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Time Periods and Surface Decoration


(click on links above and below for photos of pieces)


Early-Middle Minoan pottery (c.3100-1725 BC) was highly regarded for its bright decorative designs. Three styles were introduced during this period; Floral, Pattern and Marine.

The Floral Style subject matter included lilies, palm-trees, tulips, and reeds.

Geometric Style designs used curvilinear abstract and geometric patterns consisting of thick horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines and spirals joined by tangents.

Marine Style utilized sea-life such as fish, dolphins, octopuses, seaweed, and corals.

The New Palace Period (Middle-Late Minoan; c.1725-1380 BC) introduced a toned-down style of vase painting. Referred to as the Palace Style, the designs were mainly black and white. An artist occasionally used colors of yellow or red, but only sparingly.

The style of Late Minoan pottery (c.1380-1000 BC) continues with little recognition as the marketability of the Mycenaean civilization's pottery flourishes.


The Geometric Period begins about 900 BC, after the end of the Dark Ages, which came on the heels of the virtual extinction of the Mycenaean civilization. This period got its name due to the geometric decorations used as art on the vases.

Figures modeled after the human form started to resurface in vase painting during the Orientalizing Period, c.750 BC. Also, at around this time the first narrative portrayals surfaced on vases in Attica, which was located in central Greece and was dominated by Athens after previously being heavily populated by the Mycenaeans. Further, Attic vases depicted human figures as a main theme from the 8th through the 4th centuries BC.

The range of colours which could be used on pots was restricted by the technology of firing: white, red, and black.

The fully mature black-figure technique, with added red and white (Corinthian Style) details and incising for outlines and details, originated in Corinth during the early 7th century(699-600BCE) 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.

White-ground pottery was a product of the fifth century (499-400BCE) at which time archaic stiffness, also evident in sculpture, gradually gave way to the freer, more natural, classical style. In white-ground technique the ground is painted white and the figures in ochre and black.

Click HERE for photos of black and red figure pottery.

The red figure technique and white ground styles did overlap chronologically.
White Ground style featured figures outlined in black or golden brown against a white or cream-colored background, with matte (not shiny) reds, yellows, browns, greens, and blues used for clothing and other details. The leading White Ground artists include the Achilles and Phiale Painters, who specialized in oil flasks known as lekythoi. These were used primarily for funerary purposes to anoint the body of the dead with oil or to pour wine over the grave or tomb, and they were left in or at the tomb as gifts afterwards. They might be decorated with scenes of farewell or mourning.

The term black figure refers to a style of Greek pottery in which only the figures represented on the clay are painted. The background remains red (clay-colored). The painted figures are black -- whence the name. Using engraving tools, details are inscribed through the black paint, revealing the underlying red.

Sometimes a single vase will appear to be black figure on one side and red figure on the other. Such vessels are referred to as bi-lingual.

Red figure vases represent a technical revolution in vase painting in which the background is colored, the figure left the plain red, and details added by brush.

This revolution took place in vase painting techniques near the end of the sixth century B.C. Instead of painting the figures black, the new vase painters left the figures red and painted the background around them. Where details in the earlier form were added by engraving down to the base color, this technique would serve no purpose on the red clay figures. Instead, a brush was used to add black or white. These new designs are called red figure.