Detail of a Panathenaic amphora (British Museum).

While Greek sculpture was evolving into its different types, painting was developing new themes and techniques though more slowly. From ancient descriptions, especially those of Pausanias, we know that monumental frescoes from this time formed overlapping horizontal bands with scenes depicting themes found in statuary: combats involving giants or Amazons, Trojan War, labors of Hercules, etc.  These motifs also appeared in painted vases of the same period, where scenes were represented in a series of horizontal zones. Similarly, the walls were divided into zones with the scenes portrayed one after another with no interruptions. In the walls the background was painted in lighter tones while the figures were highlighted in dark tones.

Scene depicting Achilles and Ajax playing dice with spears in their hands and covered in rich embroidered robes, detail of an Attic amphora (Vatican Museum) a work of Exekias, ca. 550-530 BCE.

The Greek pottery from the VI and V centuries BCE gives us an idea of ​​how pictorial compositions of this time looked like: their background color was always painted on earthy shades and the figures were silhouetted in black enamel (black-figure pottery). Decoration of other objects was not only reduced to black and red, as in pottery, but some figures were colored.

Amphora decorated by Exekias (British Museum) depicting the combat between Achilles and Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons.

In vases’ decoration was very ingenious the way in which female figures were represented by painting their skins with white enamel. In general, all decoration was characterized by a background of earthy colors with the figures simply painted with black enamel. The folds of clothing and other figure’s details were marked with a chisel. We know some of these painters’ names from this archaic period because they signed the vases they decorated: Exekias, Nearchus, Kleitias, and others. Paintings from Greek vases have been admired and widely praise from critics: they have kept much information about details of ancient Greek life that confirm or complement the literary texts and the ancient chronicles.

The famous François Vase, ca. 570 BCE. (Archaeological Museum of Florence), a krater of nearly 2 m in diameter. It is covered by 200 figures, divided into six strips; 143 inscriptions identify monsters, animals and characters, including its authors: the potter Ergotimos and painter Kleitias.

The art of metal embossing from the archaic Greek period is known for a bronze krater (known as “Vix krater”) found in the French village of Vix located at 5 km from Châtillon-sur-Seine (department of Côte d’ Or) and which was part of the trousseau contained in the burial of a Celtic princess. It is a large bronze vase embossed and chiseled in Attic style. It is five feet tall and sits on an elegant foot. Its shape and the features of its two vertical handles recalls another ancient krater known as the “Françoise Vase”. The frieze that runs around its neck (about 15 cm high) represents a parade of Attic warriors in chariots and on foot. It’s a piece from about 500 BCE, its lid is a kind of brazier with two handles and a central omphalos* or covering stone crowned by a female figurine wearing a mantle of archaic style maybe even Etruscan.

The Vix krater (Museum at Châtillon-sur-Seine), the largest known metal vessel from antiquity, 1.63 m in height.


Omphalos: (from ancient Greek omphalós, meaning “navel”). A religious stone artifact. In the ancient world of the Mediterranean, it was a powerful religious symbol. It usually refers to a rounded stone artifact representing the center (“navel”) of the earth, and thus entrusted with mystical and religious powers.