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HOME : Classical Antiquities : Classical Masterpieces : Black Figure Greek Amphora
Black Figure Greek Amphora - PH.0169
Origin: Mediterranean
Circa: 500 BC to 400 BC
Dimensions: 12.3" (31.2cm) high x 13" (33.0cm) wide
Collection: Classical
Style: Attic Black Figure
Medium: Terracotta

Location: Great Britain
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Black-figure pottery painting, one of the principal styles of decoration on ancient Greek vases, was particularly common between the 7th and 5th centuries BC. Subjects, as I figures and secondary ornaments, were painted on the vase with a clay slurry (a glossy slip) which turned black after firing. This was not an actual color in the traditional sense of the word, since this surface slip was of the same material as the vase itself, only differing in the size of the component particles. The area for the figures was first painted with a brush-like implement. All contours, internal outlines and structural details were incised into the slip so that the underlying clay could be seen through the incised area. Two other earth-based pigments, red and white, were used to reinforce and highlight details, such as ornaments, clothing or parts of clothing, hair, animal manes, parts of weapons and other equipment. White was also frequently used to represent women’s skin. The success of all this effort could only be evaluated after a complicated, three-phase firing process which generated the red color of the vase clay and the black of the applied slip. Specifically, the vessel was fired in a kiln at a temperature of about 800 °C, with the resultant oxidization turning the vase a reddish-orange color. The temperature was then raised to about 950 °C with the kiln's vents closed and green wood added to remove the oxygen. The vessel then turned an overall black. The final stage required the vents to be re-opened to allow oxygen into the kiln, which was allowed to cool down. The vessel then returned to its reddish- orange colour due to renewed oxidization, while the now-sintered painted layer remained the glossy black color which had been created in the second stage. The principal centers for black-figure pottery was initially Corinth and later Athens. Other important production sites are known to have been in Laconia, Boeotia, eastern Greece, and Italy. Particularly in Italy individual styles developed which were at least in part intended for the Etruscan market. Greek black-figure vases were extremely popular with the Etruscans, as is evident from frequent Attic imports. Black-figure painting on vases was the first art style to give rise to a significant number of identifiable artists. Some are known by their real names, having signed either as painters or potters or both their work, others only by the pragmatic conventional names they were attributed to them by scholars in the scientific literature. Some potters introduced a variety of innovations which frequently influenced the work of the painters; sometimes though it was the painters who inspired the potters’ originality, in regards to forms and shapes. Black- as well as rea-figure vases are among the most important sources of ancient Greek mythology and iconography in general, and often also as a direct testimony of representing day-to-day ancient Greek life. - (PH.0169)


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