Guide to Ancient Greek Pottery: Wine Vases and More

The ancient Greeks used their pottery for daily living, but it was also a form of artwork in their society. The Greek people would use these household vessels as canvases for mythical scenes. Pottery might also have been decorated with pictures of gods, animals, or humans. The Greeks admired symmetry and beauty, and their pottery often showed this appreciation.

The Art of Greek Pottery

The potter’s wheel was invented in approximately 1700 B.C. With this invention, pottery became more advanced because potters were able to create thinner vessel walls and more intricate shapes. The master potter would throw the pot on the pottery wheel while an apprentice kept the wheel turning. After creating and drying the pot, a painter would enter the process to add decorations to the vessel surface. Greek pottery was so popular and prevalent that many pieces have survived to provide information about this Greek art form. The Geometric Period spanned the years between 1000 and 700 B.C. The Greeks decorated pots during this period with geometric patterns. Gradually, styles shifted to incorporate Eastern influences, which led to artists painting figures and animals onto pottery.

Greek Wine Vases

The Greeks used vases frequently in daily living to hold and serve liquids. Greek households typically possessed a variety of different vases. An amphora vase might have held wine, water, or olive oil. The word “amphora” is made up of two word parts that mean “two handles” and “to carry.” Greeks typically used a krater vase to mix wine and water. Krater vases were large, often as tall as 40 inches. These vases featured handles on opposite sides of the vase. The bell krater had horizontal handles and a wide, bell-shaped body. The columnar krater had vertical handles at the neck of the vase. The volute krater featured intricate vertical handles at the neck of the vase. Other vases included a hydria for drawing water, a kantharos for drinking water or wine, a lekythos for pouring liquids during ritual occasions, and a loutrophoros for transporting water for a bride’s bath. A hydria vase may have been as tall as 18 inches, and these vessels often had three handles, two for carrying the vase and one for pouring. Wine vases usually featured some sort of painted decoration on the surface pertaining to Greek culture or lifestyle. Some vases may have featured more elaborate paintings, which Greeks might have given as gifts or used to mark graves.

Greek Pots

Some pots were so large that the potter made them in sections and attached them to become one piece later. Generally, this process involved throwing the neck, body, and foot of the pot separately. After each piece dried, the potter would join them with additional clay and then add the handles. Painting the pots was the next step in the process, and firing the pots was the final stage before completion of a vessel.

The Corinthians and Athenians were principal groups in Greek pottery history due to their notable painting styles on pottery. Corinthians began painting mythical animals on pots. As this trend grew, Athenians added their own style to pots with intricate mythical scenes. These scenes often required more painting room, so pots became larger to accommodate the painted scenes. Some pots featured funeral scenes, and Athenians used them as grave markers. Another Athenian technique involved painting figures as black silhouettes, called the “black figure” technique. If the potter chose to color the background black and leave the figure silhouettes red, the technique became known as “red figure.” The firing process for black figure and red figure techniques involved three separate stages to create the colors. The oxidizing stage produced an overall color on the pot, and subsequent stages would add the black or red colors, as desired.