loader image

The pottery of ancient Greece


Ancient Greek pottery helps us learn about the life and beliefs of one of the great cultures of the past. Greek potters sought to create pottery for practical use: to contain wine, water, oil or perfumes.

Ceramic forms


There were storage and transport vessels with large bodies and strong handles, such as the 𝘢𝘯f𝘰𝘳𝘢𝘴, 𝘱𝘦𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦𝘴, 𝘩𝘺𝘥𝘳𝘪𝘢𝘴 𝘰 𝘱𝘺𝘹𝘪𝘴. A pelike was a vessel of medium proportions with two vertical handles facing each other extending from the mouth to the beginning of the body, with a wide mouth and maximum diameter located in the lower part of the almost spherical body. These vessels were used to contain wine or water.

Pyxis were ceramic containers in the shape of a cylindrical box, with a lid but without handles, used to contain ointments, cosmetics, beads or jewelry.







Red-figure pelike attributed to the Creusa Painter, 390 BC. 34 x 23 cm. Provenance: Ex Peter Connor Collection, Australia. Acquired in 1979 / Acquired at Bonhams, London, Auction, 2008


On the other hand, we can also find mixing vessels that used to have the shape of large bowls, without handles or feet, and were used, especially in male parties, for drinking (𝘬𝘳𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘳, 𝘋𝘪𝘯𝘰𝘴). Bell pottery is the red-figured pottery produced in Campania, from 380 B.C. and where The most represented themes were mythological, Dionysian and funerary.

The light brown Campanian clay was covered with an engobe that acquired a pink or red tint after firing. Campanian painters preferred the smaller vessel types, but also hydrias and bell craters.

The bell krater was a type of krater, or bowl for mixing wine and water, which takes its name from the resemblance of its shape to an inverted bell with loop handles and a disc foot.

Red-figured Bell crater with a Dionysian scene, 400 B.C. 26.5 x 25 cm

Another famous style of pottery is pitchers and cups, which had long handles to make them easier to drink from when lying down (𝘬𝘢𝘯𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘰𝘴, 𝘱𝘩𝘪𝘢𝘭𝘦, 𝘴𝘬𝘺𝘱𝘩𝘰𝘴 𝘰 𝘰𝘪𝘯𝘰𝘤𝘩𝘰𝘦).

Kantharos were drinking vessels in ancient Greece that were associated with the god Dionysus, whose cup, according to mythology, was never to be empty. The cup-shaped vessel was attached vertically to two opposing, broadly curved and raised handles, by which it was held with both hands while drinking. The painter of Sakkos Blanco, who worked in one of the Greek colonies in the Apulia region of southern Italy, probably in Canosa, decorated vessels with the red-figure technique at the end of the 4th century.





Apulian Pottery Red-Figure Kantharos attributed to the White Sakkos Painter, 310 BC. 28,5 x 23 cm. Daaf De haan 1984 Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Acquired by Cree Holt 2005 Liverpool, UK. Julie Lemaire acquired by the previous owner in 2012 Brussels, Belgium


Finally, those vessels that were used to contain oils, perfumes or cosmetics, which had long necks and no handles (𝘭𝘦𝘬𝘺𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘴, 𝘢𝘳𝘺𝘣𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘰𝘴 𝘺 𝘢𝘭𝘢𝘣𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘳𝘰𝘯).


Etrusco-Corinthian Black-figured alabastron, Attributed to the Michigan group, 6th Century B.C. 17,3 cm 


Decoration styles

Greek pottery can be classified mainly into four stylistic periods:

  • Protoeometric. In this stage craftsmen painted circles, triangles, wavy lines and simple arcs on pottery.

  • Geometric. The vessel was decorated with horizontal lines, triangles, circles and zigzag shapes that wrapped around the entire body of the vase or, later, with motifs, such as the ancient religious symbol of the swastika.

  • Black-figure pottery. Painters often illustrated the vessels with scenes from Greek mythology and figures posing to show their movements, from fighting scenes to dances. The figures were painted black..

  • Red-figure pottery. At this stage, artists, instead of filling in the figures in black, began to outline them with a black background, leaving the figures in white (i.e., in the color of the pottery, red). In this way the painters achieved greater precision in their characters, from the different facial expressions to the details of the clothing. Artists were also able to depict complex everyday scenes with greater perspective and superimposed figures..


Attic red-figured kylix decorated with a winged male character, probably Eros




Scroll to Top