Sometimes posts write themselves, which is a wonderful thing when you wake up feeling more tired than when you went to bed. Today there is only a little bit of me here and a lot of Youtube. I'll make sure to get you more me tomorrow. For now, I want to talk a little about pottery in ancient Hellas. I once made a catalogue post of the most common pottory shapes and their uses in ancient Hellas, but didn't touch the red-figure and black-figure techniquest yet. I want to shortly address both, starting with a video on the black figure technique:

The video was produced with the generous support of a Long Range Fund grant provided by the Community Associates of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was created for LaunchPad, a program of digital interpretive materials that supplement the viewing of works of art on display in the Art Institute of Chicago's galleries. It's description reads:

"Used for the storage and shipment of grains, wine, and other goods, as well as in the all-male Greek drinking party, known as the symposium, ancient Greek vases were decorated with a variety of subjects ranging from scenes of everyday life to the tales of heroes and gods. The two most popular techniques of vase decoration were the black-figure technique, so-named because the figures were painted black, and the red-figure technique, in which the figures were left the red color of the clay. The black-figure technique developed around 700 B.C. and remained the most popular Greek pottery style until about 530 B.C., when the red-figure technique was developed, eventually surpassing it in popularity. This video illustrates the techniques used in the making and decorating of a black-figure amphora (storage jar) in the Art Institute of Chicago's collection."

To recap from the video, and to add the red-figure technique to it: with both techniques, the potter first shaped the vessel on a wheel. More complex shapes were made in phases and then glued together when the sections had dried to a leather hardness. The 'glue' was a slip; clay in a more liquid form.

Now the difference came in: in black-figure vase painting, the actual image was painted on with a slip that turned black during firing, while the background was left the color of the clay. Individual forms were highlighted by incising the slip or by adding white and purple enhancements by applying mixtures of pigment and clay. On red-figure vases, it were not the figures who were painted with the slip, but the background itself. This way, the figures stayed red while the background turned black; exactly the opposite as the vase in the video which was created by the black-figure method.

The red-figure technique was invented around 530 B.C. and gradually replaced the black-figure technique as it was far easier and produced better results to simply draw figures instead of meticulously trying to delineate them with incisions. Painting the figures allowed for more artistic freedom, and produced better results in anatomy, garments, and emotions.

The firing process of both red- and black-figure vessels consisted of three stages. During the first, oxidizing stage, air was allowed into the kiln, turning the whole vase the color of the clay. In the subsequent stage, green wood was introduced into the chamber and the oxygen supply was reduced, causing the object to turn black in the smoky environment. In the third stage, air was reintroduced into the kiln; the reserved portions turned back to orange while the glossed areas remained black. And that is how the ancient Hellenes--and we today--have ended up with these beautifully decorated vases that are so telling of the ancient Hellenic culture.