Attic Black Figure Amphora
Pottery made by Corinthians and Attics was highly prized and found all over the Mediterranean world. During the Archaic and Early Classical periods painting was at its high point in Corinth and Athens and pottery was often constructed by one ceramist, then painted by a local painter, each of whom would then sign the piece.
The process of creating the vessel itself took great skill that was achieved over many years working as an apprentice under the watchful eye of a master potter. Before work even began on a vessel the potter had to first ready the clay for formation. Once all the impurities had been removed from the natural clay, it was then kneaded to make it more flexible and more easily formed. The process used by the Corinthians and Attics to shape the vessel was a simplified version of the method that is used today. The purified clay was placed on a horizontal, rotating wheel that was turned by hand by the apprentice. As the wheel turned, ...view middle of the document...
The last part of the process is the three stage firing process. The amount of oxygen entering the firing is controlled, either adding more, or reducing the amount, and this is how the oxidized black finish is achieved. In the first phase, oxidation occurs turning the entire piece red. In the second phase, the reducing phase, the oxygen is completely shut off turning the entire piece black. Lastly, the piece is reoxidized whereby the courser clay reabsorbs oxygen turning it red again, while the finer slip areas stay black. This technique is still used today to created unique finishes on pottery.
The piece I chose to write about is an Attic Black Figure Amphora from Greece, dated from sometime in the 6th century that would have been produced in the manner described above. It is part of a permanent collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The vessel is located on the 3rd floor of the Ahmanson Building in the Art of the Ancient World and European Art wing. This vessel stands about 13” high with a small neck and a small foot. At the shoulder area of the vessel are two small handles on either side that connect at the top to the neck. The piece is embellished with a single, large horse head on both sides. The entire vessel is black with the exception of where the horse head sits in the center of a square of natural colored clay. The head is very stylized with an exaggerated form. It is broad at the base of the neck, extending up into strong, arching curve, with the nose of the horse pointed downward. The mane is also stylized and linear. Simple lines have been inscribed into the surface that extend straight down and almost connect to one another at the bottom not quite forming a point on each section of the mane. The large eye and nostril of the horse are simply inscribed with thin lines into the surface as well, and the horse wears a simple halter. This is the extent of the decoration on this piece. In speaking with someone at the museum, I was told that this type piece with its simple, single horse head was usually, but not exclusively, used as a funerary piece and that the horse head is to signify Poseidon. They also pointed out to me what they called a “dolphin” incised on each side just under the lip, also connecting to the Poseidon reference.