World Ceramics: How was it made?

Generally, Greek pots were formed, or thrown, on the potter's wheel. The potter's wheel used in ancient Greece consisted of a turntable, on which the clay was placed, and a disk or crank that the potter operated with his knee to keep the turntable moving. This technique left both hands free to form the pot from the clay as the turntable turned. Large pots such as the hydria were made in sections and joined together later. Sections were connected at the structural joints between the neck and body or the foot and body. Thin coils of clay added on the outside concealed the marks where the parts were joined. Handles were made by hand and attached with SLIP.

Athenian potters used a high-quality clay that turned a beautiful reddish brown when fired. To create the figures, the artist painted on the surface of the vase with a liquified colored clay called ENGOBE (on-GOBE). The presence of various metals suspended in the engobe causes the range of color in the figures. The engobe that the Greeks used had a high concentration of iron and perhaps traces of other metals such as manganese or cobalt to create a rich black. Once the engobe was applied and dried, the pot was placed in a KILN and fired for many hours. The vessel itself turned a reddish brown, while the engobe turned black in the firing. We call Greek ceramics made in this manner "black figure" vessels.

Details were INCISED in the black areas before firing by scraping through to the red clay with a sharp tool. For example, the lines that show details in the faces and clothing are all incised lines. Finally, accents of white and purple were applied with separate solutions after firing. On this hydria traces of white remain on Athena's face, and purple appears on the horses' manes. More colors were probably once present, but they have disappeared over time.

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