Greek Vase Painting, Archaic and Classical Periods
A Comparison of Back and Red-Figure Painting
Art History One
Black-figure and red-figure painting techniques were the most popular methods of painting vases and other vessels during this period. A third method, the white-ground technique was too delicate for everyday use and was mainly used for making lekythoi (a type of pottery used for storing oil, commonly placed in Greek graves as offerings to the deceased). Therefore, it makes sense to focus on the more utilitarian techniques mentioned above. The vases were made from clay, which was purified and then kneaded like dough, to remove air bubbles and make it flexible. The potters used a potters wheel to make the bodies of the various shapes and would then add handles (if any) by shaping them separately and attaching them to the body by applying slip (liquefied clay or slurry) to the joints 1. Often, a painter was hired (although some were slaves) to apply the pigment to the clay surface before the kiln firing. But some potters apparently painted their own vessels. Then the vessels were subjected to a three-phase firing process. The first phase, called oxidizing, turned both the vessel and the slip red and the kiln was heated to 800°C, while during the 2nd phase, called reducing, the lack of oxygen (due to the potter closing the vents and raising the temperature to 950˚C) would turn both the vessel and slip black. In the last phase, the vessels coarser material reabsorbed the oxygen (the potter opened the vents) and would turn red again, while the slip would remain black. Although the kiln firing technique was the same for both the black and red-figure style painting techniques, it is in the painting that the two styles exhibit their differences. In the black-figure style, the scenes were painted on the body of the vessels using shapes and colors reminiscent of silhouettes. Delicate contours were incised into the paint before firing, and...
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