The Archaic Period (c. 600-480 BCE)



In the Orientalizing period we saw the emergence of the Black Figure style. This style continued and reached its fullest development in the works of a number of artists who were painting around the middle of the 6th century and into the third quarter (circa 550-525). Perhaps the greatest master of Black Figure was Exekias.

Around 530 BCE, the Red Figure technique of painting was developed, which eventually came to replace the Black Figure. Red Figure essentially reverses the Black Figure. Figures and animals were now left the colour of the clay against a black background. Interior markings were applied with a syringe-like instrument that squeezed out the black "glaze" matter evenly and smoothly. Secondary markings, such as those representing hair and muscles, were painted in "dilute glaze" (engobe diluted with water). The Red Figure style is freer and more facile than the Black Figure. There is a new physical expressiveness introduced in the depiction of figures (shown turning, twisting, with foreshortened limbs, and overlapping). The period c. 525-480 one of great experimentation in pictorial representation on vases.

  • Engobe - a slip of finely sifted clay that originally is of the same colour as the clay of the pot.

    A three-phase firing process was used by Greek potters:

    1. oxidizing phase - turns both pot and slip red
    2. reducing phase - oxygen supply into kiln shut off and both pot and slip turn black
    3. reoxidizing phase - coarser material of the pot reabsorbs oxygen and becomes red again, while the smoother, silica-laden slip does not and remains black

  • Kylix = drinking cup, shallow and having two handles and a stem Maenad (or Bacchante) = one of the ecstatic female followers of Dionysos, noted for their frenzy, mad songs, and brazen drunkenness.

  • Thyrsos = staff surmounted by a pine cone. An attribute of Dionysos and usually carried by Maenads

© Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe