The High Archaic Period in Greek Vase Making

The seventh century is sometimes called the High Archaic period, which simply emphasizes the continuity of Greek Archaic art from the end of the Geometric age to the beginning of Classicism. It is noteworthy that precisely at the time when they were giving outstanding proof of their vitality, the Greeks so readily accepted the lessons of Asia and Egypt.  The “Orientalizing” style is very recognizable in the use of decorative ware, which are clearly different from that used by the Greeks of the Geometric age. Floral motifs, clay sculpting and repair, rosettes and spirals on the one hand real and imagined animal figures (geeks, ducks, sirens, etc.). Decoration took precedence but the ways and means that were sued were different.

The Corinthian Greek Vase

It is chiefly in pottery that this revolution in taste happened. The large Corinthian Greek vase made of porous ceramic the first half of the sixth century are particularly valuable to us because of the figured scenes which decorate them and which are usually taken from legends popularized by the epic poets. Works of craftsmanship so rich in significance so expertly composed  obviously had models. The potters of Corinth didn’t simply invent these sophisticated scenes from the texts that inspired them. An intermediary must be assumed – perhaps the school of painting during the reign of the tyrant Cypselus.  The Greek vase of the sixth century testify to the rapid progress of that painting. Some very faded traces of color on marble steles, which underwent minor restoration several centuries later, help us to appreciate the technical means available to the Greek artisans of the sixth century. These methods also enable artists to record the events of the day in works that are charged with meaning and vibrant style.

The Athenian Greek Vase

This was a period of extraordinary expansion for Athens as an art center.  About 530 B.C,  a new process of ceramic decoration and conservation developed and led to a major transformation of taste. Athenian potters started to develop techniques contrary to the ones that had been use to achieve precision and elegant design. Instead of painting figures in black silhouette on a red clay background, they kept the figurines unpainted on the background of reddish color, painting the rest of the vase black. As a result, details of anatomy and clothing that used to be represented in the “glaze”, were now shown by dark curvy lines drawn with a fine brush. This technique gave the drawing a much greater range and elasticity. The superiority of this new technique was quickly recognized and from the sixth century on Greek potters no longer used any other technique for their ceramic and clay vases. Using a delicate brush they would sketch a web of lines suggestive of a human form, often a nude female. Numerous Greek vases of different periods in the form of heads clad in helmets give us a good idea of the sculptures of warriors and their angry and determined looks.

When we think of the elegant hands and fingers of maidens which were painted on the walls of the Acropolis in Athens, we have to imagine them to be glowing and full of light under the Attic sun with a rich shade of which they contain only a few barely visible traces.  Their faces were young and full of makeup, their long hair neatly styled, their clothes adorned with  multicolored designs and patterns popular with Greek women at the time. Nothing could have been more joyous than gathering of the disciples of Athena who so desperately tried to please their deity by bringing her the gifts which they had in their hands.

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