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

Attic amphora of the “Dipylon” style, ca. 800 BC. (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 Greek painting style was captured. During the Archaic period, geometric ornamentation was predominant in Dorian 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 BC. (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 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 or pitcher with lions, bulls, ibex and sphinxes, ca. 640-30 BC. (Louvre).



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