The Greek Cemetery

The prevailing form of burial throughout most of early Greece was in single graves, either stone-lined cists or plain pits dug in the ground or hewn out of bedrock. The bodies were cremated before burial or buried intact. Tombs grew elaborate with the passage of time. Multiple burials in underground chambers, raised mounds, and masonry-built tombs above ground appear by the Archaic period. During Hellenistic times tombs of monumental size became common, ranging from the colossal Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, to the chamber tombs of Asia Minor, Macedon and North Africa, with painted architectural facades. Funeral ritual called for laying out the body for display, carrying it to the graveyard for burial, and conducting a funeral ceremony at the grave site. At the time of the actual burial, terracotta vessels with food and drink were placed in the tomb next to the corpse or the urn of ashes. Other gifts were then added, such as weapons, knives and tools for men and jewelry, clothes and spindle-whorls for women, toys for children and terracotta figurines. The funerary banquet was accompanied by animal sacrifice, first at the grave site and later in the house of the nearest kin. The White Ground lekythos was used both for funeral rites and as a gift to the dead from about 470 to 400 BC After firing, the surface was covered with a white slip. The figures were then outlined in matte red or black. A second, purer tone of white could be used for women's flesh. Purple, brown, red, yellow, rose, vermilion and sky-blue were added in various combinations to clothes and other compositional details to produce a more realistic, painterly effect.

Attic White Ground Lekythos
Late 5th century BC
MS 4082
A girl seated on a chair with a wreath in her hands; her wool basket is set to the right. The undulating snake, which appears above, is traditionally associated with the dead from the Geometric period on.
H. 13.4; Dia. 5.0 cm. Photo by Maria Daniels for the Perseus Project. (132k)

Attic White Ground Lekythos
Late 5th century BC
By the Reed Painter
On loan, Philadelphia Museum of Art
A man and a woman flank a grave stele. Because the colors were added after firing and were based on unstable pigments that tended to flake away, White Ground scenes often survive in poor condition and their figures appear naked where they were originally intended to look dressed.
H. 24.0; Dia. 8.0 cm. UM neg. S8-120633. (99k)

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