This page includes information that may not reflect the current views and values of the Penn Museum.

Attic Black Figure and Red Figure

Ceramic production in Athens was concentrated in the northwest corner of the city, the Kerameikos. Here artisans turned out architectural decorations, roof tiles, figurines, and even large sculptures, as well as fine and coarse-ware pottery. There is little evidence for mass production methods, although two painters could collaborate on a single large pot and certain potters specialized in creating particular shapes. Most pots were thrown on a manually driven potter's wheel. Large pots were made in several sections, and handles were added separately. Greek kilns were wood-fired. By controlling the oxygen flow the color of the clay pot and its glaze could be changed from red to black: an oxidizing or well-ventilated atmosphere produces red, a reducing or smoke-filled atmosphere, gray or black. In Black Figure technique, which first appeared in Corinth in the early 7th century BC, the vase surface was covered with a dilute wash of clay. A thicker solution of iron-rich clay formed the "glaze" used to paint on figures in solid silhouette. Details were incised with a sharp tool. Red could be added for human hair, horses' manes and parts of garments, and white for women's flesh and the hair of old men. After a sophisticated three-stage firing process (oxidizing, reducing, and reoxidizing), the pot's "glazed" design emerged a deep glossy black, except for the incised details, against a reddish brown background. In Red Figure technique, which began around 530 BC, the process was reversed and the figures appeared in red against a black background. Liquid glaze was used to outline the figures. Contours and inner lines were then added, often in raised relief. The painted line could be diluted to a golden brown or left jet black for a more "painterly" effect. After the figures were drawn, the background was added in black and the pot fired. (100k) Click here for pottery images.

© Copyright 2002