Archaic Greek Art until the Greco-Persian Wars IV: Painting and pottery

Attic amphora of the “Dipylon” style, ca. 800 BCE. (Museum of Ceramics, Athens).

During the Greek Archaic period, the first attempts at painting appeared in the polychrome decoration of primitive temples, but was in the ceramic decoration where the ancient style of Greek painting was captured. The geometric ornamentation was predominant in the Dorian pottery during the Archaic period (known as Geometric art style of pottery*). The vessels, sometimes gigantic, were covered with combinations of geometrical traces, and their horizontal decorative strips were divided into vertical zones like the temples’ metopes. If horses, swans, and even human figures and scenes were represented, all these elements appeared stylized with rectilinear contours marking geometric silhouettes almost all formed by triangles. The bodies were always represented frontally and appeared trimmed with narrow waists painted in a single black tone and placed on a lighter background. This pottery is called of the “Dipylon” style because almost all of its vessels were found in the old cemetery of Athens located outside the old double gate or Dipylon.  Almost all of these Dipylon vessels served to contain the ashes of a deceased person as the paintings decorating them mostly represented funeral scenes.  Some have representations of the deceased’s body in his death-bed with his wife at his head and his friends singing with tragic gestures while the mourners or weepers pulled their hairs.  In other zone of these vessels we can see chariots prepared for a race in a ceremony traditionally performed in honor of the deceased.

Attic krater of the Dipylon style (National Museum of Athens) 1.23 m high, it was used to hold offerings for the deceased. This krater includes schematic representations of the funeral (funerary wagons, horses, and mourners) distributed in zones divided by parallel lines.
Corinthian oinochoe or wine jug depicting mythical creatures, sphinxes, lions and deer. Ca. 580-560 BCE. (Archaeological Museum, Florence).

On the islands and cities of Ionia the style of pottery was not as rigorously geometric as it was in the Dorian ceramic from the continent.  Some Ionian schools of archaic pottery such as Corinth and Rhodes were highly influence by Eastern styles, the so called Orientalizing style*.  The Corinthian and insular ceramics didn’t have figurative representations with funeral scenes, instead they were decorated with roses, sphinxes, lions, deer, and palmettes, which were so prevalent in the artistic Eastern traditional repertoire (see Persian, Parthian, and Sassanian art).  These Corinthian and insular vessels had a different use than those of the Doric pottery: they were mostly aryballos (a small spherical or globular flask with a narrow neck) or alabastrons (a small type of pottery or glass vessel used in the ancient world for holding oil, especially perfume or massage oils) and small receptacles for toilet oil and grease.

Proto-Corinthian olpe (oenochoe) or pitcher with lions, bulls, ibex and sphinxes, ca. 640-30 BCE. (Louvre).



Geometric art: A phase of Greek art pottery, characterized largely by geometric motifs in vase painting, that flourished towards the end of the Greek Dark Ages, circa 900 BCE – 700 BCE. Its center was in Athens, and from there the style spread among the trading cities of the Aegean. The Greek Dark Ages is also called the Geometric period in reference to this characteristic pottery style, although the historical period is much longer than the art-historical period, being circa 1100 – 800 BCE. The vases had various uses or purposes within Greek society, including, but not limited to, funerary vases and symposium vases.

Oenochoe: (from Ancient Greek: oînos, meaning “wine” and Ancient Greek: khéō, meaning “I pour”; plural oenochoai). A wine jug and a key form of ancient Greek pottery. The earliest form of Oenochoe is the olpe with no distinct shoulder and usually a handle rising above the lip. Oenochoai may be decorated or undecorated. Oenochoai typically have only one handle at the back and may include a trefoil mouth and pouring spout. Their size also varies considerably. Most Greek oenochoe were in painted terracotta pottery but metal oenochoai were probably also common.

Orientalizing period: A cultural and art historical period of the Archaic phase of ancient Greek and Greek-inspired art. It started during the later part of the 8th century BCE, when there was a heavy influence from the more advanced art of the Eastern Mediterranean and Ancient Near East. Monumental and figurative sculpture in this style is often called Daedelic, after Daedalus, who was according to legend the founder of Greek sculpture. The source areas were Syria and Assyria, and to a lesser extent Phoenicia, Israel, and Egypt.