“The production of wheel-made pottery requires a high degree of manual dexterity and a continual application of artistic judgment. The form must evolve slowly, but not too slowly or it will collapse, and it has to be developed to its final state through a series of intermediate steps.”–Joseph V. Noble. 1988. The Techniques of Painted Attic Pottery. Revised ed. London: Thames and Hudson.pg. 24.
This fourth class was divided into two segments: a lecture by our teaching assistant, Ross Brendle, on the iconography found on ancient Greek ceramics, and a head-first plunge into the world of pottery throwing. Ross’s lecture made sure that we were well acquainted with the many terms and concepts involved in analyzing ancient Greek vessels. We started with identifying the part of a Greek cup that we are most concerned with in terms of iconography: the tondo. The tondo is the circular, decorated area inside the bowl of the cup, where pictures are most commonly found, though they are also frequently found on the outside. At around 530 B.C.E., with the advent of the red-figure technique, decoration on the interior of the cup was primarily contained within a circle at the bottom of the bowl. However, moving along into the 5th century B.C.E., painters began to gradually push the limits of their scenes by expanding outward and filling up more of the cup’s interior with their designs, all the while both decreasing the depth of the bowl and increasing its width. Eventually, the scenes fill up virtually the entirety of the interior and, in some instances, the cup becomes so shallow and so wide that it is essentially a plate, at which point some cups lost all functionality. The most common motifs found on red-figure vessels include depictions of athletics, scenes of symposia, and scenes from mythology. Because of the significance and prominence of wine in symposia, Dionysus (the god of wine) was a very common figure to be portrayed.
One of the amazing things about these images is their incredible detail. How exactly the ancient painters were able to produce such elaborate and finely detailed pictures is not exactly understood. However, some scholars believe that the ancient painters may have applied the slip using a special sort of brush, possibly only consisting of an individual hair from an animal like a horse or boar or even the whisker of a cat. This information was especially important to keep in mind as we prepared to start throwing, because we would eventually have to create some kind of image in the small, awkwardly-shaped section of our own bowls.