Attic Red-Figured Vases, a Survey

Attic Red-Figured Vases, a Survey

Attic Red-Figured Vases, a Survey

Attic Red-Figured Vases, a Survey

Excerpt

When we speak of the art of the Greeks most of us think of their sculpture and architecture--the statues, friezes, and temples that have withstood two or three thousand years of destruction. We seldom think of Greek painting, for the simple reason that practically all the murals and panels that have survived to our day belong to a later age, not to the creative early periods when the foundations of European painting were laid. This great gap is filled, to some extent at least, by the wealth of painted scenes on Greek pottery that have come down to us. Through them we may in some measure visualize the lost monumental pictures, which were praised in such enthusiastic terms by Greek and Roman writers, and follow the development of ancient painting step by step--just as we might glean something of the evolution of modern painting from the graphic arts of to-day. Greek vase decorations therefore assume an importance even over and above their own intrinsic worth.

The pottery discussed in this book is the so-called Athenian red-figure, in which the decoration is "reserved" in red against a black-glazed background. It was produced in Athens during her greatest political and economic prosperity, when painting developed from a decorative to a representational art. The beginnings of this ware can be placed in the last third of the sixth century B.C., when Athens, thanks to the beneficent reforms of Solon and the brilliant rule of Peisistratos, had risen from a comparatively small though enterprising community to a powerful city-state. Before that time, in the middle of the sixth century, Athenian black-figured pottery--with the decoration in black glaze on the red background of the terracotta--had already conquered foreign markets, as the graves of Etruria, South Italy, and the Eastern Mediterranean testify. The reversal of the color scheme from the time-honored dark on light to the new light on dark opened up fresh possibilities to an already flourishing craft. During the whole of the fifth century Athenian red- figured vases retained their ascendancy but the long-drawn-out . . .

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