Monday, August 31, 2009

Black-Figure Pottery

Black-figure pottery is a style of ancient Greek pottery painting in which the decoration appears as black silhouettes on a red background. Originating in Corinth during the early 7th century BC, it was introduced into Attica about a generation later. Other notable black-figure potteries existed at Sparta, Athens, and in eastern Greece. The technique flourished until being practically replaced by the more advanced red-figure pottery technique in 530 BC, although later examples do exist.

Attic vases were made of a pale iron-rich clay which turned a reddish-orange color when fired, Corinthian and other fabrics had a creamy-white reserve color. The design was sketched in outline, then filled in using refined clay as paint. Details would be added with an engraving tool, scratching through the paint layer to the clay below. The vessel would then be fired in a kiln at a temperature of about 800°C, with the resultant oxidization turning the vase to a reddish-orange color. The temperature was then raised to about 950°C with the kiln's vents closed and green wood being added to remove the oxygen. The vessel then turned an overall black. The final stage required the vents to be re-opened to allow oxygen into the kiln, which was allowed to cool down. The vessel then returned to its reddish-orange color due to renewed oxidization, while the now-sintered painted layer remained the glossy black color created in the second stage.

Apart from black, other colors could be used by modifying the characteristics of the clay used to paint the vase. The most common was a yellowish-white derived from a purified iron-free clay, and a purplish-red derived from the same refined clay used to produce the black areas mixed with ochre (red iron oxide) and water.

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