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The black figure vases pi in die earliest major corpus of mythological scenes in Greek art, and are di. They have di 1 ii'ii claimed an important part in any study of Greek art or myth, and. Nevertheless, pnMc i! This handbook hopes to remedy shortcomings — to give a history of the art full and detailed enough! I lie account of the styles of Athenian black figure painting is based on Sir I'.
This he 1' I expounded in articles and books, and in his Development of Attic Block I ly'ine he gives an account of the subject which is more profound than dial offered here, but less complete, less fully illustrated and different in its uni, being based on a series ot lectures.
Other chapters rely in varying degrees "ii the articles and books of other scholars, but, throughout, the need to 7 consider. So this attempts rather more than a summary of the work of others, and tor a subject which is too readily studied piecemeal nowadays, or very briefly and conventionally sketched in the art histories, it is perhaps timely to present a more detailed synoptic view.
One further point on the subject-matter of this book must be made here. From about bc on the major technique of vase painting in Athens is red figure, not black figure, and some painters practised both techniques. It might seem strange to exclude consideration of the red figure vases here.
I have done my best to indicate where red figure has its effect and to remind the reader of the importance of the new idiom, but a comparably detailed study of its development must appear elsewhere.
The pictures in the book have been chosen to demonstrate the full development of the style, but also to illustrate the fullest possible range ot shapes and figure scenes. It has sometimes proved convenient to use drawings to display the full spread of a figure scene or decoration which is hard to discern on a poorly preserved surface. It would, of course, have been agreeable to have presented still more pictures, and larger ones, but then this would have been a quite different book, at a quite different price.
The resources of the Ashmolean Museum Library and the Beazley archive of photographs have considerably lightened my task. It involves painting figures in black silhouette, incising ill linear detail so that the pale clay shows through the black, and adding, if!
It was Corinthians, then, who developed ill' technique through the seventh century on vases dominated by animal Inezes, with occasional myth scenes, in the meticulous miniaturist style of the I'rotocorinthian series. The vases were not being collected in any numbers until the eighteenth century, usually from Italy where the built tombs often gave up intact specimens.
This has meant, in the first place, 1h. From the beginning scholarly and dilettante interest in the vases was directed to the mythological content of the figure scenes upon them. In this book, devoted to the black figure vases, in relative isolation from arts in other materials and periods, it has proved possible only to summarise the iconographic conventions peculiar to black figure and give a guide to the recognition of figures and scenes.
The shape of the vases appealed from the start to the Neo-Classicist. By the end ot the last century the attribution of unsigned vases began to occupy scholars, but it was left to John Beazley who died, a Knight and Companion of Honour, in to face the whole range of surviving vases, and to put order into the study of their painters. The principles of attribution, based on the combination ot an overall appraisal of style and composition, with comparative study of detail, as in the rendering of drapery or anatomy, were well demonstrated in his early essay on a black figure artist, the Antimenes Painter, published in These principles arc the ones which have guided the work ot many other scholars who have contributed to this field of study.
And Beazley was no art historical snob. He devoted as much care to assigning and collecting the work of poor or hack artists as to that of the masters. As a result, his view and ours can be comprehensive over the full range ot the ware, and this has made possible its archaeological use as a yardstick tor the relative and absolute chronology of Archaic Greece.
The historical importance of this work cannot be argued in detail here, but will receive passing mention where the principles of chronology are discussed. We know the names of about a dozen Athenian black figure painters for certain, but Beazley has some four hundred artists or groups. The new names 10 Hi. II charted wares of Archaic Greece. Who were these men, painters and potters? We must start from their '". But against the few names thus offered there are sixty winch appear as '.
Here we are quite clearly dealing with either ilu potter or the studio owner, and in many instances it is apparent that the 1 1 nnmon factor is potter work. Where Exekias does not sign with the twin I. We shall also find examples where we can be reasonably sure di. But most surviving signatures seem to be of potters or owners, and that they were 1 1 I inscribed by painters who by choice or necessity remained anonymous is a reflection upon the importance ot the potter in the industry, an importance which we, preoccupied with the decoration, may too easily torget.
In the early sixth century the Athenian law-giver Solon is said to have encouraged the immigration ot non-Athenian craftsmen. Apart from some Corinthian-inspired potter work there is no clear evidence from the vases tor the work of hands trained elsewhere, but the story does reflect on the important role of non-citizen metics in the practice of the arts in Athens.
And we can add to this the evidence later in the century for the presence of island and Ionian sculptors working in Athens. To these we may add some names of potters and painters of early red figure - Sikanos, another Sicilian native name; Mys, ot Mysia; Skythes, ot Scythia; Brygos, of Thrace. We shall see that Amasis provides a good test of this, and the results are inconclusive but at least suggestive. There are no signatures on Athenian black figure vases until the painter Soph i I os in the s.
Then they come thick and fast, but there is many a good painter, to whose hand over a hundred vases can be attributed, who seems never to have signed. So the signatures are a matter of personal pride or choice, rather than deliberate advertisement, except tor the potter or owner Nikosthenes who saw that most of his work was counter-signed.
The status ot the artists we can barely judge. That they should praise the dandies of the day with kalos names see p. These are all subjects to which there will be occasion to n nu n at various stages in the narrative. The quarter lay in the over- b" li area between the American excavations in the Agora and the Cerfnan 1 nations at the Dipylon Gate. It may seem too easy to romance, even holarly, but we lose a lot in our understanding of antiquity by letting lists Hi'I shapes and alleged affinities dominate study.
Odysseus 2 Prolocorinlliian olpe. The Athenian painter was well aware of the new technique since, although his own vases never travelled further than Aegina or the Islands, the Corinthian did, and they were well known in Athens itself. A tew painters could rise above this restriction and offer finely composed narrative scenes, while the quality ot potting is always high. By the end of the phase described in this chapter, the regime of the animal friezes was coming to an end.
The Pioneers c. He is the Paintf. Two of his vases are.. But the rest is black figure o nil lavish additions of red and white. He was probably at work by , but not as late as since il" 1' is no sign of the influence of the full Corinthian style of black figure. An earlier master of the animal style was identified from finds in Athens and Aegina and called the Chimaera Painter I I "in die subject he twice painted 7]. More finds in Athens and especially in dh Attic countryside cemetery at Vari have made clear that one artist only is involved, and his stature and importance can now be properly judged.
His earliest vases resemble ilio. I I is vases, like his figures, are big: the massive skyphos-craters [6j 1. The only small vases he painted were of another new shape, the shallow bowl known as a lekane, reserved for animal friezes and with animals or a gorgoneion in the tondo within. The double shoulder line for beasts soon becomes a hallmark of Attic painting, as well as the greater detail bestowed on animal features and limbs. He is particularly good at incised surface patterns on bodies, of locks, scales, feathers or circles.
He uses little white, except in the lines of dots in the Corinthian manner and for some female flesh, but he likes red in broad masses, or alternating with black for wing feathers, and tor male and some monster faces.
The debt to Corinth in his filling ornament has been indicated, but with it there are black figure versions of the delicate palmetto tendrils from Protoattic and Island vases.
The heraldic animals on his large vases pose with dignity and are well fitted to the bellying bodies or domed lids which they decorate. They reduce well in the smaller friezes and admit still the grazing horses, rare at Corinth, but familiar on Athenian vases since Geometric. His mythological scenes have all the monu- mentality of Protoattic but he has learned from Corinth to make his figures move with a new and subtle plausibility and he can devote major areas of vases to myth, even excerpting from a stock scene as with the Gorgon Sisters who lack their quarry on his name vase.
He successfully combines the best qualities of the Athenian tradition in vase painting with the new subjects and techniques of Corinth. Others, like the Bellerophon Painter, crowd their big vases with figures and fill which become hard to distinguish, while the Lion Painter with his balding, worried lions  has a flair which leaves us regretting that so little of his work survives. But the production of figure- decorated vases in Athens in these years was far from brisk and, but for a Nessos Painter vase in Etruria, we know of none which travelled beyond Attica or nearby Aegina.
I ho Gorgon Painter to Sophilos c. Several new vase shapes and schemes ol I I. I lie Gorgon Painter c. The style is still I'n 1 ise and his lions in particular are distinctive for their square muzzles, n. Wings are executed with neat rows of secondary feathers. A few. I lis few human figures are stiffand mannered but his name vase offers. Although an artist of distinction the Gorgon Painter can be seen to have submitted rather more to the regimen of Corin- 1 In. A senior contemporary ofhis, far less prolific, simpler but more fluent, is the Cerameicus Painter.
The importance of the animal frieze style was II demonstrated on his olpe where even the small vase is divided into 1' gisters, and the single myth figure in the upper frieze is flanked by lions Several different artists, including bad ones, painted the I lorse-head vases over a hundred are known , whose decoration must have had some special significance, more probably as prizes than funerary since several were exported. Beazley thought the series need not outlast the mid-century: possibly it is even briefer since the style barely develops and it is tempting to regard the Panathenaics Chapter Seven as in some respect their successors.
The artists of the Komast Group r. They decorate new shapes for Athens, and smaller vases are preferred, beside the lekanai and kothons. From Corinth their potters copied the Komast cups 1 21, 22 ], and the deeper cup known as a kotyle but in this period usually called a skyphos by archaeologists , while the KY Painter, the lesser artist and the younger man, introduces the column crater which becomes the most popular shape of mixing vessel for wine and water.
Yet another type of cup with vertical handles the kantharos also becomes popular. This is an older Attic shape not used in Corinth. But from Corinth come the komasts - the jolly, bottom-slapping dancers with their sunburnt faces and chests, naked or in red tunics, and sometimes joined by women 1 ]. They appeared on many Corinthian vases, but not so often on cups as they do in Athens.
His florals resemble the earlier type, slimming slightly.
Athenian Black Figure Vases