Other Arts in Classical Greece - Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period - John Boardman

Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period - John Boardman (2016)

Chapter 5. Other Arts in Classical Greece

There is no one art in Classical Greece that is without its masterpieces. We might add almost that there is no period in which the Greek artist did not realize his full potential, limited only by his mastery of available techniques and materials, though this may also be true of other periods and places. But there seems to have been no period of incompetent experiment - no period of effete decadence, though certainly periods of change and not necessarily for the better, or at least for the more durable. If we have dwelt upon sculpture and architecture it is because these were the monumental arts which had the more profound influence on the later development of Western art. Despite the individual brilliance of particular sculptors, painters, engravers, jewellers and workers in metal and clay, there is still an overriding unity of style which informs the work of each generation in whatever material and at whatever size. This might not seem so surprising in such a small country, but we have to remember too the many different artistic centres and the intense activity of the major artists, many of whom may have turned their hands to more crafts than our texts record or our wits can identify. The display of dedications in the great national sanctuaries may of course have contributed to this unity, but it is more difficult to distinguish the works of different schools in 5th- and 4th-century Greece than to distinguish the paintings of Cinquecento Florentines and Venetians.


The correspondence between a major and a (miscalled) minor art is well illustrated by the clay figurines which often closely match the larger works in marble or bronze. There were, in fact, also some large clay sculptures in Classical Greece [135], but these represent a legacy of Archaic practice and are not common. The smaller clay works are found as offerings - standing or seated figures of worshippers or divinities, and beside them more original studies of mortals or animals, the sort of thing that was probably becoming more common in the house as well as serving as a dedication in grave or sanctuary. The use of moulds, and the copying of moulds, meant that few of these managed to retain much of the freshness of their original model. Hollow masks, intended to hang from the wall, were another form of clay votive, and we see them shown on vases hanging, for example, by a bronze sculptor’s furnace, to solicit divine protection for the firing [282]. In the later 5th and 4th centuries the small clay figures offer a variety of subjects which the sculptor generally ignored but which were probably also rendered at this scale in bronze. Of particular interest are figures of actors [177], which can tell us much about the dress and masks worn on the Athenian stage. Beside them are graceful genre studies of dancers [178] and women at ease or in their best dresses, such as are to become characteristic of the succeeding Hellenistic period. The Western Greeks were particularly adept at preparing fine moulds for such figures. They also provide examples of a different sort of votive, the clay relief plaque, and Locri, in South Italy, has yielded an important series of Early Classical plaques with ritual scenes [179]. In the Greek homeland the island of Melos produced a notable series of cut-out plaques showing mythological scenes. Later we find gilt-clay and plaster reliefs used in various parts of the Greek world to decorate wooden boxes and coffins.

177 Clay group of actors, dressed as an old woman and a man. They wear masks and the man has the usual comic costume of padded tunic, phallus and tights [cf. 217]. Mid-4th century BC. (Würzburg)

178 Clay figure of a dancing maenad with a fawn-skin over her dress and holding a tambourine. From Locri, South Italy. About 400 BC. Height 19 cm. (Reggio 4823)

179 Clay plaque from Locri. The goddess Demeter, seated holding corn ears and a cock, faced by Dionysus with his drinking cup and vine. About 460 BC. Height 26.8 m. (Reggio)

Coroplast and vase painter often collaborated in figure vases. These are usually elaborate cups, in the form of human or grotesque heads, or sometimes of more complicated groups [180]. The animal-head cups copy a familiar Eastern form, and there are clay versions of the more expensive metal cups in this shape, either painted or in relief [181]. Some of these are not simple cups but pourers (rhyta) - for their mouths are pierced. This is a version of an Eastern type of drinking vessel, preferred for ritual in Greece, and there are also many examples in which the drinking-horn shape is closely followed.

180 Clay vase in the shape of a drinking horn with a base comprising the group of a negro boy attacked by a crocodile. The neck is decorated with maenads and satyrs. In the manner of the Sotades Painter, a specialist in such curiosities. About 460 BC. Height 24 cm. (Boston 98.881)

181 Clay cup in the shape of a sheep’s head. The relief group on the neck shows a fight between a griffin and an Amazon, cast from a metal relief. Made in South Italy. About 350 BC. Length 20.8 cm. (Oxford 1947.374)


The range of individual figures was probably very much as that in clay, but specialities were cast attachments to vessels and other utensils. Luxury goods of gold and silver have generally not survived so our main evidence is in bronze, though this could often be gilt. The practice of casting handles and decorative attachments for vases continued from the Archaic period, with less variety of subject than hitherto; sirens adorn handle bases, heads their tops. Occasionally figures in the round appear on the lip or shoulder of the larger vases - another Archaic practice; or a whole relief group is fastened on the body of the vase beneath the handle. The figures of women supporting mirror-discs survive also, and in the details of their hair and dress they follow closely the patterns of contemporary sculpture [182]. They often stand on neat, folding stools, while figures of Eros fuss around their heads, and tiny animals and florals run over the attachment to the disc and round it. This sort of finicky embellishment is not much to modern taste nor easily reconciled with the popular idea of Classical simplicity. In the free-standing statuettes of bronze we also see a greater variety of figures - athletes, deities, dancers [183-85]. In much of this sort of work we begin to feel perhaps for the first time in the history of Greek art that the artist is producing an object which has no function but to please mortal eyes, which is more than an appropriate decorative addition to an implement or article of toilet, more than a proud expression of wealth or piety in a god’s shrine.

182 Bronze mirror support. The woman wears a chiton and pointed slippers, on a stool with animal legs. Early 5th century BC. Height 24 cm. (Dublin, Nat. Mus.)

183 Bronze figure of an armed runner (hoplitodromos) in the usual starting position, crouching, feet close together. About 480 BC. Height 16.5 cm. (Tübingen, Univ.)

184 Bronze statuette of Pan from Arcadia, shading his eyes. Classical Pan may be more human in physique and usually has a mainly human head (see [195]). Mid-5th century BC. Height 9 cm. (Berlin 8624)

185 Bronze statuette of the young, booted Dionysus. 4th century BC. Height 22.5 cm. (Louvre Br 154)


We have little enough by way of gold plate in Greece until we move to the fringes of the Greek world, where Greek craftsmen in Black Sea colonies worked for Scythian nobles who placed the vessels in their tombs [187]. The Classical fat cats, even in a democracy such as Athens, were torn between amassing great stocks of gold and silver, and an ethos which frowned on such hubris. Silver was in relatively good supply, from Persian booty or Greek mines, but much was absorbed by state coinage, and plain silver vessels, carefully weighed, served as little more than large denomination banknotes, especially in temple treasuries where they are listed (with weights). A special class is formed by phialai, shallow bowls with small raised centres (navels - mesomphalic) beneath which the fingers would fit. The shape was Eastern, where handleless round-bottomed cups were preferred to Greek shapes. From representations on vases we can see that in Greece they were commonly used for pouring libations. But we have to judge much of what was possible in pricier metals from what has survived in bronze. Cast attachments have been mentioned already but much of the finest work was either hollow-cast or hammered (repoussé), sometimes with figures in exceptionally high relief and most delicately modelled. These appear on vases [186], but on other objects too - the cheek-pieces of helmets, belt-clasps, and the folding backs of circular mirrors [188]. The reflecting surface of the mirror was a bright, polished or silvered bronze, and where mirror backs have no relief decoration there may be incised figures [189], the cut lines showing dark on the bright surface. This incision on silver or bronze, mirrors or cups, is a downmarket version of the finer reliefs, which are commonly gilt. This may remind us that all ancient bronzes, fresh from the artist’s studio, had a bright appearance, far warmer and more realistic than the dark patina of age or the chocolate-coloured or dull brassy surface produced by some modern cleaning methods.

186 Gilt bronze crater with silver appliqués from Derveni in Macedonia, decorated with relief Dionysiac scenes, from a tomb where it served as an ash urn. Late 4th century BC. Height 90.5 cm. (Thessaloniki)

187 Gold phiale from a Scythian tomb at Kul Oba near Kerch in the Crimea. The basic floral pattern is embellished with heads of gorgons, animals and bearded heads, while dolphins and fish swim around the ‘navel’. From the same tomb as the ivory [196]. 4th century BC. Diameter 23 cm. (St Petersburg)

188 Bronze mirror cover with relief scenes of the drunken Heracles assaulting the priestess Auge. From Elis. 4th century BC. Diameter 17.7 cm. (Athens)

189 Bronze mirror cover with incised scene of Aphrodite teaching Eros how to shoot. 4th century BC. Diameter 19 cm. (Louvre MND 262)


The jeweller had long before mastered the arts of filigree and granulation, and from the later 5th century on, inlays of coloured stones or enamel may be added. Generally, however, Classical jewellery is monochrome, gold rather than silver [191-93]. The tombs of south Russia, both those of the Greek colonies and those of the neighbouring Scythians for whom Greek artists worked, are a rich source of fine Classical gold-work. The Solocha comb is effectively miniature statuary in gold, illustrating a local encounter [190]. Signet-rings of solid bronze, silver or gold become common for the first time in the 5th century. The devices on them are often of women, seated or standing, with wreaths or a tiny Eros, or of Victories. They were probably regarded more as decorative than as personal seals, for which smaller bronze rings seem to have been preferred. They must have been most popularly worn by women, but it is odd that they are not worn by any of the figures shown on contemporary vases which otherwise give us vivid details of dress, jewellery and furniture.

190 A gold comb from Solocha in the Ukraine. The figures are wholly in the round. 4th century BC. Height 5 cm. (St Petersburg)

191 Pair of gold earrings, said to be from Tarentum. About 330 BC. Height 6.5 cm. (London 1872,0604.516)

192 Gold diadem from the north-east Aegean, impressed from a mould. Dionysus and Ariadne recline at the centre of an acanthus scroll, on which are seated Muses with musical instruments. 330-300 BC. Height at centre 5.9 cm. (New York 06.1217.1)

193 Gold pendant from Kerch in the Crimea showing the head of the Athena Parthenos in Athens, recognized from descriptions of the helmet by later writers. 4th century BC. Diameter of disc 7.2 cm. (St Petersburg)

Engraved gemstones could also be set on swivels and worn as finger-rings, or be worn as pendants on necklaces or wristlets. The practice of setting an engraved stone immovably in a metal hoop only became at all common towards the end of the Classical period. The scarab-beetle form of seal remained popular for a while after the Archaic, but was generally replaced by the plainer scaraboid form with a convex back. The stone is usually larger now - of chalcedony or white jasper, and the subjects are somewhat more limited. Studies of seated women and of animals are particularly common. Few artists’ signatures are preserved, but we know one, Dexamenos of Chios, who in the second half of the 5th century cut a brilliant portrait head and some sensitive and detailed studies of birds and horses [194b]. Gemstones of this type were popular all over the Persian Empire, and there is a large class, made in the East, which owes as much to Greek as to Eastern models. The arts of the Persian, Achaemenid Empire, give us a further glimpse of a return current of ideas and art forms, now from West to East.

194 (a) Red mottled jasper scaraboid; Perseus, with his sickle-sword, tiptoes towards Medusa to cut off her petrifying head. Early 4th century BC. 3 × 2.2 cm. (Private collection) (b, c,) Two gems signed by Dexamenos; a flying heron found in the Crimea (Chalcedony); and a portrait head (yellow jasper mottled with red). About 440 BC. Lengths 2 cm; 2/1 cm. (St Petersburg, P.1841/42.24; Boston Museum of Fine Arts 23.580)

195 A gold coin of Panticapaeum, a colony in the Crimea, with the head of Pan, about 350 BC; a silver coin of Syracuse with the head of the nymph Arethusa and dolphins, about 405 BC


The related art of engravers of the metal dies from which silver coins were struck flourished beside that of the gem-engraver [195]. We may suspect that the same artists were involved but this is hard to prove from style alone since the techniques of die-engraving were coarser than those of gem-engraving, and there are more signed coin dies than signed gems. In the heads of deities and, later, of princes and kings which appear on many coins we see a fully sculptural style and often unusually high relief - a positive disadvantage in objects so much handled and so easily rubbed, and particularly unfortunate when frontal heads were attempted. There is a great variety of animal studies too - greater than that offered by gems because coins were mass produced and more different types have survived, while each gem was a unique creation. Conservatism dictated the devices on the better-known issues of coins, which relied on the ready familiarity of the types. But although the devices on coins of states like Athens and Corinth changed but slowly, other cities struck series with brilliant and different devices, sometimes with an abandon rivalling that of the postage-stamp issues of some countries today. A few issues commemorated particular events or were at least occasioned by them, and in this way have combined the characters of medallions and coins.


Of all the major arts of the Classical period, painting on wall or panel is the one about which we know least, although in antiquity it was most highly valued. The names of the painters were honoured and remembered, which is more than can be said of any vase painters. We read of the great paintings by Polygnotus and Mikon on the public buildings of Athens and Delphi in the years before the mid-5th century. These were, we are told, done in a four-colour technique - black, white, red and brown, and Polygnotus especially sought to express emotion or atmosphere by nuances of pose or gesture, often repeated on vases or sculpture (as the Penelope type [153]). These big compositions had comparably big themes - the Sack of Troy, the Underworld, or a mortal but heroic battle such as Marathon. The figures were set up and down the field, not diminishing as if to indicate distance, probably at about half life size. The mode influenced some vase painters.

Later 5th- and 4th-century artists are credited with notable innovations in shading, in suggesting depth and roundness, and in trompe l’oeil compositions. Shaded contour drawing was the commonest, but compositions depending on colour and chiaroscuro are also described. There was only an incipient understanding of linear perspective and it seems that in major compositions each subject had its own vanishing point rather than one located centrally; and this, after all, more closely reflects our own manner of looking over a scene. The big names are Zeuxis and, in the 4th century, Apelles, and their fame rivalled that of their sculptor contemporaries. Of their work we can know nothing beyond the suspected influence of such styles read in contemporary vase paintings, and works like the ivory plaques found in south Russia, which were once painted, although now only the incised outlines of the figures are at all clear [196]. From the middle of the 4th century on more evidence is now emerging from the discoveries in Macedonian tombs [197, 198], where, clearly, prime Greek painters were employed: they give just a glimpse of a major Greek art form which, for colour and originality of composition, might, if better known, do much to counter the popular view of simplicity, if not austerity in the arts. This was a medium for both figure scenes and decorative floral compositions. The same must have appeared also on textiles, and Macedonia yields us one tantalizingly fine example [199].

196 Incised and painted ivory plaque from a Scythian tomb at Kul Oba near Kerch in the Crimea (whence also [187]). Aphrodite with Eros at her shoulder, from a scene of the Judgment of Paris, with the two other contestants, Hera and Athena. 4th century BC. Height 22 cm. (St Petersburg)

197 Painting of Hades carrying off Persephone on to his chariot. On the wall of a princely tomb at Vergina in Macedonia. About 340 BC. Height 1 m

198 Landscape painting with hunting scene, from the façade of the tomb of Philip II (died 336 BC) at Vergina. Length of frieze 5.6 m

199 Purple and gold cloth from the tomb of Philip II at Vergina. A floral fantasy combining many different plants and flowers. Width 61.5 cm. (Thessaloniki)

To a minor degree we can learn from copies of paintings as we have about sculpture, but these are never as accurate as the measured marbles. Several of the wall-paintings recovered from the 1st-century AD houses of Pompeii and Herculaneum seem to be copies of Greek compositions of the 4th century BC and later [201]. Now that we have the Macedonian paintings we can better judge how close some may be to their originals. When Romans looted Greek art, they chose paintings as well as statues.

200 Pebble mosaic from the floor of a house at Olynthus in north Greece. Bellerophon riding Pegasus strikes down the Chimaera. Mid-4th century BC. Width of detail 1.25 m. (Thessaloniki)

201 Perseus frees Andromeda from her fetters; the slain sea monster is seen at the left. From the House of the Dioscurides at Pompeii (destroyed AD 79), after a Greek original associated with the name of the late-4th-century BC painter Nicias. Height 1.22 m. (Naples)

Another source of information about painting is from the pebble mosaics decorating floors of houses and northern palaces from about 400 BC on [200]. The derivation of this floor decoration from panel paintings, some of them even signed, is clear: a new art form with an important future.


Vase painting remains a prolific source of information about styles and subjects, and at all times there are a few artists of quality whose work can bring us close to that of their seniors. Clay vases were relatively cheap but virtually indestructible, whence their value to us as evidence for the work of artists from the hack to the sublime, as well as their highly informative pictures. They provide an uninterrupted demonstration of changes in styles and subjects. But it is a craft which will not outlast the 4th century in Greece.

Persian occupation of Athens in 480 and 479 BC drove the citizens and artists from their homes, and when they returned they had to build afresh. Old wells and pits in the neighbourhood of the potters’ quarter are found filled with the debris from the potters’ shops. But there is no significant break in production or style. The same painters are at work. In their hands the transition from Archaic to Classical in line drawing was achieved, as we have seen it was already in the work of sculptors. The cup-painters continue the tradition of the early years of the century, but have at last abandoned the formal, almost Geometric fussiness of the Archaic pleats and zigzag hemlines. The dress is shaking out into freer folds. In details of drawing we find at last a proper view of a profile eye in a profile head. Bold foreshortening and three-quarter views are successfully attempted and the artist can experiment further with pose and gesture to suggest emotion, and even give atmosphere to a scene where before a simple event was enacted by, as it were, lay figures. Subsidiary floral ornament generally becomes more restricted. The border and ground-line pattern of meanders and squares derives from the Archaic patterns of woven hems and selvages.

A group of Mannerists represent the old guard, clinging still to some of the Archaic conventions and leaving their figures to act with a stiff prettiness which seems awkward in the hands of all but the best artists. Their leader, the Pan Painter, could rise to better things [202]. The monumental styles of contemporary sculpture are best reflected in the work of artists such as the Altamura Painter and the Niobid Painter [203]. Their statuesque studies of warriors and women are a close match for the peplos figures and heroes of, for instance, the Olympia sculptures, and their battle scenes must owe much to contemporary wall-paintings, both for subject and compositions. The Niobid Painter is the first to set figures on different ground-lines up and down the field of the picture [204]; the manner was that adopted by wall-painters to suggest space (though not depth) and interrelationships of figures not confined in, as it were, a shallow one-level frieze. The device is not particularly suited to vase painting and the Niobid Painter’s use of it is unique at this time, but it recurs on later vases.

202 Athenian red-figure pelike (oil container) by the Pan Painter. A sleek Heracles confounds the African servants of the Egyptian King Busiris, who intended to sacrifice him. The servants have African traits as typically portrayed in Greek art (facial features, circumcision) but the artist could not convey dark skin - rather a problem in the red-figure technique though surmounted by others. From Boeotia. About 460 BC. Height 31 cm. (Athens 9683)

203 Detail from a vase by the Niobid Painter with a Greek fighting an Amazon. She wears a Greek corselet with oriental skin cap and tights. From Gela (Sicily). About 460 BC. (Palermo G 1283)

204 The reverse of the name vase (a calyx crater) of the Niobid Painter, showing an assembly of heroes and gods, possibly before the battle of Marathon, with Athena and Heracles prominent, perhaps Theseus below. The multiple-groundline scheme perhaps copied a wall-painting more closely than many such later compositions. Guide lines on the vase suggest that the Heracles figure was a statue on a stepped base. From Orvieto. About 460 BC. Height 54 cm. (Louvre MNC 511)

The lightest work of these years is that of the Pistoxenos Painter [205], or the Penthesilea Painter, in all but his name vase [206] where he crammed a composition from a wall-painting into a recalcitrant circle and spoilt the delicacy of his drawing by crowding detail. It is the sorry fact that when the vase painters overreach themselves in their figure compositions, which are so seldom properly suited to the curving surface of a vase, the quality of their work can be better appreciated in deliberately selected details, drawings, or even fragments. The Penthesilea Painter also headed a workshop producing simple cups on what seems to be an assembly line with different painters working in succession on each vessel.

205 A white-ground cup by the Pistoxenos Painter. Aphrodite rides her goose. From Camirus (Rhodes). About 470 BC. Diameter 24 cm. (London 1864,1007.77)

206 The name vase of the Penthesilea Painter. Achilles slays the Amazon queen Penthesilea at Troy. From Vulci. About 460 BC. Diameter 43 cm. (Munich 2688)

The subjects shown on the larger vases are more often now of epic encounters between Greeks and Amazons, or Greeks and centaurs, inspired in part by contemporary wall-painting, in part by the popularity of myths which seemed to reflect Greek supremacy over barbarians and Orientals, just after their success against the Persians; this is the reason for their popularity also in the architectural sculpture of Periclean Athens. Except for the work of a few cup-painters who retained the Archaic manner we miss the fine, though short-lived, tradition of the free and original pictures of dancing and drinking-parties which were so popular early in the century. Their subjects may have been trivial but they released the painter from the iconographic conventions of the usual scenes of myth and let his fancy play over poses and situations of everyday life, albeit in somewhat elitist settings. There was promise in this Late Archaic exuberance of a whole new phase in Greek representational art, but it seems to have been stifled by a measure of Severity.

Wall-paintings presented their figures against a white background of paint or plaster. The red-figure vase painter had eschewed the pale background of clay for his outlined figures but had experimented with a white-painted ground, such as late black-figure artists had sometimes used. The effect was of course closer to that of major painting but, at first, the figures themselves were drawn as if in red figure and masses of different colour avoided. Moreover, the white ground was not always particularly durable. The interiors of some cups are painted on a white ground in the second quarter of the 5th century, but the technique came to be reserved for oil-flasks, lekythoi, which were mainly intended as grave offerings and so did not have to survive heavy handling or even exposure for much of their life. The earliest, with subjects much as the red figure, and by the same artists, carry a variety of scenes [207], but in the second half of the century the majority are decorated with appropriate funeral scenes showing the tomb with passers-by, relatives or attendants bringing offerings [208], departure scenes, even the crossing of the Styx with the ferryman Charon. For these a new technique came to be adopted. The outline and details of the figures are drawn in matte paint instead of the brilliant black, and broad washes of colour laid over drapery and details. This fully polychrome style is perhaps the closest we come to Classical wall-painting. The Achilles Painter was an important artist of white-ground lekythoi, some of them impressively large vases nearly half a metre high. The subjects are, in their spirit at least, close to those of the later carved grave reliefs, and there are many points of comparison between the vases and Phidian sculpture. The class of white-ground lekythoi barely outlives the 5th century.

207 An Athenian white-ground lekythos by the Achilles Painter showing a Muse seated on Mount Helicon. The inscription above praises the youth Axiopeithes. About 440 BC. Height of figure frieze about 17 cm. (Munich, von Schoen)

208 A white-ground lekythos (Group R) with a young warrior before a gravestone, with a youth and a girl who holds a shield and helmet. The outlines here are in matte paint. Late 5th century BC. Height of figure frieze about 22 cm. (Athens 1816)

The Achilles Painter has been named for his work in red figure - a fine, rather dapper study of the great hero [209]. His contemporaries, of the Parthenon period, include fewer artists of top rank than we have met hitherto, but their work shows the same sort of advance as does the sculpture of these years. The equivalent to the massed drapery of the Parthenon marbles is, in vase painting, the breaking of the straight or flowing folds into interrupted lines and hooks which suggest the same bunching or broken fall of material. The range of mythological scenes increases with a preference for themes reflecting on Athens, and the old formulaic approach is somewhat abated though much relies still on stock figures and groups [210]. There are still many vases later in the century of worth and dignity, but there is a marked preference now for either large and showy pieces, or thoroughly domestic boudoir scenes. Both set the pattern for what is to come in the 4th century. We soon come to learn the detail of an Athenian woman’s dressing-room, her gestures before the mirror or the wash-basin. The tiny figures of Eros swarm like gnats to adjust a veil or hold a mirror. Even Dionysus is by now a beardless effeminate youth [211], his maenads are well-mannered dancing partners, his satyrs sleek gigolos. Landscape is still ignored; it was at any rate unmanageable in red figure except for a token tree or rock.

209 A detail from the Achilles Painter’s name vase, showing the hero shouldering a spear. At the centre of his corselet is a tiny gorgoneion. From Vulci. About 440 BC. Height of detail about 7 cm. (Vatican)

210 Drawing from the name vase of the Penelope Painter, with the patiently sorrowing Penelope [cf. 153] beside her unfinished weaving and her son Telemachus. The other side shows Odysseus’ homecoming. From Tarquinia. About 440 BC. (Chiusi 1831)

211 Interior of a cup by the Meleager Painter. A limp Dionysus holding a lyre is supported by a woman with a tambourine while Eros plays for them. The vine wreath round the scene would appear to settle over the level of the wine when the cup is used. From Nola. Early 4th century BC. Diameter 24 cm. (London 1867,0508.1221)

In the last years of the 5th century, in an Athens at war and nearing defeat, some painters seem to evoke a fantasy world of elegance and peace, surely a reaction to the city’s depressed condition. The transparent draperies of late 5th-century sculptures are matched by the close-set linear contours of folds which embrace the figures. For the first time on vases, where the nakedness of women had been admitted long before it was commonly shown by sculptors, we find a near-sensual treatment of bodies and dress. The vases of the Meidias Painter and his circle show this new approach at its best [212]. The long-established and unusual Greek readiness to create anthropoid (usually female) personifications of abstract qualities intensifies. Some had acquired a degree of divinity - Persuasion (Peitho) serving Aphrodite, Health (Hygieia) to attend the healing god Asclepius. Most require inscriptions for identification (Democracy, Good Fortune, Madness). They can sometimes serve a useful narrative function by characterizing a myth scene, but often they are no more than appropriate furniture.

212 Detail of a hydria by the Meidias Painter showing nymphs, and a small winged Himeros (Desire) approaching a bower where Phaon sits with a lyre beside Demonassa. From Populonia. Late 5th century BC. (Florence 81947)

On most 4th-century vases the quality of drawing is less engaging than the subject matter [211], and this too can become repetitive and banal. The challenge of major painting led the painter to experiment again with varying ground-lines, to add ornament and to attempt a more polychrome effect within the limitations of red figure, by the generous use of white paint, sometimes gilding, and eventually other colours. This, together with the more florid types of subsidiary decoration, produced a number of gaudy and ambitious works which seem to have enjoyed some success. But in the detail there is often much to enjoy in the extremely accomplished line drawing which some of these vases display [213].

213 A red-figure pelike by the Marsyas Painter. Peleus has surprised Thetis while bathing. Her familiar, a sea monster, wraps itself round the hero’s leg and bites him. But he is crowned for anticipated success by an Eros. Her companions scatter in alarm; note the three-quarter back view of the figure top right. From Camirus (Rhodes). About 350 BC. Height 42.5 cm. (London 1862,0530.1)

So far in this chapter we have mentioned only Athenian painted vases. The success of Athenian black figure, and the new red-figure technique, had succeeded in driving the wares of all other schools out of the markets of the Greek world, and virtually all figure-decorated vases used by Greeks are now from Athens’ potters’ quarter. Only among the Western Greeks was there any notable production of red figure, and this was a direct offshoot of the Athenian tradition. Athens sent settlers to Thurii in South Italy in the mid-5th century. With them, it seems, went potters and some painters, and in the second half of the century we find painting on South Italian vases of a quality which can at times match the best in Athens [214, 215], although the more lively Athenian styles of around 400 are not represented. In the 4th century other schools appear in the Greek or Hellenized areas of Sicily and South Italy. Few are at all distinguished except for the glory of their ornament which echoes new styles in major painting, mosaic and metal-work [216]. But the Westerners’ love of the theatre, or at least of the theatrical, is reflected in a number of large and grotesquely over-ornamented vases made in Apulia (the heel of Italy) and decorated with tableaux, many of which are thought to recall the action and actors of plays. Other products of some of these studios are more decidedly theatrical in origin - engaging studies of comedies, mainly imported from the Athenian stage, with padded and masked actors parodying the heroic and epic stories which were treated in a more solemn manner by the Athenian tragedians. We have to turn to South Italy rather than Athens to catch any visual presentation of the spirit of Aristophanes and the novel genre subjects of Attic Middle Comedy [217].

214 Detail from a South Italian red-figure vase by the Karneia Painter. A woman plays pipes for Dionysus. The close-set lines of her dress accentuate her figure (compare the Athenian treatment on [212]). Her necklet and bracelets are in low relief, gilt. From Tarentum. Early 4th century BC. (Taranto 8263)

215 A red-figure squat lekythos (lip missing) made in South Italy (Apulia). Aphrodite suckles and plays with Erotes who tumble from a box. From Tarentum. Early 4th century BC. Height 18.5 cm. (Taranto 4530)

216 Detail from an Apulian red-figure crater neck with a woman’s head in a floral fantasy. About 330 BC. (Basel S 24)

217 A calyx crater made in Paestum, signed by the artist Assteas. Scene from a comedy of manners - the subject and costume of Athenian Middle Comedy. A miser is apparently being pulled from his treasure chest. For the costumes, see [177]. The stage is supported on short pillars. About 350 BC. Height 37 cm. (Berlin 3044)

A similar mocking spirit - and humour on Greek vases is usually hard to find or identify - is seen in a class made mainly for dedication at a sanctuary (the Cabirion) near Thebes in central Greece. For these the old black-figure technique was employed [218]. It had never been forgotten in Greece, and even in Athens it was practised on into the Hellenistic period for the Panathenaic prize vases.

218 A Boeotian Cabirion cup. A hairy ogress (a gorilla or Lamia?) is chasing a traveller who has dropped his baggage. Two men have already abandoned their plough and taken to the safety of a tree. 4th century BC. (New York 1971.11.1)

The finer styles of vase painting did not survive the end of the 4th century in Athens. The attempts to imitate major painting could not succeed through the severe limitations of the red-figure technique, not least its black background and essentially bichrome appearance, and the painters ceased to try. But the genre was exhausted, and the use of metal vases and imitation of their appearance and decoration was becoming more fashionable. Cheap, plain vases painted with a fine black gloss paint, often recalling details of metal shapes, had been popular in the 5th century, as were cups and other vessels with very simple but often elegant, painted floral patterns [219]. It seemed inevitable that these simpler vases would remain in favour for ordinary use while the painters of figure-decorated vases went out of business through the coarseness or over-elaboration of their work, and the competition (in South Italy) or indifference of their markets. The plain vases admitted simple impressed decoration, and eventually, in imitation of metalware, moulded relief decoration. These would be the dominant styles for clay vases for many years to come.

219 A Boeotian clay jar (pyxis) with floral patterns of the type seen on many vases made in central Greece in the 5th and 4th centuries. Late 5th century BC. Height 14 cm. (Reading Univ. 26.iv.1)

Of other arts we know little. Wood could still be carved, even for some major works, like cult statues, but little has survived. Weaving or even painting on cloth, generally women’s work, could include mythological subjects, and since there is a certain exclusiveness of iconographic tradition in each craft it could be that the woven scenes held something the more familiar ones in stone or on clay did not [199]. Our subject has something, though not a lot, to contribute to women’s studies, although there is room for unlimited speculation. We have touched on their possible role vis-à-vis Geometric art in Chapter 1. We know of a few women who were admired as poets, but in the arts we cannot define what original role they had in decorative weaving or any other household craft. I would expect priestesses to have been consulted about the decoration of new temples - not the furnishing but the subject matter of sculptural detail, but we cannot be sure even of that. From about 430 BC on, they occupy an important position in the iconography of Athenian vases and tombstones, created, we must suppose, by men, but possibly commissioned by women. Many of the vases seem to have been designed for the boudoir, but when the scenes allow an Aphrodite or Eros to intrude this says something more about their perceived status, while the majority that women enjoy in tombstone representations seems to suggest that the loss of anyone so important to parents, husband and children was very keenly felt. In what was, at least publicly, a male-dominated society, the activities of mortal women figured prominently in the public and private arts, to a degree unparalleled in any other ancient culture, so far as I know (the Indian comes closest), and this seems quite well matched by the treatment many receive in the works of Classical tragedians. Studies that search Classical sources for evidence of their subjection and exploitation will always seem well supplied; a wider view, including that of art, could reveal some interesting exceptions.