs.
This example of Greek pottery is only 7cm tall, and shows the amount of skill needed to paint these designs. The sphinx was the most common decorative motif of the Orientalizing period.
Black Figure period (ca. 620-480 BCE) is perhaps the most widely known painting style of Greek Antiquity. This style gets its name from the representation of figures using black paint on a red background (the exception being female figures were portrayed using white paint).
The Black Figure style evolved from the Proto-Corinthian style of depicting silhouettes and morphed into more realistic designs. Details were incised into the paint before the firing process, as shown in the close up picture.
Red Figure (ca. 480-425 BCE) is a style similar to Black Figure but a reversal of the firing technique gives a red figure on a black ground. This allowed painters to create details by directed paint rather than incision, creating better anatomical detail and perspective.
This new style allowed painters to create more elaborate and realistic designs than the Black Figure technique. This close up shows the amount of detail a painter could achieve on a simple dress.
White Ground style (5th-4th century BCE). Unlike the other styles such as Black and Red Figure, the colours of this style was not produced by the firing technique but by the use of paint and gilding on the surface of white clay. this allowed for a wider array of colour possibilities.
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