Attic Black Figure Vases


Gorgons pursuing Perseus by the Gorgon Painter

  • Dinos (used for mixing water and wine) 600-590BC
  • Split into 5 friezes
  • Typical of Corinthian style: 4th frieze vegetal/flowers, friezes of processions of animals.
  • But 5th frieze dedicated to a myth showing progression from Corinthian style onwards
  • Positioning of myth on this frieze - most visible part to the eye
  • 4th frieze vegetal sections of friezes of figures drawing attention to the top scene - aesthetically pleasing
  • Gorgons instantly recognisable. Quite oriental in style however. 
  • Good points: Better balance of colour, incision with burin lots of detail espec. wings, unatural pose of Medusa trying to show her in the process of dying not dead. 
  • Bad points: full frontal eyes (shows early date), quite solid drapery. 
  • Gorgon stories become very popular to depict - bridge between animals and mortals
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Wedding of Peleus and Thetis by Sophilos

  • Dinos 580-570BC
  • Figures about 5cm tall so very impressive detail
  • Written words - fill in spaces and identify key characters
  • Importance of myth as a learning tool for the Greeks - This wedding depiction shows that class doesn't matter - mortal marrying immortal. 
  • Sophilos follows tradition giving most prominent place for the narrative. 
  • Clear that most of the time was spent on the myth - the other friezes quite basic in comparison. 
  • Spacing between figures interestingly varied - some overlap, some in isolation
  • lots of colour use (4 colours available to a black figure painter)
  • women's skin painted white, something that will become usual for black figure works
  • Dionysus follows a group of ladies, then come Hebe in a magnificently woven dress and then Cheiron and other follow behind. 
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The Francois Vase by Kleitias

  • Volute krater 570BC
  • very heavy on narrative depicting several stories e.g. Chariot race from funeral games of Patroklos, Wedding of Peleus and Thetis, Achilles pursuing Troilos
  • 5/7 friezes are devoted to mythT
  • The handle Ajax carries Achilles: Ajax' straight posture in comparison to Achilles' curve of body almost draped over him horizontals and verticals of Ajax' body showing stability, bent knee conventionally showing running but could be lifting, both are nude (idea of physical appearance showing your inner self). Achilles made to look much greater - he is depicted much bigger and mightier. contrast with Achilles' lifeless hair and hands and closed eye
  • Smaller figures (about 200 of them) only a few cm - v. impressive. 
  • Kleitias' skill as a storyteller: Achilles pursuing Troilos - far left fountain house (builds frame to scene) and someone filling hydria with water (everyday life juxtaposed with the chase, heightens tragedy, life contrasted to death). Apollo at full height next to fountain house reminds us its his fountain and that he will be the one to help bring Achilles to his death. 3 gods Thetis (Achilles' mother, Hermes and Athena). figure of Achilles mostly lost but we can tell how fast he is running by the wide leg span - hints at end result. Note Troilos' flowing hair and intent expression shows detail. Many scenes of the story shown in one frieze. Priam sits on far right in sorrow. There is meaning to every scene, he does not feel it necessary to add irrelevant 'extras'. 
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Dionysus and the two Maenads by Amasis Painter

  • Neck amphora 550-530BC
  • Use of space: one large frieze rather than lots of narrow ones. Can fill whole body of vase with just 3 figures. 
  • Dionysus holds a kantharos and the two maenads come tripping towards him holding ivy branches and animals.
  • Unusually the flesh of the maenads is not painted white but left the natural colour of the clay. 
  • Artist's clever use of repeated patterns ilke the rays at the bottom and the floral frieze on the neck. 
  • Also repeated pattern in the figures - the two maenads' profiles are repeated, both front feet raised, toes parallel. In the dress and hair as well careful incisions. 
  • Overall impression bright and cheerful.
  • Good points: clever use of repetition, really careful incision. more detail in figures e.g. creases in elbows, hands closed over objects etc.). quite bold has made effort with this new stance of arms around each other even if it hasnt worked particularly well. 
  • Bad points: profile eye, maenad's arms around each other looks very strange and unatural and very long fingers on open hands. strange swirls to fill space? looks a bit out of place in the large frieze dedicated to narrative. Can see problems with black figure and overlapping - deer carried by a maenad overlapping dress almost completely lost.
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Women Weaving by Amasis Painter

  • Lekythos around 550-530BC
  • Women richly dressed in patterned peploi. - presumably well off women not slaves. 
  • Necklace hanging on wall indictates the women's quarters. 
  • Making of textiles was an important occupation for women in ancient Greece. A good weaver was considered a good woman and wife. 
  • Vase links weaving with marriage - above loom there is a seated woman holding out her veil in a gesture typically associated with marriage in Greek art.
  • Women engaged in various stages of wool working - shows quite accurately the activities of women in ancient Greece
  • This lekythos displays what is common of Amasis Painter's art. Relatively small scaled figures, meticulous precision of the drawing and keen observation of details e.g. individual lines of thread on the loom v. impressive. 
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Wedding Procession by Amasis Painter

  • Lekythos from around 550BC
  • Depiction of an Athenian wedding. Bridal couple and best man seated in a cart drawn by donkeys (attempt to differentiate them from horses emphasising thin tails, long ears and white muzzles). four guests follow in second cart drawn by mules. accompanying the two groups are people walking in the procession (women painted white). Woman at front holds torches as was tradition and the bride holds wreath and pulls veil forward, a gesture typical of marriage in Greek art. 
  • procession reaches destination of the groom's house on the other side where the bride's mother welcomes them with more torches. 
  • Shoulder of Lekythos shows a scene of three groups of women dancing and musicians playing aulos and lyre
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Ajax and Achilles playing a game by Exekias

  • One piece amphora 540-530BC
  • Depicts the two great heroes Ajax and Achilles playing a game dressed in attire of battle. 
  • Very eyecatching in that the artist has chosen to black out the rest of the vase and keep the focus on this one main scene. 
  • Quite a sombre mood. warriors' hunched shoulders contributing to this. 
  • Clever way the inclining of the figures echos the curved shape of the vase giving nice sense of continuity. similarly shields continue the lin eof the handles on one side and the spears are angled with the ends meeting the place the handles join the vase's neck. v aesthetically pleasing. very careful arrangement framing the centre of attention which is also theirs. 
  • Characterisation: Achilles the greater of the two warriors: wears his helmet and also has the better throw to Ajax. Also Achilles' heel hidden behind the chair perhaps pointing to how he eventually meets his end, shot in the heel with an arrow. 
  • This and also how the spears go behind the table give the scene a sense of depth
  • Note that scene is not in any literature so may just be painter's invention/imagination.
  • exquisite detail in cloaks and strands of hair. 
  • I like the way this scene captures two heroic warriors taking part in quite a mundane activity. contrasts to how they would usually be seen on a battle field. 
  • Arguably cloaks are still painted with some rigidness. 
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Dionysus Sailing by Exekias

  • Cup interior known as the tondo 
  • the story acc. to Homeric hymn: pirates abduct Dionysus thinking he's a king's son so hoping for a ransom however when they try to tie him no bonds work. Then a vine spreads along sail and ivy goes up mast. Dionysus transforms unto a lion pursues the pirates who turn into dolphins as they fall into the water.
  • In this scene Dionysus reclines with a drinking horn, ivy growing everywhere and the dolphins play around the ship. 
  • Very cleverly done - ship is painted at an angle to the handles so when the drinker drinks he will rotate the cup to see the image and the dolphins and ship will look as if they are emerging from the sea (of wine). 
  • There are no formal lines separating sky from sea creating quite a magical vision
  • subtly calculated balance of forms and lyrical mood of this cup interior are unmatched in the whole of Greek art. 
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