Pictures on pottery provide us with scenes of daily life in ancient Greece. Pottery is usually painted with designs related to how the pot was used. For example, a water pitcher might show a scene where a woman is at the water house fetching water, for most Greek homes didn't have running water. A wine vase will often show pictures of men drinking at parties. All the work on a pot was done by hand, therefore, the well-painted ones were quite expensive. Wealthy men were the main buyers of fine pottery, so many pots showed great funerals and grand horses, which only the wealthy could afford. The making of the pots usually took two people, the potter and the painter. The potters seem to have made more profit than the painters.
|This Attic Red Figure Stamnos from around 490 BC shows Heracles fighting the Nemean Lion, one of his twelve tasks. Here, is choking the lion to death for none of his weapons would kill it. Later, Heracles wear the lion's sking as a cloak and its skull as a helmet.|
Most painted pots were discovered by tomb robbers. The robbers found tombs of ancient wealthy families and sold the treasures to museums and collectors. Archaeologists and historians can roughly tell the place and date of when a pot was made by the pictures painted upon it. Styles varied from place to place, and designs varied by time period. Designs with wavy lines were used for a long time after the fall of Mycenae. In around 1000 BC, the Geometric style which used more complex patterns came into use. Pictures of people and animals appeared in the patterns. Artists in Corinth during the 7th and 6th Centuries BC painted far more detailed pictures of people, animals, and imaginary creatures. Some pottery of the Corinthians had drawings of African lions and Egyptian sphinxes, from places they traded with.
The Black figure (painted on red backgrounds) from the 6th centuries, and the Red figure pottery (painted on black backgrounds) from the 5th BC, are the most famous styles of pottery painting from ancient Greece. These pots are black and red in color, but they were all made from the same clay, only treated in the kiln differently. By controling the oxygen level and flow, the clay would either turn black or red. Space and color was limited on a pot so the painters used symbols to repersent their meaning. A fish might mean the sea, while a family dog represents a house.