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in the fourth. Though some of the vases of lower Italy are

1 As to these, see the work of Pettier, Les Ucythes hlancs attiques. Plate
II. of that work represents a forgery.

Fig. 40. — Lekythos
from Athens.




conspicuous for size and elaboration, the designs are in style
disappointing, showing softness, carelessness, and want of
fixed principle. Some of them are however important on
account of their subjects, and more especially in relation to
the dramas of Euripides.

Forms. — Although the painted vases of our museums were
made for decoration, not for use, since they are too fragile to

Oenochoe, d

Ilvdria, a

Krater, h Volute Krater, e

Fig. 41. — a, Hydria ; h, Krater; c, Krater; d, Oenochoe.

be easily handled, and too porous to contain liquid, yet in their
forms they resemble the vessels of coarse earthenware or of
precious metal which were used in the service of Greek houses.


Sometimes, indeed, the forms are evidently closely copied from
metal prototypes. It is unnecessary here to detail all the forms
used for painted vases, which are in number many hundred;^
we need mention but a few typical examples; for our concern
here is not so much with the potter's art, as with the more
expressive and graphic manifestations of the Hellenic spirit.
The chief classes of vases are the amphora, an ornate imita-
tion of vessels for storing wine, the krater or mixing vessel (Fig.
41, b, c), the hf/dria, with three handles (Fig. 41, a), wherein water
was fetched from the well, the oenoclioe or wine-jug (Fig. 41, d),
the kylix or drinking-vessel, the lekythos or oil-flask, the j^y^^s or

Fig. 42.— Kylix.

toilet vase, etc. For the purposes of the vase-painter the most
important form was the kylix (Fig. 42), which allowed of a
series of connected or complementary subjects. The two fields
of the vessel on the outside offered two oblong spaces, the upper
and lower lines of which were curved, so that each had a form
not unlike that of a pediment, with the action culminating in
the centre, while in the interior was a circular field, suited to a
group of two or three figures.

In the case of the larger vases, such as the amphora and the
krater, the field for the design is usually either oblong or
square. In early vases we have commonly a series of narrow

1 For engravings of forms, see the Catalor/ue of Vases in the British
Museum, Vols. II., III., Introduction; also Furtwiingler's Catalogue of Vases
at Berlin, Heydemann's Catalogue of Vases at Najjles, etc.




bands running round ; but as time goes on greater simplicity
comes in, and in the best period a simple group which occupies
a space roughly square or oblong is most usual (Fig. 43).

A noteworthy point in regard to Greek vases is that the
scenes depicted on them have frequently a reference to the
purpose of the vase. As the sepulchral lekythi already men-
tioned bear subjects taken from Greek burial custom, so there
appear nuptial scenes on the vases used at marriages, and
scenes from the lives of women on the pots which held their
unguents. On the kylix appear many representations of the
social life of Athens.

Fig. 43. — Amphora, Ashmoleau Museum.



A Greek Vase as a Whole. — The form, the decoration, the
designs, all go together, and are all worked out in relation one
to the other. The form requires a certain arrangement of the
linear decoration, the decoration suggests the form of the sub-
jects to be drawn on the vase. And all these elements of the
vase not only bear simple relations one to the other, but are in
themselves simple.

But the vase which is a whole is made up of parts, each of
which has a purpose in subordination to the purpose of the
whole. The mouth in the oenochoe is made in trefoil shape
for pouring, in an amphora wide to admit the ladle, in the
crater wider still. The lekythos has but one handle, as it is
used for oil, the amphora two, that it may be lifted with
two hands, the hydria three, two for the lifting of the vessel
and one whereby it may be held in place on the shoulder.
The breadth of the foot is carefully proportioned to the
diameter of the vase, so as to secure a reasonable stability.
Handles, foot, and neck, it may be added, were usually made
apart, and joined on to the trunk of the vase when shaped, but
of course before baking.

Some of the strict rational laws of decoration which we found

to be potent in architecture hold in the case of vases also.

Here also the parts wdiich bear the most strain are the least

adorned, and such decoration as they bear follows the line of



strain. The handles, liable to constant friction, are usually not
decorated; the neck, if long, is sometimes adorned in linear
fashion, as is a column with flutings. In black-hgured vases
there is a circle of rays springing upward from the foot, but
later this is given up. The design on red-figured vases is com-
monly bounded above and below by a band of maeanders or
other simple pattern, a band w^hich not only frames the design,
but seems to hold the vase together. When the shoulder of a
vase is broad, it sometimes bears a subject ; but this is subor-
dinate to the principal subject, which occupies the main field of
the vase. When the shoulder is narrow, as in lekythi, it only
bears a pattern. Elaborate palmette patterns often adorn the
parts whence the handles spring, and serve to separate the
obverse from the reverse design.

As the forms of vases are fairly constant, so the decora-
tion changes but slowly, and persists over long periods of
time. Each class of vase preserves its own kind of decora-

After speaking of the forms of vases it w^ould be natural,
before coming to the painted scenes, to treat of the elements of
their linear decoration. This is a matter which greatly interests
all real students of vases. Xot only is it a marvel to see how
out of a few simple forms — the maeander, the lotus, the pal-
mette — the vase-painter contrives a considerable variety of
graceful borders and designs to fill blank spaces, but also the
details of the decoration of a vase are among the surest indica-.
tions of its date and the place where it was produced. The
reasons why the subject is not here discussed are that it is too
detailed, and too intimately connected wnth the w^hole history
of vase-painting. It w^ould also require an impossible number
of illustrations.^

1 A good, though not very recent, book on the subject of the decoration of
vases is Lau's Die griechischen Vasen, with the text by Brunn and Krell.




Conditions of Space. — In examining the designs on a vase,
the first thing to consider is the conditions of space. After
the very early period, the field on a vase reserved for the
designs was clearly marked out, and often bounded by lines of
maeanders or other ornament. The ordinary forms of the field

Fig. 44. — Vase from Rhodes.

are oblong, square, or round. In the case of the kylix, as we
have seen (Fig. 42), the peculiar shape of the designs on the
exterior gives them a character approaching that of the pedi-
ment. The square field, if simply treated, will resemble that
of the metope, and long spaces of small height will naturally




lend themselves to continuous scenes such as those which we
ihid in the friezes of temples. Thus all the kinds of decora-
tive sculpture which belong to Greek temples may be said to
have parallels in vase-painting.

In the vases of the early classes there is conspicuous what
has been called a horror vacai on the part of the designer. He
has a strong objection to allowing any part of the field of a
vase to remain undecorated. For this reason, probably, the
whole surface is covered with bands of animals, or processions
of monsters superimposed one above the other. The horror
vacui may take a very simple and naive form. The spaces
in the designs which adorn early Ionian or Corinthian vases
are filled up with little geometric patterns or rosettes (Fig. 41).

In the somewhat
more developed
works of early black-
figured classes, the
subjects of which
are chariot-groups
or simple groups of
J| human figures, fl}^-
ing birds, hares,
and other

animals are often
introduced for the
same purpose, and
without reference
to the subject por-
trayed. As an ex-

FiG. 45.

■Cyrenaic vase.

ample I figure a kylix of the Cyrenaic class (Fig. 45), on which
Is represented a hero slaying a serpent in front of a tem-
ple, while flying birds, a hare, and a serpent fill up the field.^

1 Arch. Zri ung. 1882, PI. XII., 2.




Another good example will be found in the owl beneath
Hermes in Fig. 81.

Afterwards one may find a survival of the same principle in
the skill with which the attitudes and positions of figures are
so contrived that they fit one into the other, and so occupy the
space that no blank meets the eye. A better example could

Fig. 46. —Vase l^y Hiero.

scarcely be found than a vase-painting of Hiero (Fig. 46), repre-
senting a dance of maenads,^ where we have a very beautiful
composition perfectly adapted to the space at the disposal of
the artist. It will be observed how the thyrsus of one maenad,
and the fawn carried by another, fit into spaces of the back-
ground; and indeed every figure is planned with direct reference

to its neighbours.

1 Wiener Vorlegeblatter, A., PI. 4.


A good deal of what has above been said as to the general
characteristics of early art, the law of frontality, and the
like, applies quite as much to vases as to the sculpture from
which most of our examples were taken ; though it is natural,
seeing how much easier the brush is to wield than the chisel,
that we find transgressions of these unwritten law^s of early art
more often on vases.

Dr. Lowy formulates the following seven rules as applying
to Greek drawing and painting in the archaic age,^ rules based
on the psychologic facts already mentioned (chapter V.).

(1) The shapes and attitudes of figures and parts of figures
are limited to a few typical forms,

(2) These forms are stylized, that is, made into linear
schemes either regular or approaching regularity.

(3) The representation of forms depends on the outline,
whether this be a linear contour, or made into a silhouette by
a filling of even colour.

(4) When colour is used, it is uniform, without introducing
degrees of light and shade.

(5) The figures generally offer themselves to the spectator
in their broadest aspect in every part.

(6) In a composition, the figures, with a few exceptions,
succeed one another in a series, avoiding overlapping or inter-
section in important parts; thus the nearer and further is
represented by an arrangement side by side.

(7) Representation of the place where a scene is enacted is
omitted or almost omitted.

The reader can test the correctness of these views, which
must on the wdiole be conceded, by examining any series of
archaic vase-paintings. The first five have x)erhaps been suffi-
ciently considered at the beginning of chapter V. As regards
(6) our illustrations abundantly prove that it holds even to the

1 Die Naturwiedergabe, pp. 3-9.


end of vase-painting. (See Fig. 79.) Occasional exceptions,
however, may be found, as Fig. 54. Place is, as we shall see
in chapter XII., indicated on later vases, but in a summary


Balance and Symmetry. — I have spoken of these already in
relation to Greek sculpture, and the principles already estab-
lished apply to the figures painted on vases as well as to those
executed in bronze and marble. Greek art is statuesque
throughout, or at least seems so to a modern eye, used to the
bold attempts and endless experiments of modern painting.
But the working of the j)rinciples in the particular field of
Greek vases requires further explanation.

This subject has been ably dealt with by Professor Brunn in
a series of remarkable papers.^ He traces in sculpture and in
vase-paintings the working of that principle of balance and
measure which runs through the whole of Greek poetry, phi-
losophy, and art. He writes as follows : —

'^ The tectonic principle is one of the most important factors
in Greek art, in the earliest time perhaps even the most impor-
tant. It prevails in the oldest works of art, the geometric
vase-paintings, the shields of Homer and Hesiod, etc., and if it
be true that the earliest decorative art of Greece shows less
clumsiness, laxity, and inconsistency than that of other peo-
ples, the reason is that from the beginning onwards it rests on
this principle and abides by it as it presses toward greater and
greater freedom."

A similar phenomenon meets us in poetry and literature.
Eules and traditions, when not carried to the length of for-


malism, serve not so much to fetter the artist as to give sug-
gestions to him, and to offer him a fair opportunity for the
exercise of his talent. Critics sometimes speak of the fatal

1 Ueber tehtonischen Styl in griech. PlastiTc unci Malerei ; Proceedings of
the Bavarian Academy, 1883 and 1884.


facility of blank verse, and this facility often drives it in the
direction of flatness or in that of over-elaboration. On the
other hand the intricate symmetry of the sonnet is probably
the condition which has prompted many really poetic thoughts.
As striking examples of the prevalence of the architectonic
principle, Brunn cites the Melian terra-cottas, one of which,
representing the slaying of the Chimaera by Bellerophon, is


% .1,1 j- • '-m r

Fig. 47. — Melian terra-cotta.


here given (Fig. 47).^ It is obvious how the whole group is
balanced in the manner of a geometrical figure, much, indeed,
like the Greek H. In another of the Melian groups, that of
Perseus on horseback, carrying the head of Medusa, whose
headless body is beneath the horse, we have a somewhat differ-
ent scheme, :}:; in fact, this tendency to schemes is universal.
Of course in the case of a terra-cotta figure, formed in a mould,
there are external and obvious reasons for close and methodical

1 Milliugen, Anc. Unedited Monuments, II., PI. 3.




packing of tlie grouxj ; but the same principle prevails in vase-
painting ; the lines of a vase exercise on the artist the same
kind of influence as the practical necessities of the mould; an
inner law takes the place of external pressure.

Turning to vase-paintings, we may first note a point on
which Brunn specially insists, that vase-
paintings stand in a delinite relation,
not only to the spaces which they are
to occupy^ but also to the shapes of the
vessels which they are to decorate.
The line of gravity of the figures is

Fig. 48. — Xolan amphora. Fig. 49. — Lekythos.

also the line of gravity of the vases ; the vase is as it were the




frame of the picture. This is especially clear when the subject
is a simple one, as on the little amphorae found at !N"ola, and
so called oSTolan, though they are no doubt of Attic fabric
(Fig. 48), and on lekythi (Fig. 49).

The relations to the space to be occupied are, however, more
important. We begin with a simple design adapted to an ob-
long space (Fig. 50).
The youth here depicted
is carefully balanced
about a line passing from
the head between the
feet. If he were in pro-
lik', this could be less
perfectly accomplished,
since the front of him
would, so to speak, out-
weigh the back. But by
turning the face in one
direction and the foot in
another, and placing one
arm in each half, more
perfect balance is se-
cured. In the same way,
when winged figures are
introduced, one wing is
pointed forward and one
backward, from a feel-
ing that the two wings
together would over-
balance a figure. (See
Fig. 12.) Next we may
take a design adapted to a circular field (Fig. 51). It would
well suit a square field, yet placed where it is it seems ready

Fig. 50. — From a vase, Aslimolean




to revolve round its centre: we feel the motion as well as the

Fig. 51. — From a kylix.

direction of face and limbs to be specially suitable. Another
skilful adaptation to a
circular field may be ob-
served on a vase of Epic-
tetus in the British
Museum ^ (Fig. 52).

In vase-paintings which
contain more than one
figure we may trace from
early times the same care-
ful balancing. With the
vase last cited one may
compare another kylix,
from the same pottery, Fig. 52.— Kylixby Epictetus.

where two figures are carefully interlaced (Fig. 53).^
1 British Museum Catalogue of Vases, III., PI. VI., 1. 2 /^/(^.^ pj. yi.^ 2.




Little more than heraldic is the grouping of human-headed
birds and panthers on a vase of the Ashmolean Museum (Fig.
54). When human figures are introduced, this mechanical bal-
ance is naturally modified by the action and purpose of the
group. An example is given from
a vase (Fig. 55) at Munich,^ where
we may note two points : (1) Sword

Fig. 53. — Kylix by Epictetus.

Fig. 54. — Vase in the Ashmolean

and helmet form a pivot, on either side of which is a figure
carefully balanced; (2) these two figures follow the lines of
the neck of the vase. Kot only is the whole space used, but
the lines of gravity accord with the form of the vase.

In a three-figure design, the midmost of the three figures is
often balanced about its centre in the same way as a single
figure, and the two flanking figures are turned toward it (Fig.
59). In a four-figure design the two midmost figures commonly

1 Lau, PI. XXIV., 2.




form a group. As an example, we may cite a vase in the
Ashmolean ]\Iuseum (Fig. 56), where in the midst is Dionysus
and an attendant satyr, forming a group which is on each side
flanked by a maenad turned toward it.

More elaborate schemes by more skilful composers, where
group balances group rather than figure hgure, and where male

Fig. 55. — Vase at Munich.

Fig. 56. — Vase in Ashmolean Museum.

and female forms are used in contrasted poses, may be abun-
dantly found on vases. We have the same development in
sculpture, from the rigid symmetry of the Aeginetan pedi-
ments to the thoughtful balance of those of the Parthenon.

It requires a careful observation to trace, in the elaborate
designs of the more accomplished vase-painters, the way in
which a careful balance is preserved, and yet is not allowed to


degenerate into nniformity and insipidity. Good examples will
be found below in Figs. 66, 72, 74, etc. Alike in filling up the
spaces of the background, and in furthering the rhythm of the
design, great use is made of drapery. I purposely say drapery
rather than dress, drapery being dress treated rather in refer-
ence to a design than in reference to the wearer. In the best
Greek vases both of these considerations are taken into

We may next consider the relations of the paintings on a
vase to one another. Vases of the larger kinds, amphorae in
particular, have usually what may well be called an obverse
and a reverse, two groups on the front and the back of the
vase, corresponding to and balancing one another. These
vases show not unfrequently some continuation or correspond-
ence of subject in the two designs. For example, on a vase
of the class called Nolan, because commonly found at Nola,
though of Attic fabric (Fig. 57), which is now in the Ashmolean
Museum,^ we see on one side the goddess Eos, the Dawn, who
fell in love with Tithonus, and Tithonus on the other. On
another vase of the same class we see Hector on one side and
Andromache, with the child Astyanax, on the other. How-
ever, more commonly by far the main design is depicted on one
side, while the other is occupied by a mere decorative figure
or group without much meaning. It is clear that these ves-
sels were exhibited in such a way that only one side of them
was usually seen. In the case of the hydria, the oenochoe, and
the lekythos, where one side of the vase was occupied by the
handle, one side only was used for a painted scene.

The painter of the kylix, who has two larger and one
smaller space at his disposal, has a specially good opportunity
1 Journal of Hellenic Studies, XIII., p. 137. 2 jtia., IX., p. 11.




of depicting successive scenes from one story, and sometimes
he takes the opportunity. For example, on a kylix in the
British Museum/ we hnd depicted on the outside six of the
adventures of Theseus, arranged in two groups, and in the mid-
dle of the interior a seventh adventure, that with the Mino-


Fig. 57. — Eos and Tithonus.

taur. Again, on the Troilus vase of Euphronius ^ we see on
one side Achilles seizing Troilus, on the other the Trojans
arming, while in the interior we have depicted the slaying of
Troilus at the altar of Apollo. Such a planning is, however,
unusual, and almost peculiar to the best class of painters.
More commonly, as in the Francois vase, the chest of Kyp-

1 Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1881, PI. 10.

2 Klein, Euphronios, p. 213; Gerhard, Auserlesene Vasenbilder, PI. 225.



sehis, and other archaic works, the artist seems to pluck almost
at randoDi the ripe fruit of the tree of mythology, and the sub-
jects which balance or adjoin one another have no relation one
to the other. It is often tempting, in explaining a beautiful
vase, to try to trace some motive of the artist in putting to-
gether the particular scenes which he has selected, what Brnnn
called a poetical relation, or connection of ideas ; but usually
it is a lost labour, for the subjective feeling too much leads our
judgment, and we know by long experience how differently the
mind of an ancient artist worked from that of a modern painter.
Unless, therefore, the connection between one scene of a vase
and another is obvious, it is better to be somewhat sceptical in
allowing it.^

Perspective in Greek vases is a matter which may be dealt
with briefly. In the earlier classes of ware, balance takes the
place of perspective. Figures are placed so as to correspond
one to the other all in the same plane, or are grouped together
in schemes — the wrestling scheme, Herakles and the lion, and
the like. Even when greater skill became usual, towards the
middle of the fifth century, the vase-painters thought, and
rightly thought, that figures much foreshortened, or distorted,
or arranged among themselves in any fashion at all compli-
cated, were not suitable to the architectonic conditions of their
art. Occasionally, however, we find on vases bolder poses, as
in the negro's head above cited (Fig. 32). In some classes of
red-figured vases, especially those of Duris the vase-painter,
bold experiments are tried, like those reported of Cimon of
Cleonae ; but they are unusual. I figure (Fig. 58) a notable
example of foreshortening from a vase from Rhodes in the
British INIuseum. The representation is of a Nereid nymph,

1 This matter is discussed by Brunn in his Troische Miscellen, Part III., and
by Robert in Bilcl unci Lied, p. 97.







who flies in terror when Peleus seizes her sister Thetis, and
in so doing turns her back to the spectator.

Generally speaking, as in other branches of art, so in this,
it was in accordance with the artistic instinct of the Greeks
willingly to abide by the limitations set them by the fixed
rules of tradition. To the end of Greek history epic poets
wrote in the Homeric dialect, and dramatists never trans-
gressed the limits set by the mask and the cothurnus of
Aeschylus. It is precisely this perfection by law and within
limits that is the secret of Greek art.

Yet when, in the days of Polygnotus, a definite scheme of
quasi-perspective was introduced into fresco-painting, some
echoes of it made their way into the painting of vases. It
would seem that until the age of Polygnotus painting had

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Online LibraryPercy GardnerA grammar of Greek art → online text (page 12 of 18)