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HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF GREEK

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Originally appearing in Volume V05, Page 720 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF GREEK VASE-PAINTING.—It has been indicated in the section dealing with technical processes that Greek vases may be classified under four headings according to the character of the decoration, and this classification may with a slight modification be adopted as a chronological one, the history of the art falling under four main heads, under which it will be convenient to describe its development from the earliest specimens of painted pottery down to the period when it was finally replaced by other methods of decoration. These four classes and their main characteristics may be summarized as follows: ' ' I. Vases of the Primitive Period from about 2500 or 2000 to 600 B.c., including both the Cretan-Mycenaean epoch and the early ages of historical Greece. In the former the pottery is either decorated in polychrome on a shining black ground or conversely in shining black on a buff ground; in the latter, the decoration is in brown or black (usually dull, not shiny) on an unglazed ground varying from white to pale red. In the former again the decoration is marked by its naturalistic treatment of plant and animal forms; in the latter the ornaments are chiefly linear, floral or figures of animals; human figures and mythological scenes being very rare. II. Black figured Vases from about 600–50o B.C.; figures painted in shining black on a glossy ground varying from cream colour to bright orange red, with engraved lines and white and purple for details; subjects mainly from mythology and legend. IV. Vases of the Decadence, from 400 to 200 B.C.; mostly from southern Italy, technique as in Class III., but the drawing is free On this subject see in particular Mazard, De la connaissance par les anciens des glacures plombifere.s, a scientific and valuable mono. graph (1879); also Rayet and Collignon, Hist. de la csramique grccquc, p. 365 (or B.I. Cat. of Roman Polk) y. Introduction). and often careless, and the general effect gaudy; subjects funereal, theatrical and fanciful. At the end of this period vases are largely replaced by plain shining black pottery modelled in various forms, or with decorations in relief, all these being imitations of the metal vases which began to take the place of painted wares in the estimation of the Hellenistic world. 1. Vases of the Primitive Period.—It has been noted in the introductory section that it is possible to trace the development of pottery in Greece as far back as the Neolithic period, owing chiefly to the light recently thrown on the sub- ject by the excavations in Crete. These have yielded large quantities of painted pottery of high technical merit, usually with decoration in polychrome or white on a dark ground, in what is known as the Kamares ware, cover- ing the period 2500-1500 B.C. (fig. 20). This was gradually superseded by painting in dark shining pigments on a light glossy ground during the later Minoan period (15oo-i000 B.C.), forming what is known From Annual of the British School at as the " Mycenaean " style. Athens. The subjects, though chiefly FIG. 2o.-Minoan or " Kamares " confined to floral ornaments or ware, from Crete. aquatic plants and creatures, are marvellously naturalistic yet decorative in their treatment, often rivalling in this respect the pottery of the Far East. In the latter part of this period this class of pottery was spread all over the Mediterranean, and large quantities have been found in Greece, especially at Mycenae, in Rhodes and other Greek islands, and in Cyprus, where a series of vases with animals, monsters, and even human figures shows what is prob- • ably the latest development of the '0 pure Minoan or Mycenaean style. Outside Crete the earliest Greek pottery has been found in Cyprus and at Troy, with simple incised or painted patterns on a black polished ground, the vases being all hand- made, and often treated in a plastic fashion with rude modelling of human or animal forms (figs. 21, 22); these cover the period 2500-2000 B.C. Early painted pottery, parallel with the Kamares ware, has been found in Thera and in the important cemeteries of Phylakopi in Melos. But until the general spread of Mycenaean civilization and art in the latter half of the second millennium there is no site except Crete where a continuous and successful development can be studied. About the time which is represented in Greek tradition by the Dorian invasion (Imo B.C.) the then decadent Mycenaean civilization was replaced by a new one much more backward in development, making pottery of a far simpler and more con- ventional type, the decoration being largely confined to geometrical patterns to the exclusion of motives derived from plant forms. This is usually known as the geometrical' style, and the pottery covers the period from about I00o to 700 B.C. It is found all over the mainland and islands of Greece, and exhibits a certain development towards a more advanced stage. The patterns include the chevron, the triangle, the key or maeander, and the circle, in various combinations, painted in dull black on a brown ground. In most places the art advanced no further, but in Boeotia, and still more at Athens, we can trace the gradual growth of decorative skill, first in the introduction of animals, and then in the appearance of the human figure. In the Athenian cemetery outside the Dipylon gate a series of colossal vases has come to light, on which are painted such subjects as sea-fights and funeral processions. The human figures are exceedingly rude and conventional, painted almost entirely in silhouette, but there is a distinct striving after artistic effect in the composition and arrangement. In Boeotia the vases do not advance beyond the animal stage, and many exhibit a tendency to de-cadence in their carelessness, as contrasted with the painstaking helplessness of the Athenian artists. In Ionia and the islands of the Aegean such as Rhodes, the art of vase-painting from the first carried on the Mycenaean tradition, and was distinguished by its naturalism and originality, and by the bold and diverse effects produced by variety of colour y or novelty of subject. The ornamentation is at first elementary, consisting of friezes of animals, especially lions, deer and goats (figs. 23 and 24). These figures stand out sharply in black against the creamy buff ground which is characteristic of nearly all Ionic pottery, and details are brought out by means of en-graved lines, patches of purplish iron pigment, or by drawing parts of the figures, especially the heads, in outline on the clay ground. Another feature is the general use of small ornaments such as rosettes and crosses in great variety of form to cover the background and avoid the vacant spaces which the Greek artist abhorred. The system of decoration has been thought to owe much to Assyrian textile fabrics. One of the best though most advanced examples of early Ionic pottery is a pinax or plate from Rhodes in the British Museum, on which is represented the combat of Menelaus and Hector over the body of Euphorbus (fig. 25); their names are inscribed over the figures, and this is almost the earliest known instance of a mythological subject, the date of the painting being not later than 60o B.C. To a slightly later date belongs another remark-able group of cups with figures on a white ground, probably made at Cyrene in North Africa. Of these the most famous has a painting in the interior, of Arcesilaus II., king of Cyrene from 580 to 550 B.C., weighing goods for export in a ship. Others have mythological subjects, such as Zeus, Atlas and Prometheus, Cadmus and Pelops. But these vases, though still retaining the older technique, really belong to the second class, that of black-figured vases, and they belong to a time when in all Ionian centres this method was being superseded by the new technique which Corinth had -.. 1...2., .._ . Menelaus and Hector over the body of Euphorbus. introduced and Athens perfected, to the consideration of which we must return. For some 150 years Corinth almost monopolized the industry of pottery on the west of the Aegean. Large numbers of examples have been found in or near the city itself, many bearing inscriptions in the peculiar local alphabet. They show a continuous progress from the simplest ornamentation to fully-developed black-figured wares. In the earliest (Plate I. fig. 52) oriental influence is very marked, the surface being so covered with the figures and patterns that the background disappears and the designs are at times almost unintelligible. The general effect is thus that of a rich oriental tapestry, and the subjects are largely chosen from the fantastic and monstrous creations of Assyrian art, such as the sphinx and gryphon. The vases are mostly small, the ground varies from cream to yellow, and the figures are painted in black and purple. Both in Ionia and at Corinth during the early part of the 6th century the same tendencies are seen to be at work, tending to a unification of styles under the growing influence of Athens. In Ionia (see above) figure subjects become more common, and the technique approaches gradually nearer to the black-figure method. Similarly at Corinth the ground ornaments diminish and disappear, the friezes of animals are restricted to the borders of the designs, and human figures are introduced, first singly, then in friezes or groups, and finally engaged in some definiteaction such as combats or hunting scenes. In the last stages Greek myths and legends are freely employed. A new development, traditionally associated with the painter Eumarus of Athens, was the distinguishing of female figures by the use of white for flesh tints. A somewhat similar development was in progress at Athens, though represented by comparatively few vases. Here the adoption of Corinthian and Ionian technical improvements evolved by the middle of the 6th century the fully developed black-figure style which by degrees supplanted or assimilated all other schools. II. Black-figured Vases.—At the head of this new development stands the famous Francois vase at Florence, found at Chiusi in 1844 (Plate I. fig. 53). Its shape is that of a krater or mixing-bowl, and it bears the signatures of its maker and decorator in the form " Ergotimos made me, Klitias painted me." It might be described as a Greek mythology in miniature, with its numerous subjects and groups of figures all from legendary sources such as the stories of Peleus, Theseus and Meleager, or the return of Hephaestus to heaven. All the figures have their names inscribed. The general technique of the black-figured vases has already been described. It may be noted as a chronological guide that the use of purple for details is much commoner in the earlier vases, white in the later, but towards the end of the century when the new fashion of red figures was gaining ground, both colours were almost entirely dropped. The drawing of the figures is, as might be expected, somewhat stiff and conventional, though it advanced considerably in freedom before the style went out of fashion. Many vases, otherwise carefully and delicately executed, are marred by an excess of mannerism and affectation, as in the works of the artists Amasis and Exekias (Plate I. fig. 54). The treatment of drapery is a good indication of date, ranging from flat masses of colour to oblique flowing lines of angular falling folds. The shapes most commonly employed by the Athenian potters of this period are the amphora, hydria, kylix, oinochoe and lekythos, the first-named being the most popular. A special class of amphorae is formed by the Panathenaic vases, which were given as prizes in the Athenian games, and were adorned with a figure of the patron goddess Athena on one side and a representation of the contest in which they were won on the other (fig. 26). They usually bear the inscription r%~v 'AO vijOev aOXwv apt, " I am (a prize) from the games at Athens." Some of these can be dated by the names of Athenian archons which they bear, as late as the 4th century, the old method of painting in black figures with a stiff conventional pose for the goddess being retained for religious reasons. The chief interest of the black-figured vases is really derived from their subjects, which range over every conceivable field, the proportion of myth and legend to scenes from daily life being much greater than in the sue- FIG. 26.-Panathenaic amphorae ceeding period. They include groups of Olympian and other deities, and the various scenes in which they take part, such as the battle of the gods and giants, or the birth of Athena (treated in a very conventional manner, as on a fine amphora in the British Museum); Dionysus and his attendant satyrs and maenads, the labours and exploits of Heracles and other heroes, subjects taken from the tale of Troy and other less familiar legends; and scenes from daily life, battle scenes, athletics, the chase and so on. The same classification of course holds good for the later periods of vase-painting, with some exceptions. The proportion of genre-scenes subsequently becomes greater, and some myths disappear, others rise into prominence, new deities such as Eros (Love), and Nike (Victory) appear for the first time, and, generally speaking, the later subjects are characterized by a sentimentality or tendency to emotion which is entirely foreign to the conventional stereo-typed compositions of the 6th century artist. A remarkable feature of the subjects on black-figured vases is that a stereotyped form of composition is invariably adopted at least for the principal figures, but minor variations are generally to be found, as, for instance, in the number of bystanders; and it is almost an impossibility to find any two vase-paintings which are exact duplicates. The form of the composition was partly determined by the field available for the design ; when this took the form of a long frieze the space was filled up with a series of spectators or the repetition of typical groups, but when the design is on a framed panel or confined by ornamental borders the method of treatment is adapted from that of a sculptured metope, and the figures limited to two or three. In many cases it is difficult to decide, in the absence of inscriptions, whether or no a scene has mythological signification; the mythological types are over and over again adopted for scenes of ordinary life, even to the divine attributes or poses of certain figures. Among the artists of the period who have left their names on the vases, besides those already mentioned, the most conspicuous is Nicosthenes, a potter of some originality, from whose handthe artist Andocides, who not only produced vases in each method, but also several in which the two are combined (fig. 27). In two or three cases the subject is actually the same on each side, almost every detail being repeated, except that the colouring is reversed. The date at which the change took place was formerly placed well on in the 5th century, on account of the great advance in drawing which most of the red-figured vases show, as compared with the black. They were thus regarded as contemporary with the painter Polygnotus, if not with Pheidias. But the excavations on the Acropolis of Athens yielded so many fragments in the advanced red-figured style which must be earlier than 48o B.C., that it has become necessary to find an earlier date for its appearance. This is now usually placed at about 520 B.C., overlapping with the preceding period. The red-figure period is usually subdivided into four, marking the chief stages of development, and known respectively as the " severe," " strong," " fine," and "late fine " periods. Their principal characteristics and representative painters may be briefly enumerated. In the severe period there is no marked advance on the black-figured vases as regards style. The figures are still more or less stiff and conventional, and some vases even show signs of an analogous decadence. The real development is partly technical, Vase by Andocides. Black figures on obverse. FIG. 27. Vase by_Andocides. Red figures on reverse. we have over seventy examples, a few being in the red-figure method. He is supposed to have introduced at Athens a revival of the Ionic fashion of painting on a cream-coloured ground instead of on red, of which some very effective examples have been preserved. He was always a potter rather than a painter, and most of his vases are remarkable for their forms—introducing plastic imitations of metal vases—rather than for their painted decoration. Most of the artists of this period, as in the succeeding one, have left their signatures on cups (kylikes), but this form did not receive so much attention from the painter as at a later period, and many of these examples bear only inscriptions and no painted decoration. The most typical artist of the period was Epictetus, and other famous cup-painters were Pamphaeus, Cachrylion and Phintias. The earliest cups are decorated in a quite simple fashion like those of the black-figure period, often with a single figure each side between two large " symbolical " eyes, and a single figure in a circle in the interior. To the latter the artist at first devoted his chief efforts, though even here his scope was at first limited. But although he had not yet attained to skill in composition, he did discover that the circular space was well adapted for exhibiting his newly-acquired abilities as a draughtsman and for disposing figures in ingeniously conceived attitudes. In all cases the object was to fill the space as far as possible, a characteristic of all the best Greek art. By degrees more attention was paid to the designs on the exterior, and the single figures were replaced by groups, but regular compositions in the form of friezes telling some story were not introduced until quite the end of this period. Epictetus was throughout his career a thoroughly " archaic " artist, but a considerable advance was made by Cachrylion, who stands on the verge of the succeeding stage. The strong period centres round the name of Euphronius, the author of a really great artistic movement. His capacity for inventing new subjects or new poses—or otherwise overcoming technical and artistic difficulties —marks a great advance on all previous achievements, and he seems to represent the stage of development traditionally associated with the painter Cimon of Cleonae, the in-. ventor of foreshortening and other novelties. Thus figures were no longer represented exclusively in pro-file, as in the black-figured vases which had made no advance beyond the conventions of Egyptian art. Ten vases signed by him are in existence (though it is not certain that all were actually painted by him), most of them having mythological subjects (fig. 28). Of his contemporaries, Duris, Hieron and Brygus take foremost rank, all three being, like Euphronius, essentially cup-painters, though they use other forms at times. For decorative effect and beauty of composition their vases have never been surpassed. As an example we may quote a kotyle or beaker in the British Museum signed by Hieron, with a group of Eleusinian deities. The larger vases of this period are more rarely signed, but many of them rival the cups in execution, though the subjects are characterized by greater simplicity and largeness of style. In the fine style (460-440 B.C.) breadth of effect and dignity are aimed at, and although cup-painting had passed its zenith, and signed specimens become rarer, yet, considering the red-figured vases as a whole, this period exhibits the perfection of technique and drawing. In many of the larger vases the scenes are of a pictorial character, landscape being introduced, with figures ranged at different levels, and herein we may see a reflection of the style pf the painter Polygnotus.. One of the finest cups in this style is in the Berlin Museum, it is signed by the artists Erginus and Aristophanes, and the subject is the battle of the gods and giants. To the end of the period belongs a beautiful hydria in the British Museum by the painter Meidias with subjects from Greek legend in two friezes (fig. 29). Generally speaking, there is a reaction in favour of mythological subject* In the late fine style, which begins about 440 B.C., the pictorial effect is preserved, but with perfected skill in drawing the com- positions deteriorate greatly in merit, and become at once over- refined and careless. The figures are crowded together without meaningorinterest. The fashion also arose of enhancing the de- signs by means of accessory colours—almost unknown in the previous stages—such as white laid on in masses, blue and green, and even with gilding. Athletic and mythological subjects yield place to scenes from the life of women and children or meaningless groups of figures (fig. 30). A good example of this style is an amphora from Rhodes with the subject of Peleus wooing Thetis, in which polychrome colouring and gilding are intro- duced. There are also many imposing and elaborate speci- mens found (and perhaps made) in the colonies of the Crimea and the Cyrenaica; in particular one signed by Xenophantus with the Persian king hunting, and an- other representing the contest of Athena and Poseidon for the soil of Attica, both from the *Crimea. Contemporary with the red-figure method is one in which the figures are painted on a white slip or engobe resembling pipe-clay, with which the whole surface was covered; the figures are drawn in outline in red or black, and partly filled in with washes of colour, chiefly red, purplish red, or brown, but sometimes also with blue or green. This style seems to have been popular about the middle of the 5th century B.C. and was employed for the funeral lekythoi which came into fashion at Athens about that time. These vases, which form a class by them-selves, were made specially for funeral ceremonies and were painted with subjects relating to the tomb, such as the laying-out of the corpse on the bier, the ferrying of the dead over the Styx by Charon, or (most frequently) mourners bringing offerings to the tomb (fig. 31). They continued to be made well on into the 4th century, but the later examples are very de-generate and careless. Of other forms, especially the kylix and the Pyxis (toilet-box), some exceedingly beautiful speci- mens have come down to us, which show a delicacy of draw- ing and firmness of touch never surpassed, although the lines were probably only drawn with a brush. The technique of these vases may reflect the methods of the painter Polygnotus and his contemporaries, who used a limited number of colours on a white ground. Among them no finer specimen exists than the cup in the British Museum with Aphrodite riding on a goose; the design is entirely in brown outlines, and the drawing, if slightly archaic, full of grace and refinement. In the subjects on red-figured vases we do not find the same variety of choice as on the black-figured, but on the other hand there is infinitely greater freedom of treatment. The stereotyped form of composition is almost entirely discarded, and each painter forms his own conception of his subject. The class of slim amphorae, known as " Nolan " from the place where they were mostly found, are distinguished by having the design limited to one or at most two figures on each side, often on a large scale; these vases are also famous for the marvellous brilliance of their shining black (fig. 32). Towards the middle of the 5th century the patriotism of the Athenian artist finds expression in the growing importance which he attaches to local legends, especially those of Theseus, the typical Attic hero. He seems to have been regarded as the typical Athenian athlete or ephebus, and his contests as analogous to episodes of the gymnasium. Hence the grouping on some vases of scenes from his labours are like so many groups of athletes (fig. 33), and hence, too, a general tendency of the red-figured vases, especially the cups, to become a sort of glorification of the Attic ephebus, the representations of whom in all sorts of occupations are out of all proportion to other subjects. . We find evidence of this, too, in another form. Many vases, especially the cups of the " severe " and " strong " periods, bear names of persons inscribed on the designs with the word scabs, "fair" or " noble," attached; sometimes merely, " the boy is fair." The exact meaning of this practice has been much discussed, but evi- dence seems to show that the persons celebrated must have been quite young at the time, and were probably youths famous for their beauty or athletic prowess. Some of the names are those of historical characters, such as Hipparchus, Miltiades or Alcibiades, and, though they cannot always be identified with these celebrated personages, enough evidence has been obtained to i. of great value for the chronology of the vases. Further, the practice of the vase-painter of adopting his own particular favourite name or set of names has enabled us to increase our knowledge of the characteristics of individual artists by identifying unsigned vases with the work of particular schools. IV. Vases of the Decadence.—For all practical purposes the red-figure style at Athens came to an end with the fall of the city in 404 B.C. Painted vases did not then altogether cease to be made, as the Panathenaic prize vases and the funeral lekythoi testify, but at the same time a rapid decadence set in. The whole tendency of the 4th century B.C. in Greece was one of decentralization, and the art of vase-painting was no exception, for we find that there must have been a general migration of craftsmen from Athens, not only to the Crimea and to North Africa, but also to southern Italy, which now becomes the chief centre of vase production. Here there were many rich and flourishing Greek colonies or Grecianized towns, such as Tarenturn, Paestum and Capua, ready to welcome the new art as an addition to their many luxuries. In the character of the vases of this period we see their tendencies reflected, especially in their splendid or -showy aspect; the only aim being size and gaudy colouring. The general method of painting remains that of the Athenian red-figure vases, but with entire loss of simplicity or refinement, either in the ornamentation, the choice of colours, or the drawing of the figures. Large masses of white are invariably employed, especially for the flesh of women or of Eros, the universally present god of Love, and for architectural details. Yellow is introduced for details of hair or features, and in attempts at shading, nor is a dull iron-purple uncommon. The reverses of the vases, when they have subjects, are devoid of all accessory colouring, and the figures are drawn with the greatest carelessness, as if not intended to be seen. There is throughout a lavish use of ornamental patterns such as palmettes, wreaths of leaves, or ornaments strewn over the field (a reversion to an old practice). The drawing, having now become entirely free, errs in the opposite extreme; the forms are soft and the male figures often effeminate. The fanciful and richly-embroidered draperies of the figures and the frequent architectural settings seem to indicate that theatrical representations exercised much influence on the vase-painters. The great painters of the 4th century may also have contributed their share of inspiration, but rather perhaps in the subjects chosen than in regard to style; though the effect of many scenes on the larger vases is decidedly pictorial, they are chiefly remarkable for their emotional and dramatic themes. - The influence of the stage is twofold, for tragedy as well as comedy plays its part. Many subjects are taken directly, others indirectly, from the plays of Euripides, such as the Medea, Hecuba (Plate II. fig. 6o), or Hercules Furens, and the arrangement of the scenes is essentially theatrical. The influence of C N
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