The ancient Greek people were masters at the art of pottery. Many of their clay items are still complete today and available for viewing at museums around the world. The ancient Greek people used clay for many different tasks, and much of their household items were crafted from clay. The process of making ancient Greek pottery can still be replicated today with the right equipment and tools.
Ancient Greek pottery was usually formed into 10 basic shapes. These shapes were used for different functions in daily Greek life. Stamnos pots are shaped like little teapots without a spout. They have two small handles for easy carrying. The Alabastron is a tiny pot that was used to store perfume or oil. It is shaped like a modern bud vase. Pyxis pots are small cylinders with lids used to store small items or powders. Amphora pots have a wide body, narrow neck and large handles. These pots were used to carry liquids. The Oinochoe was the Greek’s pitcher. It is big and round and has a spout and handle. Aryballos is a tiny pot, shaped like a ball with two handles, and it was used to hold oil. The Lekythos was used to pour oil. It is long, narrow and has a large handle and spout. The Hydria pot is round with a narrow base and neck with two small handles. It was used to store water. The Kylix is a small clay goblet used for wine. It has a narrow stem and a shallow bowl. The Kraters pot is large with a small stand base. It was used for mixing liquids.
All Greek pottery starts with prepping. This is the process of separating the rocks and silt from the clay. The clay is mixed with water and allowed to settle. The impurities sink to the bottom. This process is repeated several times. The clay is then pressed and kneaded to create a smooth, cohesive clay. The clay was traditionally mixed both by hand and by foot.
Once the clay is mixed, it is thrown. This is another word for forming. The clay is placed onto a flat potter’s wheel. The wheel is lubricated with water to allow the clay to be formed. The potter spins the wheel and forms the clay with his hands as it spins. Many ancient Greek vases were formed in separate sections, which were then pressed together with wet clay after drying for one day, and this is still done today. Sponges are used to smooth the surface of the pottery.
Greek pottery is often decorated in a “black figure” design. This design appears as black silhouettes of objects over a red background. The design for the decorations are sketched into the surface of the clay with a metal tip. The potter uses wet clay as the paint inside the outline. The paint appears red at this point. When fired, the paint turns black. Details are scratched into the surface with a sharp wood or metal object.
The firing of Greek pottery takes three stages of firing. First, the pottery is heated to about 800 degrees in an oven until the pottery turns bright red. The second stage is more difficult. In this stage the potter closes the vents to the oven and adds green wood and leaves to create smoke. The oven is heated even hotter, to more than 800 degrees. The pottery turns black at this stage. In the last stage, the potter allows the oven to cool and opens all the vents. This makes the unpainted edges turn red again, while the painted surface remains black. This is due to the glossing that occurs over the painted areas.
- Photo Credit pot image by Snezana Skundric from Fotolia.com