Athenian black-figured vases

The term “black-figured” is generally applied to the Athenian fabrics of a certain well-defined character and a comparatively restricted period, but in point of fact is strictly applicable to several of the classes already discussed, such as the Chalcidian and the later Corinthian and Ionian wares. It is, indeed, in some respects inadequate as a definition. We must remember that it was originally introduced at a time when the Greek vases in public museums consisted mainly of two classes—the one with figures painted in black silhouette on red ground, the other with figures drawn in outline and surrounded with black, so that they stand out in red. Between these two classes the terms “black-figured” and “red-figured” offered an obvious and useful distinction. By way of illustration, it may be advantageous to make a comparison between the two main varieties of black-figured Attic amphorae, as, for instance, they are grouped on the two sides of the Second Vase Room of the British Museum, and those with red figures in the Third Room. In the one class of black-figured amphorae the whole vase stands out in the natural red colour of the clay, whereas the red-figured amphorae are covered with black colour, so as to conceal the whole of the red of the clay except where it is left to fill in the contours of the figures. In other words, the one class, which we may term “red-bodied” amphorae, are red all but the figures; the other class are black all but the figures. There is, however, an intermediate class, which no doubt suggested the arrangement of decoration on the red-figured amphorae, and which we may call “black-bodied” amphorae. Here the whole body of the vase is covered with black  colour, except a framed panel, which is left in the red to receive the black figures. It is clear, then, that this second class of black-figured amphorae approaches more nearly in aspect to the red-figured, although it does not follow that they were necessarily a late or transitional development.

But in regard to our definition, it is necessary to reckon with the fact that there are not only vases of an earlier stage of art which have black figures painted on a (more or less) red ground, but that there are others in which the figures are painted not on red, but on a white slip. In particular we may instance the Cyrenaic vases and some of the Naucratite wares. We thus lose the sense of an exact contrast between black figures on red ground and red figures on black; and, moreover, the term acquires almost too wide a connotation to be of any value for a system of classification. The term “black-figured” must therefore be used to some extent conventionally, to denote a certain class of vases made at Athens during a certain period and with certain characteristics. The latter may be summarised as follows: (1) black varnish entirely filling in the contours of the figures; (2) red glaze (or white slip) employed as background; (3) details indicated by accessory pigments of white and purple, and incised lines; (4) subjects almost exclusively human and mythological figures.

The history of vase-painting in the middle of the sixth century B.C. is largely the history of a gradual centralising of that art in one place from a number of scattered local fabrics. This was mainly brought about by one cause—namely, the extraordinary advance in art and culture at Athens under the beneficent rule of the tyrant Peisistratos and his successors (565–510 B.C.). Previous to this time Athenian art was very limited in its scope, and in the domain of painting had so far produced nothing except the great Dipylon funeral vases, their immediate successors (the “Proto-Attic” wares), and the“Tyrrhenian” vases, which, as we have seen, were largely under the influence of Corinth. Attic importations into Italy cannot be traced until the black-figure style is well developed.

The immediate result of this advance was to attract artists from all parts of Greece—not only from Corinth, whose power was now on the wane, but also from Ionia, whose artists were driven to seek refuge elsewhere by the encroaching conquests of the Persian monarchs. Thus we shall see that certain artists, like Amasis and Nikosthenes, infused a large amount of Ionic element into their productions, just as in others we see the influence, more or less marked, of Corinth. But one marked characteristic of the Attic sixth-century vases is the entire disappearance of Oriental influence.

At the head of the new development stands the famous François vase in Florence (Plate XXVIII.), to which allusion has been made already. Its date can hardly be later than the middle of the sixth century, probably somewhat earlier, and the two artists Klitias and Ergotimos, who were responsible for its production, are among the earliest of whom we have any record at Athens. The alphabet of the inscriptions leaves no doubt that it is a purely Athenian work, and the technique is also purely Attic, as are some of the subjects; but there are not a few small points which betray the influence of a Corinthian artist, such as the arrangement in several friezes. The winged goddesses, Sphinxes, and animals are non-Attic, but not necessarily Corinthian. It is, however, chiefly interesting for its wealth of subjects, which are mentioned in another chapter; with these every available space is decorated. The style has been described as “dry, precise, and careful,” the artist as “exact and well instructed.” Closely related to this vase is one in the British Museum representing the Birth of Athena (B 147). Although the subjects (exclusive of those on the cover) are only two in number, the minuteness of treatment in detail and the richness of the composition show that it belongs to the same school.


From Furtwaengler and Reichhold . The François Vase in Florence.

In regard to technique, two points distinguish Athenian vases at all periods above other fabrics. Firstly, the admirable clay, traditionally obtained from Cape Kolias in Attica, and mingled with red ochre (rubrica ) in order to produce its ruddy hue; this clay was eminently suited for taking a glaze, which was of course an essential preliminary for painting the surface. Next, the black varnish, with its exquisitely lustrous sheen, which was brought to a pitch of perfection in the subsequent period, and always affords such an admirable counterfoil to the red of the clay, though it has not been altogether popular with the modern photographer, owing to its reflecting qualities.

As regards the figures, they were seldom left entirely black, though black is at all times their prevalent aspect. The accessory whites and purples are used in varying degrees at different times, and it may be laid down as a general rule that purple is more affected on the earlier vases, white on the later. A like principle obtains with the accessories on red-figured vases. In the later examples, moreover, they are much more sparingly used, perhaps owing to the influence of the new technique, and by the end of the sixth century they disappear altogether. The more careful artists pay greater attention to the use of incised lines, and prefer to produce effects of richness and delicacy by elaboration of details and patterns in this manner.

At first there is a tendency to use purple in large masses, and even for the flesh of men; but it is generally employed for folds or portions of drapery, and for throwing up different parts of animals' figures, or of the decorative patterns, such as palmettes and lotos-buds. White is employed for the hair of old men, for rocks and details of buildings, for the long garment worn by charioteers, and above all for the flesh of women. The latter we have already seen to be an invention traditionally attributed to Eumaros, who probably lived about the middle of this century; but whether it was first introduced at Athens or Corinth is uncertain.

Throughout the period there is a steady advance in drawing, but more in the direction of carefulness and refinement than in accuracy and truthfulness to nature; that is to say, that it always remains conventional. We shall see later that, even after the red-figured style came in, a certain archaic stiffness still prevailed for a time, both in the old and new methods. On the other hand, there is a degenerate class of black-figured vases, found chiefly on Greek sites, in which the drawing is free almost to carelessness, and it is clear that these illustrate the last efforts of the black-figured method in Greece in the fifth century; but the vases are all rough and hasty productions, altogether devoid of merit or interest.

The treatment of drapery may generally be regarded as a fair indication of date. The chiton is at first straight, with rigid stripes or casual patches of purple; then patterns are incised or painted in white; the waist is usually very small, and often bound tightly with a broad girdle. By degrees the lines indicating the folds of the skirt take an oblique direction, as if to indicate motion, while the himation or mantle—which is adopted in addition by the women to wear over the chiton—is made to fall in long formal folds with diagonal edges, known as πτέρυγες. It is curious that the more advanced style of drapery is usually found on the red-bodied amphorae, the older types on the black-bodied. In the hydriae, which preserve the panel form of decoration throughout, a progress is visible from the most rigid severity to comparative freedom.

The shapes  most frequently employed by Athenian potters are very limited in number—as, for instance, when compared with the Corinthian and other earlier fabrics. The really popular forms are limited to five: the amphora, hydria, kylix, oinochoe, and lekythos. Besides these we find the krater (usually with columnar handles), the deinos, the skyphos or kotyle (with its variant the mastos), the kyathos, the pyxis, and the pinax, and occasionally also the alabastron; but these are practically all. Some of these remain constant throughout, but others in their form and system of decoration present interesting varieties of development. In all cases there is an evident aim at improving upon the somewhat inartistic Corinthian forms, in the direction of grace, lightness, and architectonic symmetry.

The different types of Attic amphora have been described elsewhere, but may be briefly recapitulated here.

(1) The so-called Tyrrhenian amphora, found in the Corintho-Attic and “affected” varieties, with elliptical body (Plates XXIII., XXIX.).

(2) The panel-amphora, with cylindrical handles.

(3) The panel-amphora, with broad grooved handles (probably a later development) (Plates XXXI-II.).

(4) The red-bodied amphora, distinguished by its straight neck sharply marked off from the shoulder (Plate XXIX.).

(5) The Panathenaic amphora, with small mouth and foot and widely swelling body (Plates XXXIII-IV.).

(6) The prothesis -amphora, a tall, elongated type, used in connection with funeral ceremonies.

(7) The Nikosthenes type (Plate XXX.).

The hydria, oinochoe, and krater almost universally adhere to the panel form of decoration, but the lekythos is red-bodied. In none of these is there much change visible, except in the later hydriae, some of which assume the curvilinear form of the R.F. “kalpis”. The evolution of the kylix is, however, of considerable interest, especially in view of its subsequent importance.

Before the sixth century this form was unknown at Athens, its nearest equivalent being the skyphos, or deep two-handled bowl with low base. But in course of time two forms of the kylix make their appearance, one apparently earlier than the other, and probably derived from a Corinthian prototype. At Corinth the kylix took the form of a large shallow bowl, with bulging outline and flat lip, on a very low foot. This type was also known in Ionia, as at Samos and Naukratis. It was usually decorated with friezes, internal or external, sometimes with a Gorgon's head in the centre. The Athenians adopted this form, but raised it on a high stem, proportionately reducing its diameter. At the same time they greatly reduced the surface available for decoration, either covering the whole with black varnish, except a narrow red band on the exterior, or else leaving the whole of the exterior red, but confining the figures strictly to the upper part. This became a very favourite fashion, and in course of time a school of painters arose whose practice was either to paint a row of diminutive figures (or even a single figure, as Fig. 96) on the upper band and sign their names below, or else to leave the cup quite plain except for the signature on one side and a motto on the other, such as χαῖρε, καὶ πίει εὖ, “Hail, and drink deep!”

These artists are known as the minor or miniature painters, and among them are found the names of Archikles and Glaukytes, Eucheiros, Hermogenes, Tleson, and Xenokles. At first they preferred not to decorate the interior, but then a small medallion with a figure of an animal or monster, such as a Sphinx, is introduced. Interior designs, however, were not at any time popular in this style.

The second type of kylix is purely Ionic in origin. It is distinguished from the others by the absence of a lip, by its low, thick foot, and by the greater width and shallowness of the bowl. With a very slight modification it obtains throughout the red-figure period. Its form is clearly derived from the libation-bowl, or phiale , with the addition of foot and handles; and it appears first in Ionia in the large cups ornamented with eyes, the best of which is the Phineus cup in Würzburg. The Cyrenaic cup seems to be half-way between the two types, having a high stem and a very slight marking off of the lip.

The introduction of this form into Attica was apparently due to Exekias, who belongs to the middle of the B.F. period, and has left a very fine specimen, decorated with the Ionic eyes and a beautiful interior design of Dionysos sailing over the sea. They are invariably red-bodied externally, and, in contradistinction to the other form, decorated all over, inside and out. Some of the larger varieties have an inner frieze surrounding the medallion; but in many of the smaller examples the practice is to paint a Gorgon's face in the interior, leaving the rest black. On the exterior, not only are the Ionic eyes generally to be seen, but also the whole scene is filled in with a background of interlacing branches or foliage—a common characteristic of later B.F. vases, and supposed to be also Ionic in its origin.

From the shapes we pass to the decorative patterns on Athenian vases, which form a link with the important question of subjects. As the methods of disposing the main designs became fixed, so did the scheme of subsidiary decoration, until it almost became stereotyped. Thus on the neck of an amphorathere is always a pattern of double palmettes and lotos-buds, round the foot always rays or pointed leaves shooting upwards. The former seems to have been a Corinthian, or perhaps Chalcidian, invention; the latter is Ionic, and is found as early as the Rhodian vases. On the shoulder of the red-bodied amphorae is a “tongue”-pattern bordering the field of design above, and below the field are rows of maeander-pattern and lotos-buds, sometimes repeated. The characteristic ornament of this class is, however, the arrangement of palmettes and lotos-buds under the handles, which is often very delicate and artistically conceived. A variation is found in the works of Exekias, who replaces it by an elaborate system of spirals—a pattern which, as we have seen, descended from Mycenaean art, by way of the Melian amphorae, to Athens. In the panel-amphorae the only ornaments besides those of the neck and foot are those bordering the panels, usually along the top only, and, in the case of those with large flanged handles, on that part of the vase also. In the former case a band of lotos-buds, sometimes alternating with palmettes, is most commonly found; in the latter, rows of ivy-leaves or rosettes occur on the sides of the handles, and a palmette at the point of junction with the vase.

In the hydriae the ornamentation consists of rays round the foot, with tongue-pattern on the top of the shoulder and round the handles; to this are added bands of ornament down the sides and along the bottom of the panel on the body. For the sides the favourite pattern is an ivy-wreath; but network is also used, and, on the inferior varieties, plain dots. Along the bottom the favourite device is a scroll of palmettes, often very artistic in character, the place of which is sometimes taken by a frieze of animals.

The same decorative principles are seen in the other shapes, but in a more limited degree. The ornament on a kylix is almost confined to palmettes springing from each side of the handles; but the interior designs are sometimes surrounded with tongue-pattern. The panels on the oinochoae are often bordered with ivy, network, or dots, as on the hydriae; on the lekythos the ornament is confined to a row of lotos-buds or palmettes on the shoulder.

Many vases of the B.F. period are decorated solely with these patterns; but these are usually small and insignificant specimens, with a band of palmettes or other pattern carelessly painted, perhaps used for the tomb by those who could not afford more elaborate specimens. In the tombs of Rhodes and Cyprus small amphorae and lekythi are often found, the bodies of which are covered with a plain network pattern in black on a red or white ground. Others, again, seem to have been executed with great care, and there is a beautiful example from Vulci in the British Museum—a jug with a frieze of palmettes and scrolls on a white ground (B 632).

To treat of the subjects  depicted on Athenian black-figured vases within a reasonable compass is not only well-nigh impossible, but unnecessary, since it would practically be to traverse the ground covered in another part of this work. There are, however, some general considerations which must not be passed over. While we bear in mind that they are as comprehensive in their character as those on any other class of Greek vases, it may not be amiss to point out in what respects they vary, for instance, from the red-figured Athenian vases or from those of the decadence.

The main point of difference is that in B.F. vases the mythological element on the whole predominates, whereas in the later periods it is fully counterbalanced, if not outweighed, by the preponderance of subjects from daily life. The Attic ephebos has not yet attained to the height of popularity which he reaches on the red-figure kylikes of Euphronios and Duris, and the softer side of Greek life, the life of the women's quarters, or the sentimental scenes of courting which begin to prevail towards the end of the fifth century, are the products of a later development of social conditions. Religion, it is true, does not maintain on the vases the overwhelming importance that it does in other branches of art, except in a few classes relating to certain cults; nor has the cult of the dead as yet found general expression. To what, then, do we owe the preference for scenes from heroic legend, and the myths relating to the gods? It is, perhaps, largely due to the extreme conventionality of Greek art in the sixth century, which embodies its conceptions in a series of fixed types , which the artist repeats again and again from sheer inability to strike out a new line for himself. But with the general and rapid advance of artistic conception and technical power at the beginning of the fifth century, the change at once becomes apparent,—not, be it noted, with the beginning of the red-figure style, which for a time preserves most of the characteristics of its predecessor; but with the ripening of the powers of a Euphronios and a Brygos, who paved the way for the greater freedom and variety of conception exhibited in the highest products of fifth-century vase-painting. At the same time an ethical change is to be observed, especially in the position now occupied by two deities who are entirely absent from the B.F. vases—the god of love (Eros), and the goddess of victory (Nike). To the popularising of these two conceptions is mainly due the preponderance of the sentimental and athletic elements of the subsequent age.

To return to the black-figured vases, we must now devote a few words to the consideration of the feature to which allusion has just been made, namely, the conventionalised types and schemes of composition in which the various myths and other themes are portrayed. Roughly speaking, they fall into three classes: (1) subjects represented by one single and constant type; (2) subjects represented by two or more distinct types; (3) subjects which fall into two or more episodes, each represented by a different type.

The question of the origin  of these types is a difficult one to answer. They appear to have sprung, like the fully-armed Athena from the head of Zeus, in a matured form from the brain of the Athenian artist. It is, however, possible that the genius of some school of artists, such as those who conceived the decoration of the chest of Kypselos or the throne at Amyklae, may have influenced the vase-painters to a great extent. We have already seen how closely the scenes on some later Corinthian vases adhere to the description of Kypselos' chest. It is also a curious fact that the simpler form of a type is not necessarily the older. Some early types are of a quite complicated or elaborate nature; and the only variation apparent in a particular type is that of the number of bystanders watching the event. This, again, is due to an accidental cause—namely, the surface available for the painter, who, perhaps unconsciously, took the architectural sculptures of a temple for his model, and where his space resembled that of a metope (as in the panel-vases) reduced the number of his figures to a minimum, or where it took the form of a frieze filled in the space with a convenient number of spectators, the original “type” being preserved as a constant quantity in either case.

A question which has always presented great difficulties to students of vase-paintings is one that to a certain degree arises at all periods, but more especially in the one under discussion—namely, the difficulty of deciding whether certain subjects have a mythological meaning or not. The difficulty is, of course, in the first instance, due to the type-system. If the artist wished to depict a marriage procession in daily life, he instinctively had recourse to a familiar scheme for the purpose—namely, the “chariot-procession” type consecrated to the marriage of Zeus and Hera and similar Olympian triumphs. Or, again, scenes of warriors departing to battle or engaged in the fray would naturally be copied from such familiar types as that of Hector parting from his wife and child, or the fight of Achilles and Memnon over the body of Antilochos. Even inscriptions do not lend the aid that might be expected, as in some cases they are wrongly applied, or the names convey no meaning (as on the Corinthian vases); and it is probable that in many cases the intention was just to produce a sort of parable or idealised picture of events of ordinary life, in order to give more interest to a theme.

Much of the interest of Athenian vases is derived from the inscriptions found upon them. These, which will be more fully dealt with elsewhere, fall into three main classes—artists' signatures, names with καλός, and descriptive names referring to the designs. On the last-named head no more need now be said; the second is more appropriately dealt with in the next chapter—although not a few καλός-names are found on B.F. vases; and it only remains therefore to treat of the artists whose signatures have come down to us.

We have already met with a few signed vases, among those of Corinth and Boeotia, of which the earliest go back to the beginning of the seventh century. Those of undoubtedly Attic origin fall into three or four main groups, the representative names in which may here be given.

(1) Early artists:

Klitias and Ergotimos, Taleides, Sophilos, Oikopheles.

(2) Middle period:

Amasis, Exekias, Kolchos, Nearchos, Timagoras, Tychios.

(3) Minor artists, who painted kylikes almost exclusively:

Archikles, Eucheiros, Glaukytes, Hermogenes, Phrynos, Tleson, Xenokles, Sakonides.

(4) Later artists, combining B.F. and R.F. methods, or painting in transitional style:

Andokides, Charinos, Nikosthenes, Pamphaios, Hischylos and Epiktetos, Pasiades.

Kittos, who painted in black figures a Panathenaic amphora of the later class, belongs to the middle of the fourth century.

Most of these artists use the formula ἐποίησε, implying that the same man both made and painted the vase; but Exekias in two cases (see below) says ἔγραψε κἀποίησε. The François vase, as we have seen, records the names both of painter and artist. Some of these painters give the name of their father, and thus we learn that Eucheiros (Class 3) was the son of Ergotimos (Class 1), Tleson (Class 3) the son of Nearchos (Class 2). The names Andokides and Nearchos are found among the dedications on the Athenian Acropolis. We now proceed to speak of these artists in detail.

In Class 1 Sophilos appears as the maker of a vase of which fragments were found on the Athenian Acropolis. In style it closely resembles the François vase, and its subject also appears to have been akin—the marriage of Peleus and Thetis—to judge from the figures of Horae still visible. Taleides, whose work is of early character, painted an amphora representing Theseus slaying the Minotaur and two men weighing goods in a balance. Ergotimos, besides the François vase, signed a kylix found in Aegina, and now in Berlin, with interior and exterior subjects.


Attic Black-figured Amphorae  (British Museum ).

1. In Style of Exekias ; 2. In “Affected” Style.

In the next group are two very interesting names, those of Amasis and Exekias, and both demand special attention, the latter for the excellence of his work, the former as connected with a special branch of Attic B.F. vases, which must be treated by themselves. The vases of Exekias  include four amphorae, four cups (see Fig. 96), and two fragments, together with a few unsigned vases which for various reasons may be attributed to him. The finest of his works is an amphora in the Vatican, on one side of which are Ajax and Achilles playing draughts, the one calling out ΤΕΣΑΡΑ “four!” the other ΤΡΙΑ“three!” On the reverse are the Dioskuri, with Tyndareus and Leda. Besides the signature in iambic form

Ἐξηκίας ἔγραφσε καὶ 'ποιησέ με,

the vase is inscribed with the καλός-name Onetorides. The others are in the British Museum (B 210), the Louvre (F 53), and Berlin (1720) respectively, and are all painted with mythological subjects. A fragment of a deinos  is interesting, as having, besides the signature, an iambic line in the alphabet of Sikyon. Among the four cups, one in Munich (339) is a masterpiece of its kind. It is of the later form of B.F. kylix, and represents on the inside Dionysos in a ship which takes the form of a fish, the mast and yard overgrown with the vine; on the exterior are large eyes and groups of warriors. The other three are of the earlier “Kleinmeister” type, and two are merely signed, without subject.


Exekias may be regarded as one of the most typical B.F. artists. His subjects are mostly from the usual stock-in-trade of the time, but distinguished above other examples by the care and accuracy displayed in every detail, especially in the extraordinary delicacy and minuteness of the incising and the judicious but sparing use of accessory colour, as also by the careful naming of the figures in almost all cases. He stands midway between Klitias of the François vase and the transitional work of Andokides and Pamphaios, and helps to carry on the tradition of minuteness and accuracy in detail characteristic of all these artists.

Amasis  is an artist of similar calibre and temperament. His style is more individual than that of any B.F. artist, and hence it is possible to attribute to him many vases which he has not signed. It is marked, like that of Exekias, by accuracy of drawing and careful and delicate work in details; but his subjects are more monotonous and his figures much more rigid and conventional. There is much in his vases which suggests a connection with Ionia, especially with the later fabrics discussed above; and this point has been well brought out by Karo. We have seven signed vases from his hand, of which no less than four are jugs of a characteristic form—a form not unknown in Ionic fabrics, but usually found among the later Corinthian wares. It is of the form known as olpe , with the design in a panel, on the right side of the handle only. An example of his work is given in Fig. 97.


It has been thought by more than one writer that he must have been a foreigner. The name, of course, suggests Egypt, and his Ionic affinities would further suggest Naukratis or Daphnae as his home; but he may well have come from Asia Minor. His best-known work is the fine amphora in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris (222), with a representation of Athena and Poseidon, and among the olpae , one in the British Museum (B 471), with Perseus slaying Medusa (Fig. 97), and one in the Louvre (F 30), with Herakles' reception by the Olympian deities.

Of the other artists in this group, Nearchos is only represented by a fragmentary vase from the Athenian Acropolis; Timagoras was the artist of two fine hydriae in the Louvre (F 38–9), one representing Herakles wrestling with the fish-bodied Triton; Tychios has also signed a hydria; Kolchos is only known from one vase, but that a very fine jug with the combat of Herakles and Kyknos (Berlin 1732). The design on the last-named is not, as usual, confined to a panel, but is continued all round the body.

The list of “Kleinmeister,” or minor artists, is a long one, but few individual names are of importance. The most prolific is Tleson , whose name appears on no fewer than forty cups, fourteen of which have no design, but only the signature on either side. Others have a design in the interior only, such as a Sphinx or Siren; others, again, a figure of an animal—a cock, hen, or ram—on either side above the signature. Seventeen are ascribed to Hermogenes , nine with signature only, and thirteen to Xenokles , of which eight have no design. But that Xenokles sometimes had larger aims is shown by twoof the cups in the British Museum and the Deepdene collection, as well as by an oinochoe which he made for the painter Kleisophos to decorate. The Museum cup (B 425) has on one side the three cosmic deities Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades; on the other a subject of four figures which may be interpreted as the return of Persephone from Hades. The Deepdene cup has in the interior the procession of the goddesses to the Judgment of Paris, and on the exterior Herakles with Kerberos and Achilles' pursuit of Troilos. Phrynos , an artist of similar style, has one cup (B.M. B 424) with the Birth of Athena and the reception of Herakles in Olympos, the figures being very diminutive, as are those on the British Museum Xenokles cup. Eucheiros  and Sakonides  show a preference for a female bust painted in outline on either side of the cup, as does also Hermogenes. Archikles  and Glaukytes  are associated on a fine cup in Munich (333), which is remarkable for the number of figures each side, the style being very minute and detailed. On one side is Theseus slaying the Minotaur, on the other the hunt of the Calydonian boar, appropriate figures being added each side to fill in the spaces at the ends of the friezes. There are seventeen figures in the first scene, and, exclusive of animals, nine in the latter. A similar cup in the British Museum (B 400), with continuous frieze, representing a battle (twenty fighters, three chariots), is signed by Glaukytes alone. Other names are Anakles, Charitaios, Ergoteles, Epitimos, Myspios, Neandros, Psoieas, Sokles, Sondros, Thrax, and Tlenpolemos.


Vases by Nikosthenes  (British Museum ).

In the fourth class we are introduced to a very interesting personality, that of Nikosthenes , the most prolific of all Greek vase-painters known to us, and of the B.F. artists by far the most original. He was, however, a potter rather than a painter, and on many of his vases the designs are little more than decorative motives. He favoured vases of metallic form, such as the phiale  mesomphalos , and invented a peculiar type of amphora, also derived from a metallic origin, with broad, flat handles and slim body, with moulded rings dividing the subjects (see Plate XXX.). Altogether, seventy-eight examples with his signature are known, of which forty-eight, or nearly two-thirds, are amphorae, nineteen are cups, four jugs, and one a krater. To these must be added two cups in mixed B.F. and R.F. technique, one made for Epiktetos, and three kanthari in the R.F. method, of which he was probably only the potter. That he had affinities with the “minor artists” is shown by his making a cup with Anakles, as also by the style of some of his paintings; while some of his cups have only the signature.

The amphorae are all very much alike, with subjects of a simple character—Sphinxes and Sirens, combats of warriors or boxers, Satyrs and Maenads dancing, and Herakles with the Nemean lion, a subject of which he seems to have been especially fond. The large krater in the British Museum (B 364) is interesting as an early example of the form with volute handles, and for the manner of its decoration, with a narrow band of minute figures on the neck only. In the Louvre there are two elegant jugs representing the reception of Herakles in Olympos (F 116–17), the figures being painted on a white slip in the Ionic manner. This point is important, because it has been held by many writers that Nikosthenes was of Ionian origin, and introduced the white-slip method at Athens. Attempts have even been made to connect him with Naukratis. The jug figured on Plate XXX. is similar to those in the Louvre, and is probably also Nikosthenes' handiwork.

Whether this view can be maintained or not, there is no doubt that towards the end of the sixth century the practice of using a white slip does appear at Athens for vases with black figures, and it is quite reasonable to associate its introduction with a versatile and original artist like Nikosthenes. But the consideration of this style of painting must be reserved for a later page.

Pamphaios and Epiktetos, with their associates Hischylos, Pheidippos, and Chelis, must, on the whole, be regarded as belonging to the R.F. period, the majority of their works being purely in that style; they will therefore be considered under a subsequent heading. But the case of the remaining name in our fourth class, that of Andokides , is somewhat different. Among the signed examples we have from his hand only one is purely B.F., three are in mixed style, and two are purely R.F. It is clear, then, that he represents, better than any other artist, the intermediate stage between the two styles, more especially as a whole series of amphorae can be attributed to him in which the two are combined, sometimes in what has been called “bilingual” fashion—that is to say, that the design on both sides of the vase is identical, except for the variation of technique.

There are, then, six vases signed by Andokides, of which one is a kylix, the rest amphorae with designs in panels and broad grooved handles. The B.F. amphora represents a chariot seen from the front, in very minute, careful style. One of the “mixed” amphorae (Louvre F 203) has three Amazons preparing for battle (B.F.), and women in the bath, one of whom is swimming, another diving (R.F.) ; the other, a Dionysiac B.F. scene, and Apollo, Artemis, Leto, and Ares on the R.F. side. The “mixed” kylix is a remarkable example of the counterchanging principle, the two halves of the exterior being exactly reversed in technique, the dividing-line passing under the handles. Of the two R.F. amphorae, one in Berlin represents the contest for the tripod and a pair of wrestlers; the other, in the Louvre, a combat and a musical contest.


Amphora in Style of Andokides (British Museum).
Obv.: Heroes Playing Draughts.


Amphora in Style of Andokides (British Museum).
Rev.: Herakles with Nemean Lion.

The characteristics of Andokides' work are freedom of composition, delicacy of drawing, and wealth of detail; but he is always bound by conventionalities, and his power of observation is stronger than his power of correct delineation. Furtwaengler thinks his combinations of B.F. and R.F. were deliberately chosen to show the superiority of the latter. His date may be placed about 525 B.C., and it is probable that his name appears on a marble base found on the Acropolis of Athens. He seems to have learnt his art either from Exekias or Amasis, probably the latter.

Scholars are generally agreed in attributing to him the series of “bilingual” amphorae already mentioned, of which the most notable examples are one in Munich (388) representing Herakles banqueting, and one in Boston with Herakles and a bull. Even more probable is the attribution to his hand of some half-dozen amphorae of the type which he employed, with different  designs on either side, but B.F. and R.F. respectively. The most interesting of these is an amphora in the British Museum (B 193 = Plates XXXI.-II.), with the typical B.F. representation of warriors playing with pessi  on one side, quite in the manner of Exekias (see above), and on the other Herakles with the Nemean lion, in which scene the painter has attempted a new departure. The lion is already subdued, and the hero carries it in triumph on his shoulder, no doubt with a reminiscence of the Erymanthian boar types (see Chapter XIV.).

A curious group of B.F. vases found exclusively in Italy, and belonging apparently to the middle of the sixth century, is marked by the extremes to which the mannerisms of the artists Exekias and Amasis are carried. They are without exception amphorae, and so similar in style that they must all have been produced by one workshop, if not one hand. In spite of the excellence of technique and careful drawing which they exhibit, showing a really advanced stage of B.F. vase-painting, they are lifeless and monotonous almost to grotesqueness. Karo, in publishing the series, reckons forty-four in all, and points out the various Ionian peculiarities they present, which mark them either as an offshoot of the school of Amasis or a parallel development. Originally known as “Tyrrhenian,” from the form of the amphora, they are now generally spoken of as “affected amphorae,” in allusion to their peculiar and mannered style. An example is given on Plate XXIX.

The subjects are all dull repetitions of certain “types,” often without any apparent meaning, the personages being usually warriors, horsemen, or ordinary draped figures, young and old. Women are rarely seen; subjects of a Dionysiac character are occasionally found, but mythological scenes never, except that the “type” of the “Birth of Athena” is borrowed, copied, and divested of all meaning by omitting the figure of the goddess and depriving the others of their attributes. In addition to this, Karo notes six prevailing motives: (1) two men in animated discourse, occurring about forty times; (2) a warrior arming, putting on a greave; (3) a warrior conversing with another man, with spectators; (4) two warriors in combat; (5) a young rider with second horse (Troilos?); (6) a reception of a guest, sometimes, but rather doubtfully, identified as Ikarios receiving Dionysos.

The complete absence of inscriptions is an Ionic feature as are the ornamental patterns, such as the tongue-pattern round the handles; the fondness for winged figures also points in this direction. The combination of good technique with feeble compositions points to a late and imitative stage, and is contrary to the Attic tendency to prefer new ideas and new subjects to a high standard of technique. Among other characteristic details we may note the tendency to give the human figures tapering extremities, common to all archaic art, but here greatly exaggerated; also the elaborate ornamentation of the draperies with purple and white flowers or rosettes.

The Panathenaic amphorae , of which some mention has already been made elsewhere, form one of the most interesting groups of black-figured vases. The Panathenaic games, which were celebrated in the third year of each Olympiad, were traditionally attributed to Theseus, but at any rate were reconstituted by Peisistratos about 566 B.C., when rhapsodic contests were introduced. To these musical contests with flute and lyre were added in 456 by Pericles. The prizes were, as we know from Pindar, painted amphorae containing olive oil, and there is an interesting inscription which gives the number assigned as prizes for each contest. Thus, for the pentathlon, the first prize was 40 amphorae, the second 8; for the chariot-race, the first 104, the second 40; for the foot-race, the first 50 to 60, the second 10 to 12. That these vases were greatly valued and buried in tombs we know from the number found under such circumstances. About 130 in all are in existence.


Panathenaic Amphora (British Museum).
Earlier Type (Obv. and Rev.).

The shape of the sixth-century amphora is peculiar, but not exclusively used for this class; in height they vary from twenty-five inches to about eight inches. Towards the end of the century, and during the fifth, other forms were sometimes employed, that of the red-bodied amphora and even the “Nolan” being found. In the fourth century a great change took place, the height being greatly increased and the body becoming proportionately slim; the form exactly resembles that of the contemporary Apulian sepulchral amphorae, with the addition of a conical cover. After the end of the fourth century they appear to have been made only of metal, but that they continued to be made we know both from literature and monuments, such as the Athenian coins.

The designs are always in panels, the obverse representing the goddess to whom the games were sacred, in her character of Athena Promachos; the reverse, the contest in which the prize was won (see Plates XXXIII.-IV.). Athena is represented standing to the left, with crested helmet, spear raised aloft in right hand, and shield on left arm, adorned with an emblematic device; her drapery is usually much ornamented. Except in the earliest examples there is a Doric column on either side of her, surmounted by a cock, as the bird sacred to Agon, the god of athletic contests; sometimes in place of it a Sphinx, Siren, panther, or vase. In the fourth century we sometimes find a figure of Nike or Triptolemos in his car surmounting the columns. Down the side of the left-hand column is usually placed the inscription (always preserving an archaic form): ΤΟΝ Α[Θ]ΕΝΕ[Θ]ΕΝ Α[Θ]ΛΟΝτῶν Ἀθηνῆἄθεν ἄθλων, “(a prize) from the games at Athens.” On the earliest known, the Burgon amphora (B.M. B 130), the word ΕΜΙ is added. In the fourth century the inscription still reads down the side of the column, but the letters are placed parallel to it, not at right angles. Further, in this period it often becomes customary to add on the right-hand side the name of the archon in whose year of office the games were held, thus enabling us to date the vase exactly. Of these, some ten examples are known, ranging from 367 to 313 B.C., the list being as follows:—

Polyzelos 367 B.C.B.M. B 603 Found at Teucheira,
Themistokles 347 Athens Mus.Athens
Pythodelos 336 B.M. B 607 and 608 Cervetri
Nikokrates 333 B.M. B 609 Benghazi
Niketes 332 B.M. B 610 Capua
Euthykritos 328 B.M. B 611 Teucheira
Hegesias 324 Louvre Benghazi
Kephisodoros 323 Louvre Benghazi
Archippos 321 Louvre Benghazi
Theophrastos 313 Louvre Benghazi

The contests represented include the pentathlon, chariot-race, foot-race, armed foot-race, torch-race, tilting on horseback, the παγκράτιον, and musical contests.


Panathenaic Amphora  (British Museum ).
Later Type  (Obv. and Rev.).

The black-figure method is preserved throughout, in spite of the development in drawing, that of the fourth-century vases being perfectly free. In the latter there is a lavish use of white and purple for details, especially on the figure of Athena; and Nike, when present at the contests, is usually painted white; but the tendency of later vases to neglect the reverse at the expense of the obverse in the matter of decoration is strongly manifested. The figure of Athena becomes greatly elongated, until her head is actually painted on the neck of the vase, and in all the vases after 336 B.C. she is turned to the right instead of the left. Two signatures of artists are found—Sikelos in the fifth century, Kittos in the fourth. There also exist some miniature fourth-century examples of these vases, the purpose of which is not obvious; on the reverse of one in the British Museum is represented a runner in the torch-race.

A peculiar local development of the black-figure style is to be seen in the vases found on the site of the temple of the Kabeiri, near Thebes, in Boeotia. From the style of the painting, which is free and careless, they can hardly be earlier than the fifth century, and may be later, the old style being preserved, as in the Panathenaic amphorae, for religious reasons. The site was excavated in 1887–88, and yielded a large number of vases and fragments, together with Attic R.F. and plain black glazed wares. Of the local fabrics the majority are of a Dionysiac character, or have reference, more or less direct, to the cult of the Kabeiri; many bear dedicatory inscriptions to the presiding deities, such as τῷ Καβίρῳ or τῷ παιδὶ καὶ τῷ Καβίρῳ, etc.

The material is a reddish-yellow clay of good quality, on which the designs are painted in a pigment varying from yellow-brown to the deep lustrous black of the best Attic vases. Occasionally details in white or purple are added; incised lines are used only for inner markings as a rule. The shapes are confined almost entirely to one, a large deep bowl with two small ring-handles, to which are attached projections for the support of the fingers; it comes nearest to the pella  described by Athenaeus. The decorative motives are simple—vine-wreaths, ivy-wreaths, myrtle and olive, and the wave-pattern; sometimes the reverse is only ornamented with a pattern of this kind.

(BRIT. MUS. B 77).

The subjects are interesting from the fact that they are an early instance (in vase-paintings) of intentional caricatures or grotesques; this is shown not only in the manner of treating the themes selected, but in the rude character of the drawing. Among those drawn from myth and legend may be mentioned Odysseus with Kirke (two instances) and traversing the sea on a raft; Peleus bringing the young Achilles to Cheiron (Fig. 98); Kephalos hunting a fox; and Bellerophon slaying the Chimaera. A favourite subject is that of Pigmies in combat with cranes. But the most interesting is one which represents the deity Kabeiros (answering to Dionysos) with his son (Pais, i.e. Iacchos) at a banquet, accompanied by three symbolical figures—Mitos, Pratolaos, and Krateia. Another fragment shows a train of worshippers approaching the Kabeiros, in the manner of the Asklepios reliefs.

The transitional stage from black to red figures is illustrated by more than one class of vases. Those in which the two methods are united on one vase have been discussed elsewhere, in considering the characteristics of the artists who used both. But there is another class corresponding to neither method, and yet partaking of the character of both, in which the figures are painted in opaque red or white pigment laid directly on the surface of the vase, which is covered throughout with black varnish (Plate XXXV.). Inasmuch as the method of painting in colours is more suggestive of the B.F. vases, they are classed therewith in some collections, as in the British and Athens Museums; but since their appearance and style link them more closely with the R.F. period, they are found in others, as at Berlin, ranged with the latter class. In any case they form a distinct group, in which the earlier examples correspond more with the B.F., the later with the R.F., vases. They are undoubtedly of Athenian origin, but to what extent they affected the change from black to red figures is doubtful.

The practice of laying colours on the black varnish is, of course, one that was quite familiar to B.F. artists; the analogous procedure in the R.F. period was the laying of black pigment on the red glaze, as was necessarily done for details such as devices on shields. The transition was therefore easy in the case of a vase covered with black varnish, to painting the figures only in the opaque colours upon it, thereby enlarging the scope of the process. The incised lines in which the figure was necessarily sketched out before painting (and which frequently occur in this class) led the way to the process by which the R.F. artist engraved his design on the red clay before  covering the rest of the vase with varnish. In the case of female figures it is obvious that this method was already practised, especially in scenes in which they appeared entirely nude, and the whole figure was painted white over the black silhouette, the black becoming the real accessory where it was required for the hair, etc.

Dr. Six, who has studied this class, gives a list of about seventy examples, including one signed by Nikosthenes (Plate XXXV., fig. 2 = F 114 in the Louvre) which has a figure of a woman painted in white each side, the style, be it noted, being purely black-figured. In later specimens the object seems to have been to imitate the appearance of the R.F. vases, and to paint the figures in a similar but opaque red colour instead of white. Other examples again have figures only incised on the black, without any addition of colour. In some of the earlier ones the use of black as an accessory shows that the painter, so to speak, “thought” in the B.F. style, but used white for black and vice versa .

Most of the earlier examples have been found in Greece or Magna Graecia; they are usually of the lekythos form, which is always rare in Etruria. The later group chiefly consists of small bowls (phialae ) of very negligent style, but some are of the typical R.F. forms, such as the “Nolan” amphora and the stamnos. A considerable number of fragments were found on the Acropolis of Athens, showing that even these late imitative specimens, in spite of their rude, careless execution, cannot be placed later than 480 B.C.

One of the most interesting examples is a fragment found on the Acropolis of Athens, with an owl within an olive-wreath; it had been dedicated to Athena by a potter whose name is now lost. There is also a good series in the British Museum (B 681–700), including a lekythos with Odysseus carried under the ram, painted in polychrome.

Before embarking upon the history of the red-figured vases it may be well to endeavour to see what light the vase-paintings up to this point throw on the literary traditions preserved for us, chiefly by Pliny, in regard to early painting. There is, perhaps, no subject which that writer has treated with greater vagueness; and we are forced to the conclusion that he really knew nothing about it, and did not comprehend the meaning of the earlier writers from whom he borrowed. Still, it may fairly be supposed that the names he mentions are those of real persons, even if his account of their achievements is vague or imaginary. There are also a few stray items of information given by Aristotle, Aelian, Strabo, and Athenagoras.


Vases with Opaque Designs on Black Ground.
1. Brit. Mus.; 2. By Nikosthenes, in Louvre.

Pliny begins by attributing to Corinth or Sikyon the discovery of the possibility of producing figures by outlining shadows, as in the story of Butades (p. 110). The next stage, he says, was to fill in the outlines with single colours, or monochrome. He next states that Philokles, an Egyptian, and Kleanthes of Corinth “invented linear painting,” and that they were followed by Aridikes of Corinth and Telephanes of Sikyon, who, still without using any colours, introduced inner markings and details,and inscribed names over their figures. Ekphantos of Corinth introduced the use of a red wash, employing a pigment made from pounded pottery (testa trita ), which may represent the purple so lavishly employed on Corinthian vases. A later development was that of monochrome painting—i.e. the use of a single flat body-colour—introduced by Hygiainon, Deinias, and Charmadas.

Aristotle, on the other hand, speaks of Eucheiros of Corinth as the “inventor of painting.” The name reminds us of the tradition of Demaratos, who took with him from Corinth to Etruria a craftsman of that name. It is also interesting to note that the name is borne by an Athenian kylix-painter (see above, p. 384), the son of Ergotimos, who made the François vase. Possibly he may have been the grandson of the Corinthian artist.

Strabo (viii. 343) and Athenaeus (viii. 346 C) mention a picture by Kleanthes (see above) which represented the Birth of Athena, and can hardly have been later than the seventh century—a period to which such evidence as we have would allot the series of artists already named.

It must be borne in mind that the names of these early artists are those of draughtsmen, not of painters. Even in the time of Polygnotos drawing was the chief aim of all artists—as the red-figured vases amply testify—and painting, as we regard the art, only came into existence after the middle of the fifth century. The development from liniarem , or “outline-drawing,” to monochrome at first sight presents a difficulty, as it seems to be opposed to the evolution of vase-painting, which is from silhouette (as in the Dipylon ware) to outlines (as in the Ionic vases). But even if it is not always intelligible, we can still observe a distinct continuity in Pliny's account.

After Ekphantos had introduced the filling-in of outlines with red washes, and Hygiainon and his confrères  had continued painting with a single colour, a step further was made by Eumaros of Athens, who distinguished the sexes and “introduced all kinds of new subjects.” Here we may clearly discern the introduction of white in the later Corinthian and early Attic wares for female figures, and the growth of mythological and genre subjects on the vases of the time. His innovations of technique and subject may therefore be fairly regarded as coincident with the great advance in vase-painting made at Athens under Peisistratos and reacting upon Corinth. It is interesting to note that the name of Eumaros occurs on a marble base found on the Acropolis at Athens; and if this can be the painter, his date would be fixed about 590–570 B.C.

In any case one thing is certain—that painting had not yet developed into anything like a high art. It was still purely decorative, and the few early paintings of which we hear, such as those of Bularchos and Kleanthes, were not beyond the level of the Clazomenae sarcophagi or the François vase in merit. We probably gain the best idea of painting which was not merely decorative from the Corinthian pinakes and the Acropolis warrior-tablet, especially as they are painted on the white slip or λεύκωμα, which we know to have been favoured by early Greek painters.

The relation of Pliny's next artist, Kimon of Kleonae, and of his improvements to the work of the vase-painters, has been much discussed by writers on the red-figured vases; and they have not been by any means unanimous in their conclusions, either as to the nature of his “inventions” or as to the time at which their influence made itself felt. They are described by Pliny in the following words: “Cimon of Cleonae improved upon the inventions of Eumarus. He invented catagrapha —that is, oblique images—and varied positions of the features, looking back or up or down. He distinguished limbs from joints, emphasised the veins, and further reproduced folds and hollows in the drapery.”

The crux  of this passage is of course the word catagrapha , with Pliny's Latin equivalent, obliquas imagines . At first sight it would seem that the Latin rendering of the word connected it with the rendering of the face in a new way, i.e. in three-quarter aspect instead of the old profile of the silhouettes. But this was not introduced into vase-painting until quite a late period; it is found, for instance, on the Meidias vase about 440 B.C., and is certainly not earlier than the time of Euphronios, whereas Kimon appears to have lived about 540–490 B.C. Moreover, there seems to be some antithesis between the imagines  and voltus —i.e. varios formare voltus  is not an explanation of the imagines —and, on the whole, it seems more natural to take the first word as a general term for figures.Obliquas imagines , then, would obviously imply some kind of perspective, which, when applied to the human figure, indicates foreshortening.

Now, this advance in drawing is first found in the earlier work of Euphronios, i.e. about 500–490 B.C., though traces of it are to be seen in the later work of the Epictetan cycle. It will be noted in the next chapter that Epiktetos and his contemporaries are still in the trammels of the old method. Many of these vases even exhibit traces of a decadent  style, with rough and carelessly drawn figures. As Hartwig has well pointed out, the real division of style  comes, not before Epiktetos, but between him and Euphronios. The Epictetan cycle is transitional, and a time of preparation, firstly in the change of technique, secondly in the evolution of cup-decoration, thirdly in the discovery of new motives and extending the scope of subjects. The new birth is seen in the form of increased naturalism, and is parallel to the development of sculpture under Pythagoras and Myron, who, like Kimon, “gave prominence to sinews and veins.” We may therefore sum up with Studniczka and Hartwig by saying that the reforms of Kimon, which first manifest themselves in Euphronios and his contemporaries about 500 B.C., imply a new theoretical knowledge of linear perspective, which in practice displays itself in a correct rendering of foreshortening. In minor details the same advance is at this time apparent, in the treatment of the eye, which now begins to be rendered with some approach to truth, and in the accurate and detailed rendering of muscles and anatomy, and of folds of drapery. These are precisely the points in which Pliny regards Kimon as having so greatly advanced his art, which, as Aelian tells us, he “helped out of leading-strings.”

The first painter in polychrome was Panaenos, who also introduced portraiture, but must still be regarded as a draughtsman only; and, finally, Polygnotos, by such innovations as giving expression to faces, and rendering transparent draperies, gave the first real advance to the art. So far Pliny on the beginnings of Greek painting; but its further developments, and more particularly the relation of Polygnotos to the fifth-century vase-paintings, must be more fully dealt with in a succeeding section.