Greek Pottery

and its Archaeological Importance

The classical archaeologist relies to a great extent on pottery as important evidence for reconstructing Greek life. In the study of all ceramic&endash;making cultures, pottery is used as a chronological indicator because pottery shapes and decoration change over time. The association of these changes with other cultural phenomena or, in the case of the ancient Greeks, with specific datable events allows the archaeologist to build a chronological framework of a culture.

Greek pottery also provides important documentation for many aspects of ancient Greek life through painted scenes, especially on Attic Black and Red Figure vessels. A large number of these scenes illustrate the myths and legends of the ancient Greeks. Through these we find an ancient interpretation of the stories and a picture of how the ancient Greeks viewed their deities. Because of the Greek painters' fondness for labeling individual characters in a legend, we are able in some instances to piece together parts of scenes from lost plays or obscure myths. Evidence for the way in which Greek tragedy and comedy was staged is also available through vase representations. Other depictions provide valuable information about dress and objects of everyday life. Click here for Pottery Images.

In studying Greek painted pottery, specialists look for identifying characteristics of the potter or painter which might help to identify a body of works executed by the same artist or workshop. In Attica, the tendency for potters and painters to sign their works gives us a firm basis for the study of an artist's style or preferred subject matter. By studying which potters and painters worked together, specialists have been able to piece together information about the time period in which these artists worked, their workshops and social status.

Attic Red Figure Stamnos ca. 490 BC
By the Kleophrades Painter
On loan, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Heracles fighting the Nemean Lion.
After ruining all his weapons on the lion´s impervious hide, Heracles must choke the monster to death. Afterwards he wears its skull as a helmet and its skin for a cloak.
H. 33.5; L. 40.0; Dia. 30.0 cm. Photo courtesy Public Information Office, Univ. of Pennsylvania Museum (132k)

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