« PreviousContinue »
The general character of the Attic black-figure vases may be described as follows: Upon a fine smooth clay, which the Athenian potters learnt to make of a rich orange-red colour, the figures are drawn, with a dense, lustrous varnish varying in colour from black to olive-green where the firing has been insufficient, or to reddish brown where the varnish has been too thin. The internal details of the figures are drawn through the varnish with a sharp point, often handled with minute precision. In order to obtain relief from the conventional treatment of all the subject in black, all the visible flesh of the female figures was afterwards painted in white (which might again be incised) and fired at a lower heat. White was also employed for grey hair, linen garments, white horses, pieces of bright
metal and other suitable accessories. Purple was used, like the white, for accessories, but was employed in a conventional manner, to distinguish one mass from another, without much reference to the natural colour of the objects.
By such methods the artists of the black-figure pottery were able to attain a considerable height of artistic achievement. They tell their story with vivacity and directness, and with a remarkable economy of all accessories subordinate to the principal action. On the other hand much of the drawing is strictly conventional, and the whole system of figures in silhouette involves an element of grotesqueness which necessarily limits what the artists accomplish.
The black-figure vases have in full measure the interest that attaches to all the productions of a school of art still struggling to reach maturity. On the whole, however, their interest lies more in their historical position, and in the mythology and inscriptions, than in their merit as works of art.
Subjects. An examination of the vases contained in this room will show that scenes taken from the epic cycles, and incidents in the Heracles and Theseus legends, are the prevailing subjects. In particular the exploits of Heracles are repeated again and again with slight variations in detail, but with a great persistency of the general type. On the other hand scenes from daily life are comparatively rare, and such as occur are almost contined to the life of athletes, the banquet, or (for women) the drawing water at the fountain. Among the few exceptions is B 226 (cf. p. 158), with a scene of olive gathering.
Artists' signatures. With the development of the blackfigure style the potters began to sign their names on their works. The number of known vases thus signed in the black and red-figure styles is very considerable (nearly 450), and in recent years the study of the works of the several potters has been actively pursued. The inscriptions * usually run that so-and-so eroingev made the vase or expayev painted it. Sometimes two persons are named, of whom one' mado' and the other painted.' In the latter case the meaning of the inscriptions is clear. Where only toinev is used it may, as a rule, be supposed to be a general term, including both operations. In rare cases it may mean that the potter alone, or perhaps the master of the pottery, is named. Where čypayev only is used it is only explicit as to the painting, and the artist may or may not have also made the vase on the wheel. Occasionally, but only rarely, it is stated that the same person both made and painted the vase.
More rarely still, two persons are named as makers. The principal signed vases in the Museum are mentioned separately below.
Names with Kulós. It will be observed that a large number of vases are inscribed ó Tais kadós, “the boy is beautiful' (or kalós
* The following examples may serve as typical signatures : a. NIKOSO ENESE NOTES EN
alone), and less frequently in the feminine ή παίς καλή or καλή. In many cases a particular name is substituted for the general formula, as Aéaypos kalós and more than two hundred such names are known. The intention of these inscriptions has been much discussed, but primarily it is clear that they are expressions of personal admiration. It does not, however, necessarily follow that there was any near tie between the potter and the person whom he admires. In the romance of Xenophon of Ephesus, the Ephesiaca, he describes how the hero Habrocomes was an object of enthusiasm to the whole province of Asia, and when he was seen in a procession there was a universal cry of Kalos Habrocomes ! Hence attempts have been made to identify some of the kalos-names with those of persons known to history, and thus obtain chronological data. So far, however, all such identifications are very doubtful. Another branch of the inquiry seeks to ascertain the authors of unsigned vases with a kalos-name, by comparing them with the signed vases on which the
Thus, Leagros kalos occurs on signed works of Euphronios, and also on unsigned vases (such as E 46, E 265), which can reasonably be attributed to him. A third and more complicated branch of the study seeks to place artists in groups, based on the names used.
Chronology. The Athenian black-figure vases date from the beginning of the sixth century onwards. The transition to the redfigure style, at the close of that century, is discussed below (p. 225). For the late survival of the method in the Panathenaic vases, see
same name Occurs.
The following table gives a list of the signed vases in the Second Vase Room :
Signature of [Pjriapos on
Fragments of four kylikes
with parts of name of
(a and b) Satyrs.
Int. Iris; (a) Zeus Poseidon,
Pluto; (b) Persephone.
The following is a list of the names with kadós, occurring in the Second Vase Room, which are associated there or elsewhere with the signatures of particular artists :
In the above list of vase-painters the names of the early Athenian black-figure artists are Clitias and Ergotimos; Amasis, and Exekias.
Clitias and Ergotimos, who are famous as the joint authors of a vase in the Archaeological Museum at Florence, commonly known as the François vase, are only conjecturally read on potsherds from Naucratis. Amasis. This name
occurs on the amphora B 209, but is probably not a signature, being followed by unintelligible letters. B 471, with the subject of Perseus and Medusa, illustrates the formal and elaborate style of this artist.
Exekias is especially noted for the affected minuteness of his incised lines, and for the exquisite quality of his varnish. He is represented by the single vase B 210 (see p. 222). This vase also bears the legend Onetorides kalos, which is frequent on the works of this master.
The group of artists, Archicles, Hermogenes, Tleson, Xenocles, are commonly known as the Little Masters' (German, Kleinmeister). They are so called from the analogy between their minute drawings and those of the German Little Masters' who produced minute copperplate engravings in the sixteenth century.
The important artists of the close of the period are Nicosthenes and Pamphaios. Nicosthenes is the painter who is most amply represented by extant vases, both in general and in the British Museum. Most of his productions are in black-figure style, but vases exist with the two styles combined, or in red figure only. His work is mainly of a hasty and conventional kind. The crater B 364 (p. 222) is a work of unusual elaboration for this master.
Pamphaios was a prolific artist both in the black-figure style and in the transitional and early red-figure vases.
He worked in many different manners. The hyria B 300 is in the careful blackfigure manner, with elaborate incised lines. For the red-figure works by this artist, see below, p. 230.