Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Melian Pottery (c 625 BCE)

Sierra Club


The Pottery of Ancient Greece [3]

The pottery of ancient Greece is one of the most tangible and iconic elements of ancient Greek art
. The colourful vases and pots of the ancient Greeks have survived in large numbers and are today highly prized as collectors' items.

The Ancient Greeks made pottery for everyday use, not for display; the trophies won at games, such as the Panathenaic amphorae (wine decanters), are the exception. Most surviving pottery consists of drinking vessels such as amphorae, kraters (bowls for mixing wine and water), hydria (water jars), libation bowls, jugs and cups. Painted funeral urns have also been found. Miniatures were also produced in large numbers, mainly for use as offerings at temples. In the Hellenistic period a wider range of pottery was produced, but most of it is of little artistic importance.

In earlier periods even quite small Greek cities produced pottery for their own locale. These varied widely in style and standards. Distinctive pottery that ranks as art was produced on some of the Aegean islands, in Crete, and in the wealthy Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily. By the later Archaic and early Classical period, however, the two great commercial powers, Corinth and Athens, came to dominate. Their pottery was exported all over the Greek world, driving out the local varieties. Pots from Corinth and Athens are found as far afield as Spain and Ukraine, and are so common in Italy that they were first collected in the 18th century as "Etruscan vases". Many of these pots are mass-produced products of low quality. In fact, by the 5th century BC, pottery had become an industry and pottery painting ceased to be an important art form.

The history of Ancient Greek pottery is divided stylistically into periods:
  • the Protogeometric from about 1050 BC;
  • the Geometric from about 900 BC;
  • the Late Geometric or Archaic from about 750 BC;
  • the Black Figure from the early 7th century BC;
  • and the Red Figure from about 530 BC.
The range of colours which could be used on pots was restricted by the technology of firing: black, white, red, and yellow were the most common. In the three earlier periods, the pots were left their natural light colour, and were decorated with slip that turned black in the kiln.

The fully mature black-figure technique, with added red and white details and incising for outlines and details, originated in Corinth during the early 7th century BC and was introduced into Attica about a generation later; it flourished until the end of the 6th century BC. The red-figure technique, invented in about 530 BC, reversed this tradition, with the pots being painted black and the figures painted in red. Red-figure vases slowly replaced the black-figure style. Sometimes larger vessels were engraved as well as painted.

During the Protogeometric and Geometric periods, Greek pottery was decorated with abstract designs. In later periods, as the aesthetic shifted and the technical proficiency of potters improved, decorations took the form of human figures, usually representing the gods or the heroes of Greek history and mythology. Battle and hunting scenes were also popular, since they allowed the depiction of the horse, which the Greeks held in high esteem. In later periods erotic themes, both heterosexual and male homosexual, became common.

Greek pottery is frequently signed, sometimes by the potter or the master of the pottery, but only occasionally by the painter. Hundreds of painters are, however, identifiable by their artistic personalities: where their signatures haven't survived they are named for their subject choices, as "the Achilles Painter", by the potter they worked for, such as the Late Archaic "Kleophrades Painter", or even by their modern locations, such as the Late Archaic "Berlin Painter". [3]

Milos [1]

In ancient times, Milos prospered because of its great mineral wealth. It has been inhabited since the Neolithic age (7000 B.C.) and developed more rapidly than the neighbouring islands because of a black glass-like volcanic rock called obsidian which was used by the "Milians" to make tools and weapons. Since obsidian from Milos has also been located in the Peloponnese, Crete, Cyprus and even in Egypt, it is believed that there was a flourishing export trade too.

From the beginning of the bronze age, (2800 - 1100 B.C.), the island played an extremely important part in the Cycladic world, centered at the ancient city of Philakopi, which in fact gave its name to an entire archaeological period.

With the arrival of the Hellenic People, The Dorians settled in Milos around 1000 B.C. During the same period, a new settlement was being built in the area of modern Klima. This new town developed rapidly particularly in the field of art and craft. The so called "Melian Vases" of that period are still admired by the experts and people as well. [1]

Characteristics of Melian Pottery [2]

They were probably made at Paros. Different from other local ware, these amphorae were exported outside Cycladic islands and some are found from North Africa. Except for the typical amphora with a tall neck, conical foot and lid, they also produced smaller amphorae, hydriai and plates.

The characteristics is the combination of volutes and crosshatched squares. As later Athenian lebes gamikoi, they have M-shaped handles on either side and painted eyes below the brow-like handles. Figures are depicted with outline technique with added cream-white and red. On later examples, detail is sometimes depicted with engraved lines.

Mythological scene is commonly depicted, especially deities with chariots driven by winged horses. This style was introduced at the mid seventh century, while most larger amphorae are dated to the later century and some belong to the early sixth century.

Other than these painted vases, large pithoi with relief decoration were also produced. Although these pithoi were made at many islands, such as at Naxos, Paros and Thera, the most important workshops were at Tenos. Earliest relief pithoi with figure decoration belong to the end of the eight century. In the seventh century mythological scenes, such as Trojan Horse, the birth of Athena and Perseus slaying Medusa, are represented. These are important for the study of Greek iconography, since many subjects are first represented on these pithoi in the history of Greek art.

Except for the Melian amphorae, Cycladic pottery was made for local use. In the period of black figure, the production of painted pottey itself was reduced. Some islands produced small numbers of vases copying Chian pottery, though there was no vases worth mentioning. [2]

Very little is known from ancient sources about Milos before the 5th century B.C. It is known however, that the Milians refused to surrender to the Persians and fought alongside with the rest of the Greeks at the battles of Salamina and Plataea. In their attempt to remain neutral during the Peloponnesian War, they were punished by the Athenians who, in 415 B.C. put all the old people to death and sold the young men, women and children into slavery.

The history of the island, throughout the following centuries, was similar to that of the rest of the Cycladic Islands. Until 311 B.C., Milos was ruled by Macedonia and then by Egypt. The powerful fleet of the Ptolemaids ensured the freedom and safety of the seas. As a result, the island of Milos saw a phase of renewed economic growth which was reflected culturally too.

Examples of this creative era are the famous statue of Aphrodite (Venus of Milos), which is nowdays found in the Louvre Museum in Paris), and the imposing 2,5 meter tall statue of Poseidon (Neptune), displayed in the National Museum in Athens.

The most important event in the Byzantine era was the destruction of the Ancient City at Klima (5th - 6th century) possibly as a result of an earthquake.

Finally, during the Venetian and Turkish rule, the inhabitants fought relentlessly for their freedom. [1]

References adapted from:

History of Milos

Cycladic Orientalizing Pottery.

[3] This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Pottery of Ancient Greece.


Please browse our Amazon list of titles about Greek Vases. For rare and hard to find works we recommend our Alibris list of titles about Greek Vases.


COPAC UK: Melian
Library of Canada Search Form
Library of Congress: Greek Vase-painting
Other Library Catalogs: Melian
Books from Alibris: Greek Vases

1 comment:

claypot said...

Melian pottery works and designs are very unique and one of a kind. I definitely admire there work of art.